Julia Gillard has become only the second Australian prime minister to visit the top secret Defence Signals Directorate facility in Canberra, as she formally announced the establishment of a new cyber security centre.
Ms Gillard visited the centre on Thursday and thanked staff at the nerve centre of signals intelligence, where hundreds of computer and intelligence experts work under strict security to keep the government's networks safe and, conversely, try to eavesdrop on other nations and non-state threats.
The Prime Minister said that the new Australian Cyber Security Centre would be up and running by the end of the year. It will bring together cyber experts from different government agencies including Defence, ASIO, the Computer Emergency Response Team Australia, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission.
''Cybersecurity encompasses so much - so much in terms of threats, the threats that we see from state and non-state actors, and so much in terms of the security of our community, not only government networks but business networks, critical networks across our community,'' she said.
A key aim of the new centre will be to work with the private sector to protect their systems. An all-out cyber attack could involve destroying not just defence networks, but civilian systems that run power grids, water supplies, banking and other vital infrastructure.
''Thank you for the work that you do to keep our nation safe,'' Ms Gillard said. ''Thank you for every effort you make - efforts that we can't thank you for one success at a time. We never go out there and say, 'Guess what DSD has done today? They've done a really good job' - for obvious reasons.
''But . . . I'm really conscious that the work that you do here is a pivotal part of our national security efforts. It's a pivotal part of keeping our nation safe.''
Ms Gillard's cyber centre announcement came under quick fire from the opposition, which said there was no detail about funding, the location of the centre, the chain of command or how it would liaise with business.
Opposition defence personnel spokesman Stuart Robert said: ''There's no idea of budget, no increase in budget, therefore if it's being funded, where's the money going to come from? We're all at a bit of a loss. We support the concept that greater co-operation between the national security apparatus of government on a significant and growing threat is warranted. But we've got to see some more concrete work done in terms of what it's going to look like, where it's going to be, how industry will interact with it.''
The National Times was on Thursday seeking further information from the government about how much the centre would cost and where it would be based.
The DSD already has a Cyber Security Operations Centre, established in 2010, with embedded officers from ASIO, the AFP and CERT Australia.
Ms Gillard's visit to the DSD follows one by John Howard in 2005.
The directorate's slogan is, ''Reveal their secrets . . . Protect our own.''
The staff refer to working in their operations centre as being ''down in the pit''.
Mike Burgess, the DSD's acting head, said the directorate's work was ''necessarily conducted in secret and private''.
''That helps us protect our capabilities, it helps us generate intelligence . . . it also helps us protect our men and women deployed in Afghanistan and elsewhere on military operations and . . . it also helps protect Australia against the cyber threat.''
It was only the second time the media have been allowed into the building.