Australian National Security: What 2020 has taught us and what’s next?

– by Sebastian Acuna and Michelle Todd

The 6th Annual Australian Security Summit was held last week, with the COVID-19 pandemic central to discussions about the effectiveness and resilience of our National Security systems and structures. What became increasingly clear across the course of the three days, is Australia’s need to redefine current strategies and approaches, to consider the challenges of a complex interconnected world (physically and digitally) and, to increase collaboration and cooperation 

Although COVID presents new challenges, it also allows us to explore and embrace opportunities. We have seen an increase in interoperabilitycollaboration, and flexibility across government bodies, and with the private sector. These changes let us redefine how we manage the complex threats and issues that challenge Australia, rather than reverting to the status quo. 

Our regional partnerships are more important than ever, as transnational organised crime groups adopt models which take advantage of the deportation of Australia’s convicted criminals to pacific island nations, creating complex environment webs for police and law enforcement and challenging our understanding of the border, requiring us to reconsider what we thought we knew. 

As our online presence grows, so does the threat of sophisticated cyber-attacks. The cybercriminal knowns no bounds, challenging our thinking when conceptualising what a ‘safer city’ really means in our highly connected and digitised world. Our increasing dependency on real-time technologies creates a complex cyber domain to manage, with agencies scrambling to protect citizens whilst safeguarding everyday Australians and their right to privacy.  

Horizon scanning will play an important role in setting our future direction. Futures thinking and prioritisation will be key to the success of any organisation, ensuring we collectively consider the advantages and challenges technology changes will present. Emerging technology will enable and enhance the effectiveness of government agencies, but equally, there is a need to ensure agencies are adapting and integrating technology transparently, ensuring high levels of accountability, data and information protection and decision-making audit trails. 

Changes in the market environment and the closure of international borders created pressure on enforcement agencies, such as the Australian Border Force, requiring them to pivot to the increased velocity, frequency and volume of goods entering the country. The transition from people to goods creates new challenges in what was an already complex environment. So, what happens when we open the borders to international travellers again? 

Recent events have highlighted the need to align the strategic intent of the entire security ecosystem across the physical and cyber domains, requiring a unified purpose, intent, vision and clarity of roles and moving us away from our old systems which focus on individual agencies and their powers.  

As we move toward the future, it is becoming clearer that we need to develop cohesive and collaborative strategies across government and push boundaries to include industry as part of that broader government umbrella. Simple and practical changes will allow us to harness the power of creativity and innovation, enabling an agile and responsive system that is better prepared for the challenges the future will present us. 

Forums such as the Australian Security Summit provide the opportunity for organisations to challenge thinking, breakdown perceived complexities and barriers to success and contribute to a resilient, secure and prosperous Australia of the future