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Director of National Security Institute Welcomes the Prime Minister's National Security Statement

The National Security Statement from the Prime Minister has been worth the wait. It is a wide ranging, pragmatic and forward looking document which categorically states that the first priority of any Government is national security. Four themes stand out.

  1. First, it breaks new ground in confidently stating what we want as a Nation. The list is unambiguous; freedom from attack or threat of attack, the maintenance of our territorial integrity and political sovereignty, the preservation of our hard won freedoms and the maintenance of our economic prosperity.
  2. Second, it clarifies our view of the threats and challenges that face us now and in the future. Globalisation, changing power relationships, economic turmoil, failing states and the continuing threat of terrorism present us with difficult policy challenges and are stretching our resources. Emerging problems such as transnational crime, people smuggling, climate change, and pandemics will also shape our future security. We need to respond to new threats in different ways with much greater flexibility and agility and use all of the resources available to us as a Nation.
  3. Third, the statement provides strategic guidance and a clear intent to a range of subsequent White Papers and assessments. These documents will benefit from being based on the overarching guidance provided by a National Security Statement.
  4. Fourth, the Prime Minister has sensibly decided not to create a Homeland Security Department. By appointing the experienced and widely respected Duncan Lewis as National Security Adviser within his own Department he will keep close control of the national security agenda.

The statement also reinforces our self reliant posture and the importance of diplomacy to promote a stable regional and international environment. It correctly indicates that we need to be more active diplomatically and provide more depth in diplomatic resources. DFAT have been doing it hard lately and more resources for engagement and capacity building will be welcome.

This National Security Statement recognises that security is achieved at home and abroad and that we must act to both promote and protect our security. It puts Australia on the path to being able to respond to future threats and challenges in a more strategic, comprehensive and coordinated Whole of Government manner. It takes a long term view of our future security and recognises that security is best achieved by being confident in ourselves and what we stand for.

The only disappointing aspect of the statement is the failure to incorporate a statement of National Purpose or Vision. This would have strengthened the paper and provided real depth and durability to the paper. This is surprising because in his speech to the Sydney Institute on 16 April 2008, he spoke of how our core national values contributed to the governments vision for Australias future. The values he spoke of were; security; liberty; opportunity; creativity, equity; family; community; solidarity; sustainability; and an underlying fundamental value of an irreducible human dignity.

Peter Leahy is the Director of the National Security Institute at the University of Canberra. He retired as Chief of Army in July 2008.