The foreign and defence ministers of the United Kingdom and Australia have met down under, and agreed co-operation over cyber and defence matters.

The first person-to-person AUKMIN (annual Australia-United Kingdom Ministerial Consultations) meeting since the Covid-19 pandemic began, saw the UK’s defence secretary Ben Wallace and foreign secretary Liz Truss hold talks with their Australian counterparts defence minister Peter Dutton and foreign minister Marise Payne.

The two countries vowed to step up their defence co-operation, and increase their collaboration on cyber and technology issues.

The talks build on the AUKUS agreement from last September, when the UK and US pledged to help Australia acquire a nuclear powered submarine fleet, as well as closer co-operation on AI and quantum computing.

Ministerial meeting

The two countries discussed pressing key geopolitical challenges, including concerns around the situation in Ukraine, and the need to defend freedom in the face of Russia’s growing aggression.

The UK this week has been supplying Ukraine with anti tank missiles and specialised training.

The UK and Australia have agreed to step up collaboration to deter malign threats, promote positive critical technology standards and to support the development of quality infrastructure and standards.

And they reiterated their commitment to support countries in the Indo-Pacific.

Australia is already part of the ‘five eyes’ intelligence sharing alliance between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

“With the world facing increasing aggression from malign actors, it is vital that the UK strengthens and deepens our partnerships with our closest allies,” said UK foreign secretary Liz Truss.

“Today we have committed to new and enhanced opportunities to collaborate with Australia in areas including maritime security, counterterrorism, misinformation, cyber and technology,” she added.

“This week, I have met with my friend and close Defence counterpart Peter Dutton to discuss our cooperation across the Indo-Pacific through AUKUS – the trilateral UK, Australia and US security partnership which will see us collaborating on world leading technologies including nuclear powered submarines,” added defence secretary Ben Wallace.

The defence ministers said the question over whether the UK will station any of its military assets, including its hunter killer nuclear submarines, in Australia, is an option going forward.

Cyber and Critical Technology Partnership

Buried among the announcements comes the news that both countries have also agreed a new UK-Australia Cyber and Critical Technology Partnership.

“Underscored by a shared commitment to liberal democratic values, this partnership will project a positive technology vision for the world by strengthening global supply chains and harnessing technology to solve global challenges and build resilience in sensitive sectors of our economies,” the two side said.

Ministers underscored the importance of building more secure, resilient and sustainable supply chains, including in critical minerals and particularly rare earths and battery minerals.

Further details about the UK, Australia agreement can be found here.

Ahead of the talks, Australia’s defence minister Peter Dutton said ahead of the talks with the UK, that the meeting would have a big focus on cyber.

Fight back

“Both the UK and Australia get regular attacks from Russia and from China, Iran and other countries,” he was quoted by Reuters as saying on radio, adding they would “fight back.”

“They are big countries and they have big military machines and are important allies and friends for us as a smaller country of only 25 million people if we are going to deter countries from aggressive behaviour,” he said.

Australia has suffered some notable cyberattacks in recent years.

One of the most notable was in June 2020 when the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, publicly confirmed his country was the target of a “sophisticated” cyber attack.

The Aussie PM warned at the time that an unnamed foreign government was behind it, with the finger of suspicion firmly pointed at China.

Scott Morrison confirmed he had spoken to Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the attack, and it was not disclosed whether the UK provided its cyber expertise to the Australians.

Prior to that in February 2019 the country suffered ‘nation state hack’ of Australian political parties and parliament.

Ahead of the meeting on Friday, Australia foreign affairs minister Marise Payne signed an agreement with Truss under which Australia and Britain will coordinate cyber sanctions regimes to increase deterrence.

That would raise the costs for hostile state activity in cyberspace, Payne said.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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