Interview with Steve Austin, ABC Drive Brisbane

31 May 2021

STEVE AUSTIN: A major cyberattack has shut down JBS Abattoirs across Australia, the US, South America, Canada, a whole range of places. Phone and computer systems were down when workers arrived this morning. Six sites here in Queensland are affected. Thousands of workers will get their pay, but it was up in the air for a long time. You'll hear from the Federal Agriculture Minister in a moment. But John Condon is from Beef Central. And he explained how this cyberattack could impact worldwide beef exports.

[Excerpt]

JOHN CONDON: It’s come out like a bolt out of the blue, that the entire JBS global network, and you mentioned the company's operations in Australia and North America, but they also include Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay. It truly is a global meat producing company.

STEVE AUSTIN: Crikey. Yeah, wow.

JOHN CONDON: And it appears that the cyberattack that JBS has come under is affecting the entire operations worldwide. Because you’d appreciate that these internet and IT systems often act as a network, so a network in one country is linked to another, so it's had an enormous impact. And unprecedented, I've got to say, in the red meat industry. And as a result, the operations in Australia today are closed. There is no processing taking place, because the company obviously needs its computer systems and connectivity as a part of the day to day operations of the business.

[End of excerpt]

STEVE AUSTIN: That’s John Condon from Beef Central. Now the Federal Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, is also the Minister for Drought and Emergency Management. Minister Littleproud, what have you been told by the company JBS?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good afternoon. Look, they're still working through the issues and they were obviously working with law enforcement agencies here in Australia. And we're also working with our international partners. As you articulated, it's a global attack, and so we're working in partnership with those other countries to get to the bottom of this as quickly as we can, but also working with JBS to try and get them up as quickly as we can. You got to understand that the technology that they use, the systems they use go to the heart of the quality assurance of the beef that they process. So we need to make sure that we can get that up and going to give confidence not just to consumers here in Australia, but also to our export markets.

STEVE AUSTIN: Is it a ransomware attack or simply a denial of service attack? Do we know any more details about what sort of cyberattack it is?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It's still too early to be able to give that information. And obviously, it's under investigation, so it's important we respect that process. It's important that we let those men and women, not just here in Australia in law enforcement, but also globally to work through this and work through the information they've got to be able to get to the bottom of it and to bring those to justice that have perpetrated this. So we're working as quickly as we can. JBS have obviously undertaken all the appropriate steps that corporate Australians or any Australians should undertake when they come under cyberattack. And so that's meant that we've been able to have this collaborative approach with our other international partners.

STEVE AUSTIN: For some time now, the Australian Government has been sort of putting serious money into sort of cyber security centres and tracking cyberattacks. How is the Federal Government or the Commonwealth assisting JBS Abattoirs, if at all?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, obviously, we're working with them. We have to- I'm not technically minded, but we're letting those professionals that that are to get underneath the bottom of this to try and work out where it’s emanated from and how they've done it. And then obviously to make sure that we can learn from this as well and set parameters into the future that will protect our networks, not just the Government, but also give support to corporate Australia in protecting their cybersecurity, and that's the investment we continue to make. That's the new threat globally that the world is facing and we need to be alive to that. And this is a real life case of it.

STEVE AUSTIN: My guest is the Minister for Agriculture Drought and Emergency Management, David Littleproud. Steve Austin’s my name. It’s 5.10. This is ABC Radio, Brisbane. David Littleproud, is there any indication as to who might be responsible for it?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Not yet, Steve. It's still under investigation. And obviously, since it is a global attack, it's important not to speculate that it's emanated from any particular place just yet. And that's why our law enforcement agencies are working quickly to make that trace, to be able to make some understanding of where this has come from, who's done it, and why. I think it's important we get to the bottom of that. As I said, it's important to have these learnings moving into the future, protect not just these types of organisations, but other corporates within Australia, understanding the attacks that possibly could be coming their way. It's also a timely reminder to all Australians about their cyber security and their systems, particularly corporate Australia, about the networks they have and how they are protected, and obviously, if they are to face one of these attacks, how they would obviously respond.

STEVE AUSTIN: I spoke to the union earlier on and they said the company had done really well. It looks like the workers will get paid today, which is good news for the workers. Are there any knock on effects to the sort of supply chain for other exports or internal within Australia?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It will depend how long this goes on for how long JBS are offline for. And obviously, we're working as quickly as we can to support them getting back up online. But it is a supply chain that starts from the farm gate right through to feedlots, to truck drivers. So it's important we understand that. And that's why we're working not only with JBS, but with unions and everybody involved to make sure that we can streamline this as quickly as we can. The most important thing is that we get the plant up and going, because we want to make sure that we can do that to get workers back and to get that supply chain moving.

STEVE AUSTIN: Before I let you go, it's been announced today that Christian Porter, the former Federal Attorney-General, has dropped his defamation action against the ABC after mediation. Do you think that the Cabinet would be happy to accept him back as Attorney-General for Australia?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Oh, look, there's a new Attorney-General who's doing outstanding job. And I think you'll find that the Prime Minister- while I don't have a say on Cabinet appointments, only the Prime Minister does, I'm sure you'll find that the Cabinet that's in place now will be one that the Prime Minister will take through to the next election.

STEVE AUSTIN: Appreciate your coming on this afternoon. Thank you very much.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me.

STEVE AUSTIN: David Littleproud is the Federal Agriculture Minister. He's also the Minister for Drought and Emergency Management. Now, we did contact JBS Abattoirs for an interview. No one's available this afternoon.