Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 11:13 | SYDNEY
Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 11:13 | SYDNEY

National security complex consolidates


Graeme Dobell

17 May 2010 11:36

The politics of national security is like the politics of health care — you can never have too much health nor too much security.

The problem for the national security complex now established in Canberra is that politicians will always throw a lot more cash at doctors and nurses than at terrorists or spies. In the voter equation, medicos can threaten governments more efficiently than crooks. As a former NSW Premier is apt to observe, the doctors run the strongest trade union in the country.

Without straining the health care-national security similarity too far, there is one other common element to the political calculations involved. No matter how much governments spend, they will always get the blame. Here the analogy ends.

After an extraordinary period of growth, the national security complex is due to enter a period of relative consolidation. The funding rush that began after September 11, 2001, turned into turbo-charged growth after the first Bali bombing in October, 2002. At the end of the decade, key agencies have more than doubled in size and the national security complex has achieved its distinct budget status. Time to take stock.

In his 2008 national security statement, Rudd promised a unified national security budget. It has taken a while, but mark that as a promise met in this budget. Having consolidated the complex, the Prime Minister now wishes to inspect it.

In Rudd's Cartesian universe — I review and report, ergo I am — the national security complex is due for a full medical. Hence the government's decision — foreshadowed by its funding in the budget — of a review of the effectiveness of Australia's intelligence and security agencies.

The Flood review of 2004 was the design document (such as there was) for the way the national security complex evolved over the rest of the decade. The $3 million Rudd review, due to report at the end of next year, will be the Prime Minister's design for the coming decade. See Tim Lester's take on where this could lead.

Going back to that 2008 national security statement is also a useful guide to where the review will be pointed. Back then, Rudd's language was notable for putting terrorism on par with a range of other scourges, from people smugglers and organised crime down to the need for E-security against cyber attacks. Recent musings by the Prime Minister suggest more emphasis on old fashioned state-on-state snooping. Call it the Westphalian default position for spooking.

A large country with a name that begins with 'C' springs to mind, for all sorts of reasons.

Photo by Flickr user kaytethinks, used under a Creative Commons license.