defence connect logo



If Australia is serious about preparing, what does our ‘Rocky montage’ moment look like?

Gunners from the 102nd ‘Coral’ Battery, 8th/12th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, and Marines from India Battery 2/11, 2nd Marine Division, MRF-D during a joint PT session at Robertson Barracks, NT (Source: Defence)

We have heard consistently over the last decade, at the very least, that Australia needs to prepare a “whole-of-nation” response to face the most serious geopolitical environment since the 1940s. As the debate continues to rage on about our level of commitment, what does our Rocky preparation montage moment look like?

We have heard consistently over the last decade, at the very least, that Australia needs to prepare a “whole-of-nation” response to face the most serious geopolitical environment since the 1940s. As the debate continues to rage on about our level of commitment, what does our Rocky preparation montage moment look like?

First things first, let’s get the first few tracks of the soundtrack set. Without a doubt, we begin with Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, followed by Paul Engemann’s Push it to the Limit and John Cafferty’s Hearts on Fire to get the pump going.

Now let’s set the scene. Since the 2016 Defence White Paper and, arguably, further back than that, Australia’s policymakers and political leaders have warned Australia that the post-Second World War and post-Cold War era of relative strategic stability was guaranteed by the enduring strength of the United States.


This strength was built upon the economic and strategic might developed by the United States during the Second World War and the ensuing political legitimacy of the post-war order built upon the success of the West and through continued buy-in by the Soviet-led East, paving the way for nations like Australia and war-ravaged Europe to build robust economies, resilient political structures and roles in the global order.

The Soviet Union’s collapse at the end of last century marked two major factors that would have long-reaching impacts on today’s global strategic, economic, and political order.

Namely, the consolidation of global power in the United States as the world’s sole remaining superpower and a silent, covert reconsolidation of international power in Russia and the People’s Republic of China, as this reset effectively laid the foundation for the era of great power competition and multipolarity we now face.

While many across the West, particularly in Australia, embraced the “End of History” and the promise of “Peace Dividend” that precipitated an era of hyper-globalisation transforming nations across the East/West divide, the elation and optimism blinded us to a far darker reality.

As we benefited from explosive economic growth, political stability, and the seemingly limitless success of liberal democracy, revisionist powers – centred in large part in Russia and the People’s Republic of China – leveraged the open nature of this new world to rebuild or, in some cases, build their economic fortunes and begin laying the foundation for their own resurgence.

All of this brings me back to the title of this piece and the premise behind Australia’s need for a “Rocky montage” moment (let’s face it, Rocky IV’s is the best) before it is too late.

Now while this may seem like an unserious way of approaching a serious subject, there is a method to my madness and I am sure people can understand the importance of leveraging pop culture icons to excite and engage the public.

It is never too late

There is no escaping the fact that by most metrics across the economic, industrial, and strategic pillars that shape a nation’s capacity, Australia is, unfortunately, starting from a comparatively low base – this is all before we get to the domestic sociopolitical factors that continue to hinder social cohesion.

Just to catch us up, according to the Harvard University Growth Lab’s Atlas of Economic Complexity, Australia as a nation in 2023 was ranked at 93rd in the world, marking a drop of two places since 2022 and perhaps, most concerningly, a 38-position drop since 1995 and in the last decade alone, a 12-position drop.

All of this combines at a time when the lack of economic diversity is coupled with a collapse in productivity over the past decade (at least) and the per capita recession we now find ourselves in, which is perfectly summarised by AMP chief economist Dr Shane Oliver, who explained, “We’re pumping more people in but we’re not producing more stuff per person ... We’re inflating our economy by pumping more people in but it’s not giving us growth in living standards per person – we’re actually going backwards and also productivity is going backwards.”

These troubling figures are also borne out by the Albanese government’s Intergenerational Report 2023: Australia’s future to 2063 which stated, “The Australian economy, like other advanced economies, is projected to grow at a slower pace over the next 40 years than in the past 40 years. Real GDP is projected to grow at an average annual pace of 2.2 per cent – 0.9 percentage points lower than the average of the past.”

We know that the economy is sputtering along, despite the best efforts of successive governments to prop up the national economy through an increased population as mechanism for growing the GDP (after all, anyone with an even basic understanding of economics knows that more people spending money means the line on the graph goes up, therefore it must be good).

This economic and industrial stagnation is further exacerbated by a relatively short-sighted emphasis on “quick and easy” export industries like resources, energy, services, education and, to an extent, agriculture – all of which are propped up by unbelievable levels of real estate speculation resulting in rising intergenerational tensions over the capacity for young Australians to get ahead.

Dr Kevin You, Senior Research Fellow at the Melbourne-based Institute of Public Affairs, in a parliamentary research brief titled, Australia’s economic competitiveness in continuing to decline, articulated the declining competitiveness and its impacts on our long-term national security.

Unpacking the impact, You stated, our economy has plummeted in key economic measures compared with the rest of the world. Analysis of key indicators, as measured by the Institute for Management Development, reveals Australia’s economic competitiveness ranking has plummeted 15 places from first in 2004”.

Bringing us to the state of our nation’s defence capability, which despite the rhetoric and elaborately developed plans we collectively know is in a state of disarray, with major project delays, capability gaps, cost overruns, major personnel attraction and retention challenges at a time when autocratic rivals are on the march across the globe and close to home.

Former defence minister and Australian ambassador to the United States Kim Beazley AC recently told News Corps’ Defending Australia summit, “We could not defend ourselves now without the Americans. When I was defence minister, ­absolutely we could defend ourselves.”

These statements were further reinforced by the “father of Australia’s Defence policy”, Paul Dibb, at the summit, who added, “The key defect with this government’s defence policy is the stark gap between its promises and the lack of action to change Defence preparedness. The government proclaims we are now facing the most serious strategic outlook since the Second World War, but Defence committees apparently drag on as if nothing has changed.

“The gap between government promises and actual delivery any time soon means we are saddled with a peacetime ADF about the same size as it was 38 years ago and with no real capacity to expand quickly ... There is now a yawning gap between potential credible military threats and our lack of defence preparedness.”

Dibb added, “The basic size of the ADF is no different from what it was 38 years ago: an army with six battalions and one regular division; a navy with 11 major surface warships and six submarines; and an air force with around 100 combat aircraft. We continue to have what is basically a peacetime force with little capacity to expand quickly in the event of a crisis. So if we want to mount a 24/7 combat air patrol of our northern approaches, we run out of pilots before we run out of jet fighters.”

Granted, I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking this all seems pretty gloomy, but it isn’t too late, in fact, while the eternal optimist in me would say it is never too late, we are running out of time.

Let’s get the pump going

Before I jump into some ideas of how we get our pump going, I want to use the words of former Australian prime minister, Sir Robert Menzies, who, in 1950, set out a vision for post-Second World War Australia in the face of the Cold War, told the Australian public, “If we want to make our contribution to the pacification of the world, it is our duty to present to the world the spectacle of a rich country with a great people.”

To begin with, Australia has to solve the fundamental weakness of the national economy and its underlying industrial base, in terms of both industrial diversity, competitiveness and productivity and workforce training and opportunity.

This can be achieved through a comprehensive yet streamlined industrial policy framework that unlocks the power of the private sector and the individual, while minimising restrictive, burdensome government intervention and unnecessary regulation.

The “Made in Australia” policy, while a step in the right direction, is as one cynical industry member told me at the recent Space Connect Australian Space Summit 2024, purely a “politically motivated initiative designed to secure the government’s base and attract swing voters who strongly believe Australia should be an industrialised economy”, the vague and, some would say, ideologically motivated priority areas leave a lot to be desired.

Rather, in order to avoid what Dimitri Burshtein, principal at Eminence Advisory Australia, believes, that “Canberra [is] driving us down the long, slow road to economic ruin”, we need to, as he stated, borrow from successes shown by “modern economic history has repeatedly shown that competitive tax rates, limited regulation, and restrained government spending are preconditions for prosperity. Yet, based on the flawed logic that any problem can be resolved through a tax, subsidy, law, or regulation, governments have continued to throw sand into Australia’s economic engine. And when the engine starts to sputter, delivering inflation and a slowing economy, the electoral incentive is for even more sand to be thrown”.

Rather a light touch, industrial policy that builds on proven successful models from abroad is a step in the right direction.

Callum Williams, in a special report for The Economist, titled, Governments across the world are discovering ‘homeland economics’, stated, “The crucial idea [of homeland economics] is to reduce risks to a country’s economy – those presented by the vagaries of markets, an unpredictable shock such as a pandemic, or the actions of a geopolitical opponent...

“Supporters say this will produce a world that is safer, fairer and greener ... Homeland economics wants to protect the world from similar shocks in the future. It wants to keep the benefits of globalisation, with its emphasis on efficiency and low prices, but avoid the downsides: the uncertainty and unfairness of the previous system. This requires meshing national security and economic policy.”

For example, the creation of “Opportunity Zones” under the Trump administration attracted “US$75 billion (AU$114.97 billion) in funds and driven US$52 billion (AU$79.9 billion) of new investment in economically distressed communities, creating at least 500,000 new jobs”, helping to begin rebuilding formerly mighty “Rust Belt” industrial heartlands like Detroit and Cleveland, and was then subsequently (at least in part) built upon by the Biden administration’s CHIPS Act.

These policy leavers provide important opportunities to build or perhaps rebuild social cohesion and optimism through an expansion of individual opportunity while mitigating the simmering intergenerational tensions that serve as a major sociopolitical and economic powder keg waiting to explode.

Shifting to Defence, the most sacred responsibility of any government, one can’t help but notice the growing lack of bipartisan agreement on the way forward, which complicate issues for the Australian public who expect our leaders to at least agree on this.

While there is agreement on the “threat aspect”, namely the mounting threat presented by Beijing and its designs and ambitions for the Indo-Pacific, how we respond to these challenges ranges from continued blind trust in a bureaucracy that, in large part, hasn’t adjusted its world view since the end of the Cold War, or the “she’ll be right” mentality to “it’s all too hard, it’s too complex, so let’s not really bother” and everything in between.

Highlighting this, Dennis Richardson, former head of the Defence Department and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, told the audience of the NewsCorp Defending Australia summit that the major parties tend to “pretend” there is consensus on defence, so that needs to change and fast.

In doing so, we will need to ensure that the body politic is thoroughly informed about the costs associated both in terms of Defence spending and what it will cost over the coming decades, and importantly, what it will cost if we don’t get this right.

Richardson added, “It’s important for both sides of politics to stick to capability decisions when they are made … (instead of) this business about changing everything when you come into office ... Let’s not change it.”

To achieve this, Richardson called on both sides of the nation to leverage some of the positive outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic, namely the sense of urgency and the clear and consistent communication between our policymakers and the public will prove critical, especially because we’ve done it so recently and its feasibility is still present in the public consciousness.

So, maybe it’s time for us to put our AirPods in, limber up, take some pre-workout and crank up our Rocky montage Spotify playlist and start lifting now, because if we don’t do it soon, it will be too late.

Final thoughts

We have to accept that while the world is increasingly becoming “multipolar”, the Indo-Pacific, in particular, is rapidly becoming the most hotly contested region in the world. Underpinned by the emerging economic, political, and strategic might of powers like China, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam, and the established and re-emerging capability of both South Korea and Japan, in particular, are serving to create a hotbed of competition on our doorstep.

Recognising this array of challenges and opportunities, both the Australian public and its policymakers need to look beyond the myopic lens that has traditionally dominated our diplomatic, strategic, and economic policy making since Federation.

Ultimately, we need to see Australia begin to play the long game to fully capitalise on the opportunities transforming the Indo-Pacific.

The most important questions now become, when will we see a more detailed analysis and response to the challenges and opportunities facing Australia and when will we see both a narrative and strategy that better helps industry and the Australian public understand the challenges faced and opportunities we have presented before us?

Most critically, Australia and Australians will need to confront an uncomfortable reality, just because we won the last major war, doesn’t mean we will this time and is that sort of authoritarian world one we want to live in?

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..

You need to be a member to post comments. Become a member for free today!