The government has appointed Air Marshal Darren Goldie as the nation’s first National Cyber Security Coordinator – a role that will see him work directly with organisations that are under a cyber attack.

Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security Clare O’Neil said the new appointment’s primary role will be to manage incident response from a national level.

“Air Marshal Goldie's work will be very important in making sure that, when we do experience significant national cyber incidents, there is one person across government who is going to coordinate the national effort to manage those incidents,” O’Neil said.

Goldie was chosen for the National Cyber Security Coordinator role as part of a cabinet process.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Goldie stood out “as someone who had a proven record of leadership” and of “being able to coordinate across the security space in our defence forces”.

Goldie joined the Air Force in 1993 where he underwent pilot training before flying Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft during operations in East Timor, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

He was appointed Air Commander Australia last year and is being seconded to the National Cyber Security Coordinator role.

When asked why the government opted for a military man rather than someone with more direct experience with the cyber security industry, O’Neil said the Air Force Commander’s responsibilities within the Air Force had included managing cyber risks.

“Something I don’t think is well understood about this area is that cyber incident response is not principally a technical problem, it’s an operational problem,” the Home Affairs Minister said.

“If you think about Medibank and Optus, the ones that I think our nation is most familiar with, a lot of the issues are very practical and operational.”

Millions of Australians found their personal information – including addresses, passport numbers, and driver licence details – exposed to the dark web during those two high-profile incidents last year.

O’Neill went on to point out that the challenges related to replacing driver licences and passports were particularly bespoke and required the Prime Minister’s direct intervention – something Goldie’s coordinator role is designed to reduce.

“Our goal here is not to eradicate cyber attacks,” O’Neill said. “But in part to make sure that whenever we get hit by a cyber attack, we're able to get back up off the mat quickly."

For his part, Goldie described the Australian cyber security situation as “dire”.

“That challenge will continue to increase in its complexity, and its severity,” he told journalists. “And I think we are all in this together as a nation. And it will behoove us all to continue to be educated.”

Last year’s horror run of data breaches – first Optus, then Medibank – has continued into 2023 with an attack on Latitude Financial yielding personal data on 14 million customers.

More recently, law firm HWL Ebsworth was hit by a Russian-linked cyber gang BlackCat leading to the theft of four terabytes of data from the firm that holds government contracts.

Professor Monica Whitty, head of Monash University’s department of software systems and cyber security, welcomed the appointment but said she hoped there was room in the role for helping the country’s organisations reduce or prevent attacks.

“The government needs to consider small businesses that cannot afford to protect themselves adequately,” she said.

“Moreover, given that organisations are linked, as we can see from the recent HWL Ebsworth attack, considering supply chains is critical.”