In my previous blog, I highlighted seven categories of the resilient society that we want in Australia:

  • 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 systems.

Our Chief Engineer, Kevin Robinson, then looked into the definition of resilience, to position us to think about how we want Australia to prepare and be able to withstand a future pandemic or shock inducing event. In short, we want to be a resilient society.

I have also previously written that defence industry needs to be addressed on a risk basis. The more expansive approach to national resilience needs to be approached in a similar way. Mr Andrew Hastie MP has also recently suggested such an approach.

A risk-based approach to national resilience would see resilience activities, including supply chains, broken down into three categories. The first must be those associated with high risks – those goods and services that we must control from within Australia, as not to do so would expose us to totally unacceptable risks – existential risks.  Addressing these risks cannot rely upon anyone else – not even the closest of allies.

The second category are those goods and services that are of medium risk – not potentially existential, but of sufficient concern that we cannot just rely upon market forces, and certainly not on authoritarian governments or easily-interdicted supply chains for their provision.

The final category is comprised of low risk goods and services. In this case open, market-driven, global supply chains are acceptable, as we have made the determination that the risks are low. This does not mean that we just forget about items in this category. We need to understand the supply chain and, importantly, changes in those supply chains, in order to determine if / when they cease to be low risk and become something else.

Three key elements for policy arise from this discussion.

First, is the need to vary policy according to the risk. High risk products and services are likely, in the near term, to require government investment to establish the relevant domestic capability – given that these are unlikely to currently exist. (If they did, we would not be having this discussion). In the longer term, government monitoring and management going to be required, as high risk products and services are likely to change over time as the geopolitical situation changes, as technology changes, and as Australian society changes.

Whilst medium risk and low risk categories will require levels of investment commensurate with the risk, that is less investment as the risk reduces, ongoing review will be required to account for the changes as outlined above.

The second issue relates to extent. It simply will not be acceptable to stove-pipe the policy settings required into the familiar departmental structures. The categories noted above cover a broad swathe of the Australian economy, all inter-related, and it will be important to understand these relationships and the flow-on effects across the economy, and across society, of particular actions.

The third issue, that flows directly from the second, is that a National Resilience Roadmap is required, together with a National Resilience Framework, for its implementation.  The Framework must capture the relationships between the various components within society in order that the most effective decisions can be made. As we have previously discussed in our ‘Reframing our future’ series, a framework gives decision makers a tool to identify relationships and adjust levers and see the cause and effect implications of each.

Whilst I am somewhat loathe to advocate it, a Department of National Resilience must be considered as the way forward.

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.