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Credibility gap on national security

By Julie Bishop - posted Thursday, 24 January 2013


It is apparent that the Prime Minister has chosen the election year to seek to address one of her key policy weaknesses with the release this week of a national security "strategy". It has however only served to expose yet again Julia Gillard's lack of interest and understanding in this critical area, first revealed during the 2010 election campaign when her colleagues made it known that as Deputy Prime Minister, Ms Gillard failed to attend meetings of the National Security Committee of Cabinet.

Those who drafted the strategy document listed a predictable range of threats and responses, with few if any new insights into the security environment facing Australia.

The Prime Minister's speech accompanying the release of the document delivered a collection of cliches and motherhood statements, which has become her hallmark as national leader.

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Ms Gillard's lack of interest in this policy area was apparent from her seeming ignorance of decisions taken by her own government that directly contradict the goals outlined in the strategy.

For example, one of the stated pillars of the strategy is "Deterring and defeating attacks on Australia and Australia's interests", noting that "Australia's geography has always been a key consideration for our national security. This geography has been a driving imperative for the maintenance of a strong, capable and independent ADF (Australian Defence Force). It has helped discourage attack."

It warns that "strategic shocks and surprises are possible" and that "local conflicts or heightened tensions may emerge with little warning".The Prime Minister claimed "Let this be clear: in a time of fiscal constraint, we will keep the Australian Defence Force strong."

Yet she made no mention of the massive cuts her government has made to the Defence Budget that will greatly inhibit Australia's ability to meet such strategic shocks or suprises.

The government has already cancelled some defence hardware purchases and others have been delayed as a result of these cuts. Defence spending has now been reduced to the lowest level since 1938 (as a proportion of GDP).

The government's cuts have been heavily criticised by organisations such as the Australian Defence Association which said the impact of short-term cuts to defence spending can take many years to rectify and often requires far larger investments in the future. Our strongest strategic ally, the United States, has made its deep concerns known to the government. It appears the only person unaware of the impact of the Defence budget cuts is the Prime Minister.

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Another pillar of national security identified in the document is "Preserving Australia's border integrity".

Arguably the greatest policy failure in a generation is the continuing border protection scandal under this government, when it decided to implement in government the border protection policies drafted by Julia Gillard when in Opposition.

The unwinding in 2008 of the Howard Government's strong border protection laws has resulted in hundreds of boats and thousands of people passing through people smuggling networks to undertake the perilous journey by sea to Australia. Tragically, hundreds of people have died on that journey.

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About the Author

Julie Bishop is the Federal Member for Curtin, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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