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Not just defence: we need a national security strategy

Posted By on May 1, 2024 @ 09:46

After World War II began, Hitler’s propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, said: ‘The [Allies] let us alone and let us slip through the risky zone and we were able to sail around all dangerous reefs. And when we were done and well-armed, better than they, then they started the war.’ 

Today, stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Korean Peninsula, once again a dark alliance of great powers has festered, working for many years to dismantle the global rules-based order and, with it, Australia’s democracy. 

Foreign interference ‘corrodes our democracy, sovereignty, economy and community,’ as Mike Burgess, the director-general of security, put it so well in his annual threat assessment in February. 

As deputy chair of the federal parliament’s intelligence and security committee, I know how deeply our competitors seek to embed themselves in our parliamentary democracy. 

Only last year the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation revealed it had disrupted a nest of Russian spies in our capital city.  

Yet, if you managed to get a young person to look up from TikTok and asked him or her to name the biggest threat to Australia, I can almost guarantee that the answer wouldn’t be ‘foreign interference.’ Yet foreign interference is being perpetrated even as the young person doom-scrolls—compulsively looks at bad news—on unsafe apps. 

To be honest, you’d probably not get the right answer from that person’s parents or even grandparents. 

While our defence, intelligence and security agencies are working hard behind the scenes to keep us safe, the Australian public is none the wiser. The political class has failed to ensure that Australians can understand and contend with the threats we face. 

That’s why, once again, I’m calling for a whole-of-nation national security strategy, in the spirit of the grand strategy proposed by the late, great senator Jim Molan. 

This would not be a national defence strategy, like the long-awaited document released last week, which looks at only one component of security. Rather, I’m talking about an integrated strategy that would engage Australian industry, academia, the community and all governments in developing a comprehensive plan to bolster Australia’s self-reliance, sovereignty, and security. Crucially, it would strengthen our resistance to foreign interference. 

Our AUKUS partners have implemented their own national security strategies, while our government has cut back on border security, the space industry and modern manufacturing.  

As Molan said, ‘What good is it to have a brilliant defence strategy without an overarching and comprehensive national security strategy?’ 

He questioned how we could defend Australia without national policies addressing such crucial security considerations as liquid-fuel and pharmaceuticals supply, industry, science and technology, labour, diplomacy, and stocking. 

National security is everyone’s responsibility. The last few years have made that clear. 

China, Russia, Iran and North Korea continue to conduct malicious activities against critical infrastructure, public and private companies, agencies, and democratic institutions across the world.  

We saw it in Canada, where foreign meddling in elections has prompted a public inquiry to examine foreign interference.  

We saw it in Britain, with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) targeting Westminster parliamentarians and 40 million British voters only months after a parliamentary staffer was arrested on suspicion of espionage. 

We saw it in Taiwan, where the CCP intimidated voters and used social media to spread disinformation during the campaigning for the January election. I saw evidence of those intimidation tactics up close when I led a delegation to Taipei last month.  

At every waking hour, these aggressive nations and their so-called axis of resistance mobilise social media anonymity and algorithms to radicalise the vulnerable, recruit foot soldiers and rip off vulnerable Australians.  

Yes, our parliamentary democracy is a resilient institution—but it’s not indestructible.  

Ronald Reagan said: ‘Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realise that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.’ Global politics has become so obsessed with populism, feel-good politics, and ticking boxes that we’ve adulterated government’s primary duty: to leave a safer, stronger, and more secure nation for our children. 

In the grey zone and veneer of peace, we’ve allowed poli􏰁cs to descend into theatrics and short-term gains. We’ve failed to distil the reality that Australia faces an existential threat, and the world is on the threshold of broadscale conflict. 

It’s time to change the narrative.  

I’m calling on all levels of government, all sides of parliament, and every sector of the economy and community to work together on developing a national security strategy.  

As Warren Buffett said, ‘Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”  

I want my kids to raise their kids in the free and democratic Australia we know today and cherish. The seeds of that security must be planted today if we want to safeguard their future.

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