Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 23:48 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 23:48 | SYDNEY

ASPI does resilience


Sam Roggeveen


8 May 2008 11:23

Yesterday the Australian Strategic Policy Institute released a new paper advocating a more resilient Australia. Societal and economic resilience is a topic we've tackled before here at The Interpreter, and it is very encouraging to see it get such systematic treatment from ASPI. Let's hope it kicks along a national debate, and that Ric Smith's homeland security review makes resilience a real priority.

The ASPI paper focuses deliberately on the broad topic of Australia's ability to cope with and recover from all kinds of disasters, not just man-made ones like a major terrorist attack. This is a reminder that terrorism is by no means the biggest threat we face, and that many of the systems and processes needed to cope with an attack would be the same ones necessary for other kinds of disaster response. Unfortunately, as the report points out, the previous government didn't really recognise this, and hence spending and attention tended to focus too heavily on terrorism.

Authors Anthony Bergin and David Templeman go on to say that this terrorism focus encourages a national security 'need to know' mindset, whereas what's really required is to encourage community involvement in disaster response. On this score, the paper gives the Howard Government some credit for initiatives like the National Security Hotline, though that might be too generous. Sure, the public could be involved to the extent of identifying possible threats, but it was a one-way street— us helping the government to protect us. What's really required (and what the paper recommends) is for government to provide the tools for the community to help itself. 

If I have a reservation about the paper, it is that its recommendations say too little about what you might call disaggregation as a means to improve resiliency. Like most industrialised countries, Australia is highly dependent on a small number of infrastructure nodes, the breakdown of which could be disastrous for one of our big cities or even the country. The ASPI paper recommends strengthening this infrastructure, but what about pulling it apart to reduce reliance on any one link? To take the example of electricity, should we be thinking about much smaller-scale power generation, or does that fall down on economies-of-scale grounds?