Agenda for Change 2016: strategic choices for the next government
25 May 2016|

This piece is drawn from Agenda for Change 2016: strategic choices for the next government.

The defence of Australia’s interests is a core business of federal governments. Regardless of who wins the election on 2 July, the incoming government will have to grapple with a wide range of security issues. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute will soon release a Strategy report which provides a range of perspectives on selected defence and national security issues, as well as a number of policy recommendations. (Canberra-based readers can come along to the report launch on Tuesday 7 June.)

ASPI produced a similar brief before the 2013 election. A comparison of this year’s edition with the 2013 Agenda for Change paper shows that there are some enduring challenges, such as cyber security, terrorism and an uncertain global economic outlook. Natural disasters that affect large groups of people are a constant feature of life on the Pacific and Indian Ocean rim.

Some of the problems we wrote about in 2013 have already been addressed by decisions taken by the outgoing government—though it’s rare to be able to lay complex problems to rest in perpetuity. In February this year we got a Defence White Paper that set out over $150 billion of future investment, which should ameliorate the looming defence resourcing issues we identified back then. Similarly, the Department of Defence is undergoing a root and branch reform following the 2015 First Principles Review, which includes measures that address some shortcomings we noted in the old structure. And we’ve just had the release in April of a Cyber Security Strategy document that sets out the way ahead for the government’s response to a growing online threat.

There are also some challenges that didn’t seem so acute only three years ago but need attention now. Recent events in the South China Sea have markedly ratcheted up regional tensions. North Korea’s increasingly sophisticated nuclear and missile programs continue to destabilise North Asian security. And ISIS has emerged as a serious military threat in the Middle East and an exporter of global terrorism, both by sending operatives out to other countries, and by recruiting locals through an online propaganda program.

The incumbent for the next term of government will have to deal with these issues—and probably some that aren’t obvious now. For example, the incoming Abbott Government could scarcely have thought that an airliner shot down over the Ukraine would provide an early test of its approach to national security. We hope that our 2016 Agenda for Change report provides a good ‘incoming brief’ of the nation’s security issues as we see them today, but we recognise that events will overtake some of our prognostications and policy recommendations. We’re not likely to be short of issues to analyse in the years to come, and ASPI will continue to provide its blend of strategic analysis and policy development, not just for government, but to inform the public discussion of important issues.

In the lead up to the launch of Agenda for Change 2016, The Strategist will present a series of posts drawn from the publication.