The current COVID-19 crisis has exposed elements of Australian society with respect to our ability to operate, indeed survive, through a concentrated period of national disruption. Whilst the current situation originated as a health crisis, it rapidly developed into an economic crisis and highlighted the importance of understanding relationships between elements of the Australian society and the associated vulnerabilities. In that sense, it has also become a social crisis.

Although Australia has been more fortunate in terms of health impact in comparison to Europe and the United States, the current crisis provides an opportunity to assess these vulnerabilities, and not only to just address them, but to consider at the strategic level the vision for Australia as we move into a new reality. In this way we can build a stronger, more resilient nation, and be better prepared when the next crisis develops.

At its core, there are only a small number of key factors that drive our consideration of the future.

First, we will want to be independent and secure. Independence implies that we have the freedom to choose our system of government, and the ability to evolve societal norms such as freedom of the press, the right to free speech, and respect for the privacy of an individual as our society chooses. In Australia, independence and social freedoms requires the rule of law to prevail, and hence we need functioning social institutions such as parliament and the courts.

Security is the natural corollary of independence. Security, in turn, is largely a function of credibility; credibility that the nation is able to take such actions necessary to deter or defeat a would-be aggressor. The path to security, however, involves more than just the military. It also requires diversified trading and supply chain partners so that one supplier is not able to exert unacceptable and unsustainable economic pressure. Security also requires a stable society. Security therefore requires national resilience, the ability to weather the storm of a crisis and the ability to recover afterwards.

Resilience can be addressed through concentration on a small number of factors, determining how they inter-relate, and hence having a picture, a model, of this inter-connectedness. At the macro level these factors can be considered as:

  • Continuity of government – requires the ability to choose and to conduct free and fair elections
  • A capable and functional defence force – necessary for deterrence and for defence. In turn, this depends on defence industry capabilities
  • Provision of energy in a reliable and sustainable manner
  • A capable and functioning health system
  • Ongoing provision of food and water
  • A functioning telecommunications network, with a high level of cyber protection
  • Robust transportation.

All of these factors are inter-related and all will depend on additional inputs from other areas within society, such as having a productive industrial base and an advanced academic system. Given that investment is likely to be required and funding will be finite, it is also going to be important to prioritise the available resources into the most critical areas, to understand the interactions across and within the local economy and supply chains, and to understand the flow-on impacts from the decisions that are made in order to maximise value of the investment.

We have an obligation on future generations to use the current crisis to review and improve resilience within the Australian community.

Life after the current pandemic cannot just be a restart of an approach that has been inadequate.

Shoal is currently working on an approach in this area.

Graeme Dunk

Graeme Dunk, Head of Strategy, has worked internationally and developed significant knowledge in defence. He has a Masters in Strategic Studies and Maritime Defence Technology and is currently undertaking a PhD on defence industry sovereignty.