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A security first for Australia.

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RN PM A security first for Australia


A security first for Australia

PM - Thursday, 4 December , 2008 18:26:00

Reporter: Alexandra Kirk

MARK COLVIN: As we've already mentioned, the Prime Minister and Opposition leader missed Question Time today, to attend the funeral of Lieutenant Michael Fussell, the seventh Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan.

Before leaving, Mr Rudd delivered his inaugural national security statement, promised more than a year ago in the lead up to the last election.

He's now officially ditched Labor's election promises of a new Department of Homeland Security and a coastguard service.

Instead, he's appointing a former SAS commander as his own national security adviser.

It's part of an overhaul of policy coordination on defending Australia from a host of threats.

And Mr Rudd has warned of new challenges including cyber warfare and electronic espionage.

From Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: It's been a long time in the making; more than a year, and heralded as a major speech.

Today Kevin Rudd enunciated his national security view of the world.

KEVIN RUDD: Today is an historic day in the evolution of Australia's national security policy.

For the first time this country will have a coherent statement of the national security challenges facing Australia into the future and of the comprehensive approach we've proposed to adopt in responding to those challenges.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: At its core are a string of long standing commitments; the United States alliance, multinational institutions such as the United Nations, regional engagement, a European-style Asia Pacific community by 2020 and a host of bilateral relationships with China, Japan, India and the US, to name a few.

And what the Prime Minister calls creative middle level diplomacy.

His inaugural national security statement to parliament finally dispenses with Labor's election promise to create a separate department of homeland security.

Instead, there's a structural overhaul, with a new national security chief Duncan Lewis.

KEVIN RUDD: Mr Lewis has served governments of both political persuasions with distinction. Also as a former SAS commander Mr Lewis has a distinct combination of military and civilian experience.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull's welcomed the shift from what he's dubbed a cheap copy of an American experiment.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: And today the Prime Minister himself has exposed that proposition as the hoax it always was.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Labor's policy of a separate coastguard service has also gone by the wayside. The Customs Service will be renamed the Customs and Border Protection Service.

Along with people smuggling, Kevin Rudd's identified a string of heightened risks.

KEVIN RUDD: It is increasingly evident that the sophistication of our modern community is a source of vulnerability in itself.

This dependency on information and technology makes us potentially vulnerable to cyber attacks.

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The Government will enhance Australia's E-security.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Add to that another non-traditional threat.

KEVIN RUDD: Over the long term, climate change represents a most fundamental national security challenge for our future. Significant climate change will bring about unregulated population movements, declining food production, reductions in arable land, violent weather patterns and result in catastrophic events.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Terrorism remains a serious ongoing threat. The Prime Minister's commissioned another review.

KEVIN RUDD: Next year, the Government will release a counter-terrorism white paper.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Malcolm Turnbull criticises the statement as lacking detail and coherence.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: This statement is a lengthy one but it is not by any means a bold or particularly clear step through the intellectual fog.

Not even the Prime Minister would describe this as swift and decisive.

(Laughter from backbenchers.)

The statement does not adequately and unequivocally describe what the Government intends to do.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The reception from the experts is not flattering either.

Allan Behm's worked for both Labor and Coalition governments in senior defence and security positions.

ALLAN BEHM: The statement itself is a bit light on; very light on, concerning any indication of what resources might be attached to all of this.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mr Behm sees it as a missed opportunity.

ALLAN BEHM: Well it's a very conventional statement I think Alexandra. It's a statement that could have been made by any number of previous Australian governments I think because it's mostly a statement of, sort of conventional wisdom.

In the international literature these days there are new dynamics and new paradigms for national security that are beginning to emerge and these deal with things like how you build national resilience, how you build social capital within countries, how you contribute using soft power tools to the development of social capital in your neighbouring countries. These things have not been mentioned in this document and for that reason it's a bit of a pity.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Neil James from the Australian Defence Association says it's a good start but not any more than that.

NEIL JAMES: We were a little bit disappointed in the result. There's not a lot of meat in it, and in all the areas where you'd hope it'd talk about things, it really doesn't go into any detail.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University agrees there's not much new in it.

HUGH WHITE: The main focus of today's statement is to establish a whole lot of more administrative procedures and a whole lot more of reviews and if committees can make us safe then we're going to be a very secure country indeed.

MARK COLVIN: Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University and visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute with Alexandra Kirk.

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