Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 23:57 | SYDNEY
Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 23:57 | SYDNEY

Rudd inaugural National Security Statement


Graeme Dobell

4 December 2008 15:07

Just after its first birthday, the Rudd Government has offered a formal picture of how it views the world and the threats Australia faces. The National Security Statement promises more cash for diplomacy, a unified national security budget, a new Security Semi-Supremo, and lots more White Papers.

The biggest departure from the Howard Government in language and tone is the relative demotion of terrorism and the promotion of climate change as security issues. The language in the Statement seems to put 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.

Terrorism, Rudd said, is 'likely to endure as a serious ongoing threat for the foreseeable future', posing a direct threat to Australia. But there is no 'likely' qualification about global warming. Climate change is 'a most fundamental national security challenge.' One of the tasks of Australia’s new Security semi-Supremo will be 'the formal incorporation of climate change within Australia’s national security policy and analysis process.'

The old Labor policy to establish a Department of Homeland Security is formally buried. That was always a Kim Beazley promise rather than a Kevin Rudd desire. The more modest structure now offered does not threaten bureaucratic revolution, but there’s still plenty of scope for turf wars and budget battles. The Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, said that Labor abandoning the Homeland Security Department is 'one broken promise for which we can all be very thankful.'

The Prime Minister told Parliament that the National Security Statement would be the first of a regular, even annual, series. Rudd aimed high by arguing that the Security Statement would come to have the same significance as the annual federal budget.

The budget analogy is useful because, of course, that annual economic document is all about ranking issues by importance and allocating cash accordingly. The National Security Statement does not offer this direct linkage between priorities and dollars. But the Kevin Rudd method does lay out explicit hierarchies. The first was the Prime Minister’s ordering and numbering of the principles his government will use in confronting a rapidly changing global order:

  1. Australian self-reliance.
  2. The US alliance as 'fundamental' and the 'key strategic partnership'.
  3. Regional engagement so that the Asia Pacific century is marked by a culture of co-operation, not a default to conflict.
  4. Global institutions and a rules-based international order
  5. Australian creative middle power diplomacy.
  6. A risk-based approach to setting priorities for defence, diplomacy and intelligence.
  7. 'Whole-of-government', which must include partnership with Australia’s six state and two territory governments.

Rudd then offered an Australian geographic order for the 'dawn of the Asia Pacific century'. The likelihood of conflict is low, the Prime Minister said, but the future stability of the Asia Pacific will rely on the continuing presence of the US. The 'crucial relationship' is between China and the US. On the second tier reside Japan and India. The third tier encompasses Southeast Asia. On the fourth tier, the South Pacific (when he was in Opposition, Rudd adopted the 'arc of instability' label for the islands).

The previous Howard Government would have had no real troubles with  the geography, although it would have choked on some of the principles, or at least cloaked them in different language. The coalition, for instance, disdained the 'middle power' language as Labor-speak that understated Australia’s impact. And the phrase 'Australia’s soft power assets' didn’t pass John Howard’s lips very often.

Rudd promised more resources for the Foreign Affairs Department. Australian diplomacy must be 'more activist than in the past'. Indeed, 'our diplomacy must be the best in the world.' Foreign Affairs was the big loser in the $10 billion security spend that followed from the terrorist attacks in the US in 2001 and Bali in 2002. Perhaps the pin-stripes can now snatch some morsels from the mouths of the troops, the spooks and the feds. 

Following that line of thought, there was a hint of Prime Ministerial frustration at the funding feast otherwise known as the Defence budget. There was a distinct un-Howard tone in Rudd’s call for greater rigour in defence planning, greater efficiency in defence spending and greater certainty in allocating the defence budget. Rigour and efficiency – the funding fun of the last decade is a fond and fading memory at Russell Hill.

'Whole-of-government' will take on new meaning if the concept is really applied to the way the budget pie is carved, as promised by the Security Statement. This is one of the tasks awarded to the new Security Semi-Supremo, or National Security Adviser, Duncan Lewis. Rudd said the National Security Adviser will help allocate cash across portfolios and oversee 'the preparation of Australia’s first national security budget.' So Lewis will need some of the fighting skills he showed commanding the SAS. Strangling chickens will be good preparation for trying to take money away for Defence to give to the diplomats.

There are now two distinct security fiefdoms inside the PM’s Department: the Office of National Assessments and the National Security Adviser at the head of the Office of National Security. The challenge will be to remain collegiate but not succumb to group think; to achieve contestability while stopping short of all-out turf wars. And remember, that’s just inside the PM’s own bureaucracy.

The Statement illuminates the Cartesian nature of the Rudd universe: I review and report, ergo I am. Among the future reports that will follow: the Defence White Paper, a Foreign Policy statement, a Counter-Terrorism White Paper and a National Energy Security Assessment. 

Taking aim at this element, Malcolm Turnbull’s funniest thrust at the Statement was to observe that 'not even the Prime Minister would describe this as swift and decisive', a mocking of the language Rudd has used to label the Government response to the global financial crisis. The Opposition Leader’s summing up was that the Rudd description of how the world looks is not explicit enough:

The statement does not adequately and unequivocally describe what the government intends to do about the many security challenges ahead. So much is thrown into the future, in new structures, new reviews and new reports. It has not yet offered us a clear, concise explanation of the strategic doctrine to which the Rudd Government is working, if such a doctrine exists.