Interview with Scott Emerson, 4BC

31 May 2021

SCOTT EMERSON: The breaking news coming out of Brisbane this afternoon, including all the other news that's been happening, is this massive global cyber-attack on the JBS, the meat processing multinational. It's got its headquarters here, the Australian headquarters in Brisbane. And that cyber-attack is shutting down its facilities across the world, including at Dinmore, where it’s got it’s processing plant at Ipswich, and the Beef City facility outside of Toowoomba. And staff are reportedly being- sharing text messages received by JBS, advising them not to attend work or log on to computers. Now, we're joined now by the agriculture minister Federally, David Littleproud. Minister, thanks for being on 4BC Drive this afternoon.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me.

SCOTT EMERSON: This cyber-attack on JBS, a very worrying development.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Very concerning. And obviously it's a significant disruption into the supply chain. And JBS is obviously taking the appropriate steps and working with the Federal Government around trying to rectify this. And as you've said that it's actually further than just the Australian operations. It's a global attack. And we're working now with international partners around trying to trace and then rectify and obviously prosecute where possible, who has perpetrated this attack. So we're working as quickly as we can with JBS who are cooperating and sticking to the protocols around this with the Australian government, Australian Federal Police. And so we're hoping that we'll be able to get this up again sooner rather than later.

SCOTT EMERSON: Any indication at this stage who may have launched this attack?

DAVID LITTLEPROUND: No, it's too early to speculate, and that's why it's important we let that investigation take its course. And that's why we're also working with our international partners. Obviously JBS, a Brazilian company, but it has operations globally. So it's important that when there is multifaceted attacks globally, that we work with our international partners and we've got a good foundation in which to do that, particularly with the United States and Canada.

SCOTT EMERSON: How big an impact this is going to have on our meat processing industry now?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Oh, look, I think it's a bit too early to speculate. As soon as we can get the processing plants up and going. Obviously, quality assurance is what JBS and all our processing facilities work on. And we rely on technology to provide that confidence and traceability of the product. So that's why it's important we take our time to get it right, to do it as quickly as we can. So JBS are working through measures as quickly as they can to get their processing plants up and going. But you can understand that we're at an all-time low of numbers because of the drought. So the processing numbers are not high at the moment, but every day is costing JBS a lot of money. They've got a lot of employees and we're trying to get them up and running as quickly as we can. And you’ve got to understand, it also impacts not just JBS, but the supply chains that supply them as well. The truck drivers all the way through.

SCOTT EMERSON: Well, look the- and here in Queensland, the company's got I think 5000, more than 5000 employees here in Queensland. And obviously it runs facilities at Townsville, Dinmore, Rocky, and it’s got feedlots also at Rockhampton as well. I mentioned the facility there at Toowoomba as well. So obviously, a lot of people, a lot of families, would be worried about today's events.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: They will. But I think there's agility in terms of the systems in which JBS will be able to adopt to get themselves up and going sooner rather than later. But obviously, they have to allow the investigation to take its course as well. So there's duelling priorities there that they have to work through. And they're doing that collaboratively and cooperatively with our officials and then obviously with our international partners as well. So that adds another layer of complexity to it. But we're working through that as quickly as we can with our international partners.

SCOTT EMERSON: As you mentioned, this is a global attack. So you don't think necessarily it may be just an attack that is directed at Australian facilities?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, no, not when it's in other countries as well. And I think it's too early to speculate and it wouldn't be wise to speculate. I think it's important we let the professional men and women who do these investigations do that with clear air. And obviously there'll be further announcements as we are able to work through that. But at this stage, I think it's important we just let those men and women get on with their job.

SCOTT EMERSON: I'm talking to David Littleproud, the Federal Agriculture Minister. Minister, I did see that your colleague, Christian Porter, the former Attorney-General, has made an announcement today that he's dropping his defamation action against the ABC. Is that an admission from Christian Porter that he couldn’t win that case?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I've only just got off a plane from Brisbane into Canberra, so I haven't seen his statement, but I would suggest not from the conversations I've had with Christian Porter. He felt aggrieved, so far to the point that he was to go down to a legal juncture that was quite costly. So obviously, Christian’s made some determination about weighing up the cost benefit analysis. I haven't seen his full statement, so I can't comment entirely. But I do know that he felt very aggrieved by the comments of the ABC.

SCOTT EMERSON: The ABC is saying that the story, the initial story will be remaining online with some added editor's comments about that. The fact that story is still up there would seem to indicate that they've had a bit of a win and they're claiming that in their comments, including Louise Milligan.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, some might say that. Others might say it's a reflection of the ABC and their performance not only on this matter, but on others.

SCOTT EMERSON: All right, Minister, I appreciate you being on for 4BC Drive this afternoon.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me mate.