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Renewed call for a new national security strategy

With more than a decade since the release of Australia’s first national security strategy, amid the deterioration of regional and global security, there are renewed calls for the Albanese government to develop and release a new national security strategy.

With more than a decade since the release of Australia’s first national security strategy, amid the deterioration of regional and global security, there are renewed calls for the Albanese government to develop and release a new national security strategy.

There is no escaping that national security is the first and most sacrosanct responsibility of any government, and in these increasingly perilous times, it is becoming more so.

However, while it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, the challenges are mounting and the window to embrace and capitalise on the opportunities transforming both the world and the Indo-Pacific is rapidly closing.


By now, many engaged Australians will be accepting of the reality that the nation needs a more coherent and consistent response to said challenges, and to embrace the opportunities without veering into overly centralised planning that is anathema to the rugged individualism that once dominated Australian life and culture.

Since the release of the Gillard government’s national security strategy in 2013, titled, Strong and Secure: A Strategy for Australia’s National Security, Australia’s Indo-Pacific environs have only further deteriorated in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in new calls for a national security strategy.

Spearheading this is Mick McNeill, managing director of strategic advisory firm Bower Group Asia Australia, for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, in a piece titled, It’s time for a new national security strategy, detailing the logic behind the call.

Setting the scene, McNeill stated, “with a reduction in strategic warning time, an evolving set of threats and, above all, a collapse of the distinction between our economic and security interests, there is a case for an updated national security strategy to improve co–ordination between government agencies and explain to the public of how it plans to protect Australia’s vital interests”.

Going further, McNeill added, “Amid a rapidly changing geopolitical environment, the elements of national security are broadening and becoming more connected. As just a few examples, technology-enabled foreign interference and disinformation are proliferating, COVID and the invasion of Ukraine have highlighted supply chain dependencies, and there is a growing acceptance that energy and climate challenges will complicate the security environment.”

Many hands make light work

With the release of the national Defence strategy expected in the next few weeks according to scuttlebutt and corresponding anticipation and speculation beginning to swirl, it serves to reveal the lack of comprehensive and coordinated guidance in Australia’s national security environment.

Highlighting this, McNeill stated, “The government has accepted the 2023 Defence Strategic Review’s proposal for a biennial national Defence strategy, the first to be released this year. The DSR also gave a strong signal of the mindset the government would bring to the development of any national security strategy, with references to the need for ‘a much more whole-of-government and whole-of-nation approach to security’.”

Where McNeill’s call differs from previous incarnations, at least at first glance, is a call for the greater involvement with the private sector and an acceptance that the concept of “whole-of-government” needs to give way to “whole-of-nation” effort where many hands make light work in securing our national interests.

“A new national security strategy would need involvement from the private sector. New economic models have emerged as the distinction between security and economics has blurred. Over the nearly half century from the 1970s, Australia has shifted from a general protectionist mindset to liberalisation of the economy. Now, sovereign capability and friend-shoring have been added to the mix and gained prominence. Strategic realities are challenging longstanding notions of economic efficiency and security,” McNeill explained.

McNeill isn’t alone in this shift in thinking, citing recent calls by Business Council of Australia (BCA) for a contemporary form of industry policy to be developed for the nation, as the BCA puts it, “to develop sectors in which Australia has a comparative advantage. It has stressed the need to build capabilities to tap into the world’s supply chains and pointed to areas of emerging strength such as critical minerals, quantum, the AUKUS security pact and space.”

This approach recognises something Australian governments, Australian business and, indeed, the public have been slow to grasp and understand, that in an era of grey zone and hybrid warfare, no section of the national apparatus is off limits and all are important contributors to the expansion of the nation’s interests and security.

Recognising this, McNeill stated, “The indivisibility of economics and security is nowhere better captured than in the strategically vital areas of energy and critical minerals. Here, Australia will need to balance domestic considerations with the interests of its key strategic partners. Any comprehensive national security strategy will need to take such considerations into account.”

Ultimately, McNeill believes that a national security strategy will provide the glue which binds our individual strategies and plans together, providing a common direction or a guiding star.

This echoes the words of the late Jim Molan, who told Defence Connect in 2019, “We have managed to get away with not having a national security strategy only because we have lived in a tranquil region since 1945. But our strategic environment is changing quickly, and we need to prepare for a turbulent future. Developing a national security strategy would be a vital first step towards building the capacity we need to face the potential challenges that are coming.

“Most Australians can be forgiven for believing that successive Defence white papers, in conjunction with foreign affairs white papers and reviews into energy, including liquid fuels, water and food security, constitute a true national security strategy, unfortunately, without the guidance of an overarching national security strategy, we get lost in the sub-strategies.”

Final thoughts

Despite the rhetoric and lofty ambition highlighted by both sides of the political debate, declining economic opportunity, coupled with the rapidly deteriorating global and regional balance of power and the increased politicisation of every aspect of contemporary life only serves to exacerbate the very reality of disconnection, apathy, and helplessness felt by many Australians.

This attitude is only serving to be compounded and creates a growing sentiment that we are speeding towards a predestined outcome, thus disempowering the Australian people and, to a lesser extent, policymakers as we futilely confront seemingly insurmountable challenges with little to no benefit and at a high-risk/reward calculation.

Taking into account the costs and implications, it is therefore easy to understand why so many Australians, both in the general public and within our decision-making circles, seem to have checked out and are quite happy to allow the nation to continue to limp along in mediocrity because, well, it is easier than having lofty ambitions.

If both Australian policymakers and the Australian public don’t snap out of the comforting security blanket that is the belief in the “End of History”, the nation will continue to rapidly face an uncomfortable and increasingly dangerous new reality, where we truly are no longer the masters of our own destiny.

All of this combines to form a rather confronting and disconcerting outcome for our long-term national security and one that requires remedying immediately if Australia is to be positioned to capitalise on the truly epoch-defining industrial, economic, political, and strategic shifts currently underway across the globe.

After all, how can we ask and reasonably expect Australians, particularly young Australians, to put the national interest ahead of their own when the nation doesn’t seem to account for their own interests, particularly when taken to the end of its logical extension, the national interest is at its core, the individual’s interest?

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..

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