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Former deputy PM calls for Albo to take national security more seriously

Former Australian deputy prime minister John Anderson AC has called on the Prime Minister to take a greater hand and interest in our national security before it is too late.

Former Australian deputy prime minister John Anderson AC has called on the Prime Minister to take a greater hand and interest in our national security before it is too late.

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t believe that the first and most important responsibility of a national government and leadership is the security of the nation, its people, and its interests.

For some, the Albanese government has struck the right balance of considered review and response, from which we are now starting to see some action. Meanwhile, for others, this Labor government’s action or lack thereof (in their view) is a return to form for previous Labor governments.

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The latest such example of this comes from The Australian’s contributing author, former deputy prime minister, the Honourable John Anderson AC, in a piece titled, Mr Albanese, your first priority must be national security, in which he articulates a growing need for the Prime Minister to take a stronger role in Australia’s national security.

Anderson begins his commentary with critical historic context, stating, “We may not think much about it, but the reason our forebears came together in 1900 to secure a Commonwealth government was to ensure the safety and freedom of the Australian people, and it surely remains so to this day.”

Going further, Anderson added, “It follows that there is no greater responsibility for the prime minister of the day, and the government, than our defence and security. The years leading up to Federation were characterised by expansionism by Germany and France into Australasia, an increasingly assertive Japan, following its defeat of Russia in 1905, and a general sense of global unease leading many nations to prepare for the worst.”

The importance of historic context is something often overlooked or is perhaps, more worryingly, simply unknown by vast elements of Australia’s public and concerningly, our leaders.

This is at the crux of Anderson’s criticism of the Albanese government and Prime Minister himself, particularly given the accelerating decline of the post-Cold War theory of the “End of History” and unrestricted liberalisation and globalisation championed by Australia’s primary strategic benefactor, the United States.

For many, the period of optimism was shattered on the morning of 11 September 2001 as hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, bringing the Western world into direct conflict with radical Islam once again across the Middle East and Central Asia.

Meanwhile, Mao’s revolutionary China – now led by a burgeoning emperor, Xi Jinping – and Putin’s Russia watched the adventurism, hubris, and at certain points, hubris of the US-led Western world while embracing and learning the lessons from the approach to modern warfare, influence operations, economics, and industrialisation at breakneck speed by the West.

It wasn’t until nearly three decades later that the mask would truly slip as Putin’s Russia began its expansion in central Asia, beginning with Georgia and South Ossetia, before turning its attention to Ukraine, first in 2014, and again in 2022.

Meanwhile, China was rapidly expanding its military capabilities and its presence throughout the region, actively posing an ever-increasing threat to the peace, prosperity, and stability that had characterised the preceding decades.

Yet the historic ebbs and flows of the rise and fall of civilisations seems to be overlooked by our leadership.

PM urgently needs to take a greater hand

For Anderson, this confluence of major historic changes necessitates a greater role for the Prime Minister and urgently.

While there has been some progress in terms of reviews, Anderson is pointed saying, “Yet it seems that, almost correspondingly, every day we learn of more bungled materiel acquisitions, lost or cancelled capabilities, lack of essential personnel (even to the extent of manning the frighteningly modest Royal Australian Navy), and a mind-boggling lack of urgency around supply-chain security.

“The government’s recent response to the surface fleet review only reinforces the sense of unreality. Not only is there insignificant extra funding in the forward estimates, but our actual naval firepower will also continue to decline over the next few years before the rather modest, hoped-for boost in capability starts to materialise some time next decade. Plainly, to borrow from David Lloyd George, all this is too important to leave to the generals.”

Laying down the gauntlet, Anderson challenged the Prime Minister, saying, “Anthony Albanese must embrace his prime responsibility and, along with his government, take firm control.”

While it is easy to get caught up in the hyperbole of titles like a new “Axis” as our world and, indeed, the Indo-Pacific becomes increasingly contested and, in some cases, openly hostile to the post-Second World War and post-Cold War order built and maintained by the United States, it is increasingly holding water.

For Anderson, this necessitates greater engagement from our political leaders with the Australian public, despite what many would describe as “no constituency” for defence and national security in Australian society.

“There is no point in claiming, as I often hear, that there is no constituency for defence. How is this anything other than admitting that defending our country counts less to governments than winning votes at the next election? Perhaps there is no constituency interested in national defence because our governments have had no inclination to educate Australians on the multiple threats to global peace and Australia’s security in particular?” Anderson asked.

The sensitivity, complexity, and stakes associated with the shift in the global and regional balance of power requires leadership, Anderson stated, “Leaders lead, whether or not there is a constituency.

“Even if there is no mass of votes to be gained in securing Australia’s military capabilities, this doesn’t mean there are any votes to be lost in securing them. Honesty, calm reason and sound analysis are needed, leading to the establishment of awareness and trust,” he stated, explaining the importance of deft leadership in the Australian context.

This approach is increasingly important as Australia seemingly continues to live as a nation in some form of arrested development when it comes to the harsh reality of history and the new world order we now face.

Don’t assume the US will do it all for us

A central consideration for greater public consciousness and understanding of our rapidly deteriorating geopolitical and strategic circumstances is the declining capacity and willingness of the United States to continue serving as the global security provider.

This is an uncomfortable realisation that is becoming real for many Western leaders, particularly those in Europe and increasingly in our region, that like all the great powers of history, the United States can’t have its cake and eat it too.

Ultimately, this leaves Australia in a conundrum we haven’t had to face since the Fall of Singapore in 1942, but it isn’t a completely alien reality.

Anderson stated, “Real leadership is now urgently required to facilitate firm and resolute action, both in terms of national unity and actual material capacity of the sort that is urgently needed and surely owed the Australian people.

“Nor is it acceptable to presume the Americans will do it all for us. The unipolar global order we have taken for granted, in which the US has enjoyed such total dominance, is now stretched to breaking point,” he added.

This comes on the back of mounting recognition that the Australian Defence Force is FAR from being capable of responding to a relatively minor contingency in the Red Sea, let alone fighting a major conflict with any serious prospect of success.

For Anderson, this requires a major course correction and quickly, “We owe it to ourselves, to those forebears upon whose shoulders we stand, and to other nations that see us as a dependable ally to lift our game – and fast.”

Final thoughts

Being bold, being optimistic and ambitious for our future is something every Australian wants to see from their political leaders, as the tone and direction of any organisation is set from the top.

As confidence and ambition permeates Australian leaders, it will begin to trickle down, to steal from Ronald Reagan, and begin to rapidly and powerfully shift the way the nation interacts with itself and the Indo-Pacific.

This requires a greater degree of transparency and a culture of collaboration between the nation’s strategic policymakers and elected officials and the constituents they represent and serve – equally, this approach will need to entice the Australian public to once again invest in and believe in the future direction of the nation.

Expanding and enhancing the opportunities available to Australians while building critical economic resilience, and as a result, deterrence to economic coercion, should be the core focus of the government because only when our economy is strong can we ensure that we can deter aggression towards the nation or our interests.

Additionally, Australia will need to have an honest conversation about how we view ourselves and what our own ambitions are. Is it reasonable for Australia to position itself as a “middle” or “regional” power in this rapidly evolving geopolitical environment?

Equally, if we are going to brand ourselves as such, shouldn’t we aim for the top tier to ensure we get the best deal for ourselves and our future generations?

Get involved with the discussion and let us know your thoughts on Australia’s future role and position in the Indo-Pacific region and what you would like to see from Australia’s political leaders in terms of partisan and bipartisan agenda setting in the comments section below, or get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Stephen Kuper

Stephen Kuper

Steve has an extensive career across government, defence industry and advocacy, having previously worked for cabinet ministers at both Federal and State levels.

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