National security's new era
Julia Gillard sets out Australia's national security imperatives beyond the 9/11 decade.PT0M0S 620 349
The mention of ''Sydney's west'' is enough of a hint to tell you the real threat is to Labor's re-election chances – national security has not compelled Julia Gillard to produce this document.
Why write it? The genesis of this type of sweeping, platitudinous – and ultimately fairly hollow – paeon to Australia's security needs lies with Kevin Rudd and his battle to oust John Howard.
With few exceptions, this latest version shouldn't be taken any more seriously than a collated campaign pamphlet at the beginning of an election year.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard presenting the Government's National Security Strategy in Canberra. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
''Effective partnerships to achieve innovative and efficient national security outcomes,'' is one of three priorities it promises. Surely you feel safer now.
Back in the Howard-era, the Coalition had successfully painted Labor as soft on national security, seizing on Mark Latham's hostility to the US alliance and Kim Beazley's woolly plans for a Coastguard to operate alongside the Navy.
Rudd blunted this line of attack by muscling up on Howard's terms, promising a new and tough sounding supremo to act as ''national security adviser'' and pledging an annual ''national security statement''.
This gave Rudd something tangible to point to, helped also because in 2007 the community mood was less alarmed by terrorist threats: al-Qaeda was on the run (politicians used this same line back then too, just as Gillard did today) and Jemaah Islamiah was decimated in the region (ditto).
With Labor now taking the knife to the Defence budget, the Coalition has regrouped and is again pushing the Labor-is-weak-on-defence line.
Not as a main attack, just one of those many strings to the bow Tony Abbott uses to try and discredit the government.
And this is not much of a document in response, just something tangible for Labor to point to in an attempt to neutralise the Coalition's complaints – perhaps even be a counter-foil, given some of Abbott's ideas about the world seem frozen in the neo-con utopia of 2003.
Gillard described the document as a ''first'' – but that requires decoding the puzzling difference between a ''strategy'' and a ''statement''. There is also the usual bum-quilting to cover all contingencies – ''the threat posed by non-state actors is also likely to evolve and possibly expand''.
But mostly it repeats the aspirations of the Asian Century white paper last year – with homilies about the region as the future for Australia – and then pre-empts the judgment of the Defence white paper due last this year by emphasising ''a degree of uncertainty and complexity to the relatively benign global landscape''. How much is a ''degree''?
Countries, more than non-state actors, will matter most in the years ahead, it says.
Which, as it turns out, is exactly what the Asian Century white paper said, as well as a promise to ''increase our diplomatic footprint abroad''.
But just as before, no extra money is attached.
So to give the illusion of action ahead of the election, the government has poured its efforts into producing another well-intended paper to ''complement'' all the other plans, ambitions and strategies that have gone before and will come again.
''Communities, such as those in Sydney's West, rightly want to know every level of government is acting on their concerns about community safety and we are working together,'' Gillard said.
But the PM also warned in her speech that within the bureaucracy ''a silo mentality constrains thinking but it also risks wasting resources''.
She should have taken her own advice.