A focus on innovation, competitiveness, exports and the streamlining of tendering and contracting procedures represent a long-desired evolution of industry policy.
In recent years there has been a welcome recognition of the role that Australian industry plays in developing capabilities for the protection of Australia and Australian interests. A focus on innovation, competitiveness, exports and the streamlining of tendering and contracting procedures represent a long-desired evolution of industry policy.
We have made a promising start.
But the development of a genuinely strategic industry policy will take time and will require a deeper and sustained engagement with a broader cross-section of Australian industry, not simply defence industries.
Recent policy statements are only a first step.
Ongoing debates around issues ranging from fuel security to shipbuilding are being conducted in the absence of a broader strategic industry policy. Such a policy would provide an analytical framework informed by assessments of the issues that underpin Australia’s national resilience, many of which lie outside the traditional defence and national security domains.
It is time to take a new look at Australia’s strategic industries.
The issues which need to be addressed include:
The development of a broader definition of strategic industry and the establishment of an analytical framework for the study of Australia’s strategic industries in the context of a resilient and competitive 21st century Australian economy.
The economic, technological, social, and political drivers of future change.
An analysis of options for improving investment and sustainment, for example, by drawing on the highly regarded network of Australian engineering consultancies operating in the resources sector.
The new approach to identifying strategic industry capabilities should be assessed to determine whether the policy serves to focus scarce resources on those key industry capabilities Australia needs for its own self-reliance, or whether this approach stifles government’s ability to think outside the box and support Australian entrepreneurs and innovators who may develop unorthodox or disruptive new generation technologies.
Over the past decade, there has been a gradual return to a more complete understanding of national security and national resilience. This is a consequence of the practical experience of crises in the region and further afield. This has involved a reaffirmation of the challenges and complexities of national security in the modern world arising from the spectre of catastrophic terrorism, religious fundamentalism, economic globalisation and climate change.
But the broadening of Australia’s concept of national security and the modernisation of the machinery of national security remains a work in progress. There are many changes taking place which we have yet to fully comprehend.
For example, in a pioneering study, Columbia University’s Philip Bobbitt identified a blurring of the line between the public and the private.
In Australia, as elsewhere, an increasing part of critical infrastructure is now in private hands, an unexpected parallel to the emergence of new classes of threat from non-state actors. Bobbitt argues that security in this increasingly complex environment would be obtained by making ‘infrastructure more slippery, more redundant, more versatile, more difficult to attack’.
In retrospect, the challenge of overcoming the limitations in our approach to identifying the strategic industry capabilities which underpin our national resilience is a consequence of a lack of broader strategic clarity and purpose.
It is now time to move beyond the defence focus evident in current industry policy, which has been centred on the procurement and sustainment of defence capabilities. We need to develop a more sophisticated and robust understanding of what makes the resilient economy and industrial base needed to ensure Australian security in an uncertain future.
Bobbitt, 'The Shield of Achilles’ Page 813