Confronting an Uneasy Reality – the Future of Australia’s National Security

My participation in this week’s AFR National Security Summit left me in no doubt that Australia’s security circumstances are shifting as global and regional circumstances change. Security threats posed by a rapidly shifting geopolitical landscape, the rise of anti-trade nationalism, advanced new cyber threats, and the prospect of increased instability caused by resource scarcity are all likely to have broad-reaching consequences on Austalia’s response to national security and foreign affairs.

Australia’s current exposure to some of these threats is clearly not yet severe, but the same is not true for some of our neighbours within the Asia Pacific region. But Australia’s political leaders have now had a long-running focus on their internal party-political power struggles, which has distracted from some serious issues facing Australia’s federal government. This makes it difficult to achieve important short-term goals, such as agreeing on constructive strategies and policies that can achieve broad community and political support.

 Sir Mark Rowley described the current global domestic security dilemma as one in which the “nature, frequency and intensity of threats is growing. This is fundamentally reshaping and transforming our attitudes and approach to addressing this rapidly changing security paradigm”.

In his opening remarks, Christopher Pyne MP Minister for defence emphasised the importance of Australia taking a greater foreign policy role within the Indo-Pacific region, which he suggested could be achieved by working with our security partners to foster and maintain social and economic stability. He pointed out that this is particularly important right now, as terrorists and militia fighters are leaving conflict zones in Syria and Afghanistan, turn their attention to destabilising and disrupting democracies within the Indo-Pacific region. 

Minister Pyne also highlighted the need for Australia to continue to forge closer defence cooperation relations with allies, both old and new. For example, ensuring partners such as Japan and Indonesia, with whom Australia has shared interests, are able to constructively respond to China’s growing presence in the region. 

Finally, Pyne stressed the importance of nurture the ongoing development of Australia’s defence industry and capabilities. Whilst defence spending currently sits at 2.5% of GDP, Pyne emphasised the importance of maintaining Australia’s defence spending levels until at least 2025, particularly as the balance of geopolitical power in the region continues to shift.

Following on from Minister Pyne, Shadow Defence Minister Richard Marles outlined Labor’s national security and defence priorities. These centre around the need for Australia to embark on a deeper,  longer-term conversation with the Australian community, policymakers and academics concerning the future of Australia’s defence industry and position on the world stage.

Homeland Security

Elaine Duke, Former United States Acting Secretary of Homeland Security & Former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security andSpecialist Leader Security & Justice, and now with Deloitte shared her perspectives on the role of Homeland Security and lesson learnt when it comes to managing domestic and home affairs.

Key points

  • Foreign policy and international relations is the“away game” whilst homeland security is the “home game”
  • Developing a joined up and connected homeland security capability is vital, with one back-office system
  • Absolute clarity around the “mission” is required, and which parts of the agency is responsible for what. A clear understanding of responsibilities & accountabilities for all.

Nuclear Threats

Madelyn Creedon, Former Principal Deputy Administrator of the National NuclearSecurity Administration, US Department of Energy along with Dr Brad Roberts, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Nuclear and Missile Defence Policy, Obama Administration, shared their perspectives on the the nuclear implications of a multipolar security environment, and what this might mean for Australia’snational security.

Key points

  • The abundance of non-state actors with access to nuclear material (potentially using dirty bombs & drones) has shifted the focus for policymakers and the defence industry.
  • The shift away from multi-lateral nuclear cooperation poses significant threats to the current rules-based approach to the control of nuclear weapons
  • Nuclear capabilities and arms build-ups become less clear as the rules-based order erodes

Cyber Threats – Major Infrastructure

Dr Lesley Seebeck, CEO, ANU Cyber Institute, Tom Uren, Visiting Fellow, ASPI, and Eric Dull, Specialist Leader, Chief DataScientist – Cyber Analytics, Deloitte Global shared their thoughts on the cyberthreats to Australia’s major infrastructure.

Key points

  • Technology underpinning Australia’s major infrastructure was mostly developed in the nineties, well before modern cyber threats and terrorism techniques were fully understood.
  • Cyber threats such as denial of service attacks and data breaches expose Australian infrastructure to significant risks
  • Maintaining and preserving our individual digital “health” is the single most important priority for citizens seeking to minimise exposure to cyber attack

Australia Defence Industry

Gary Stewart, Managing Director, Rheinmetall, Kate Louis, Head of Defence & Industry Policy, Australian Industry Group, Darren Edwards, Managing Director, Boeing Defence Australia and Nigel Stewart, Managing Director – HunterClass Frigate Program, BAE Systems Australia discussed what role the private sector might play in supporting and leading Australia’s future defence requirements and capabilities.

Key points

  • The emergence of new national threats requires greater levels of cooperation and investments between governments and private industry, particularly in the development of multi-national defence programs.
  • A sustainable defence industry requires dialogue and cooperation between the defence industry and government, covering development, investment and ownership of intellectual property
  • Defence projects such as the Future Frigate program and the LAND400 highlight the potential opportunities for future defence projects beyond Australia’s borders.

Future of Policing

Sir Mark Rowley,  Strategic Adviser – Security & Justice – NW Europe, Deloitte & Former Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations, Metropolitan Police Service shared his perspectives on the consequences of failure to modernise law enforcement and discussed the increasingly globalised and sophisticated nature of organised crime.

Sir Mark Rowley’s key learning from Police reform

Key points

  • Policing and law enforcement must never lose sight of the need to build and maintain credibility, capability, and collaboration.
  • Reforming law enforcement requires a whole of society approach
  • Strengthening intelligence (especially within the digital realm) is key to successful law enforcement
  • Good policing requires the careful balancing of funding, policy and political support


Reflecting on the conference, it is clear that Australia’s attitudes and perceptions relating to national security are likely to undergo significant change over the next few decades, as technology increasingly negates our geographical isolation.

The rise of China’s power within the region and the increasing risks to domestic security will mean that Australia will need to focus more attention beyond our own borders. This includes

  • Australia needs to play a greater leadership role and position in regional dialogue and security focused on the stabilisation of the  Indo-Pacific region.
  • Policy makers will need to form a consensus and bi-partisan longer-term view of Australia’s national security priorities, and how those priorities interact with trade and diplomatic relationships.
  • Development of a vibrant and successful defence industry within Australia is vital to maintaining Australia’s security and independence.
  • Building international partnerships and alliances will be critical to addressing global threats from non-state actors and organised crime  

References & Contributors

Forces of change Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 and the digital twin

Smart cyber – How AI can help manage cyber risk

Policing 4.0 Deciding the Future of Policing in the UK

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