Just before Australia’s election campaign kicked off, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese gave speeches at the Lowy Institute outlining their views on national security.
These are the kinds of speeches that set the tone for the campaign — at least when it comes to international concerns such as defense and foreign policy — and provide insight into the agenda of each potential government.
What was interesting about the speeches was not where they disagreed, but rather the many points of convergence in how the two leaders see and define the threat landscape, and how much that definition has changed and expanded even since the last election in 2019.
Whereas in the past these speeches were largely devoted to “mainstream” concepts of national security, such as the military, economics and trade, the speeches of Morrison and Albanese encompassed a broader view that includes cybersecurity, organized crime, climate change and potential threats to our way of life. . The two went on to list critical infrastructure, supply chain resilience, manufacturing capacity, telecommunications, key industries, technology, data security, energy and climate change resilience.
This move is important. This shows that Australia’s two main political parties embrace a much broader concept of national security.
But how can we be sure that policy decisions made “in the national interest” actually reflect the way of life and values of all Australians? This approach is based on an assessment of our collective values. It involves an understanding of our way of life.
The need for representation has become even more critical because national security now encompasses almost every significant aspect of civil and social life. It is not limited to geopolitics beyond our borders. National security now affects our businesses, our communities and our neighbourhoods. It indicates when, why and how we might restrict freedoms, use surveillance or use force.
In a world where national security decisions are made in the name of our values and our way of life, we need to hear more diverse voices with different experiences and new ways of thinking. We need more diverse voices on national security and more diversity in the national security sector.
We need to hear from native Australians: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. First, second and third generation migrants, who gain insight into what makes Australia attractive and the challenges they faced while migrating. We need to hear the national security perspectives of all states and territories, rural and regional areas and major cities, not just the voices of Canberra.
We need to understand the national security priorities of Australians from all walks of life, including scientists, technology experts, mathematicians and engineers as well as those in sport, arts, crafts, education and a whole range of professions – not just traditional academics and government officials.
The pandemic, climate change and current global events are revealing vulnerabilities and inequalities on an international scale. Fortunately, there is much we can do to ensure that decisions about our national security actually reflect our values and our way of life.
First, the national security community must engage more actively with the Australian people in two-way dialogue.
Second, the national security community needs to hire and be more accessible to a wider range of people, across Australia, and include options to opt out of this type of work, rather than being a single path of career. It must remain competitive in a rapidly changing job market.
Last but not least, Australians can use their voices and votes to call on government for representative public service and participate in discussions about our national security.
Australia’s current approach to national security is strong, but it needs more diverse perspectives to prepare us for the strategic challenges ahead.
One feasible step is to establish a government-led forum to produce alternative national security perspectives, made up of Australians from diverse backgrounds, locations, educational experiences and socio-economic status. Another is to improve employment opportunities – and mobility – for a more diverse population in the national security environment.
As more and more aspects of our lives come under national security, we must ensure that the views and values of all Australians are reflected in assessments of our national interest. We need more diverse thinking and we need it fast because the landscape of sovereignty and national security is changing rapidly. For Australia to thrive, we need new ways to engage and shape our future.