Australia-UK sign cybersecurity agreement

Dominic GianniniAAP
Marise Payne will discuss security and cooperation with her British counterpart.
Camera IconMarise Payne will discuss security and cooperation with her British counterpart. Credit: AAP

Australia and the UK have entered a cyber and critical technology partnership on the eve of landmark talks.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne and UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss signed the partnership when they met in Sydney on Thursday, agreeing to maintain an open, free and peaceful internet.

The new agreement will deliver a co-ordinated cyber sanctions regime, and a commitment to work with countries in the Indo-Pacific on cyber capabilities.

"An open, safe and secure cyberspace, and technologies that work for people, not against them, is key to our combined future," Senator Payne said.

She said it would impose greater costs on "malign actors who would undermine the region's prosperity and security for their own ends".

Defence Minister Peter Dutton and UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace will meet on Thursday evening, before all four ministers come together as part of the bilateral AUKMIN talks on Friday.

It will be the first 2+2 ministerial meeting hosted in Australia since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two British secretaries will also meet Prime Minister Scott Morrison at Kirribilli House on Thursday night.

Mr Dutton said while some may underestimate the value, strength and depth of the Australia-UK relationship, Britain continues to have one eye on the Pacific region amid increasing instability.

"(The UK) are an important partner for us as a smaller country with only 25 million people. If we are going to deter countries from aggressive behaviour then we are best to do that with strong friends and allies," he told 2GB radio.

Discussions will span ways to bolster co-operation in defence capability, cyber security and critical technology, while the promotion of human rights and gender equality will also be on the agenda.

"It is really about our working together, our close collaboration, the work we are doing on the nuclear submarine program," Mr Dutton said.

"There is (also) a big focus on cyber. Both Australia and the UK get regular attacks from Russia and China and Iran so there is a lot of scope for discussion about how we can ... stop that activity and fight back against it."

The executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said he would be looking for indications of more joint military exercises, co-operation on technology like nuclear propulsion, and the possibility of a British ship operating out of an Australian port.

Peter Jennings says it is possible Britain wanted a more permanent presence in the region given an increasingly aggressive China.

"The consequential European countries understand one of the big strategic problems they face is China," he told Sky News.

"They think it is important to have more military presence in this area."

Mr Jennings said the actions of China - including its increasing military build up and exercises staging amphibious assaults on islands - point to increasing hostility towards Taiwan.

"The more we can do to persuade China that it is too dangerous and it is not a sensible thing for them to be contemplating the better the chances we can keep the peace," he said.

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