The Head of the ANU National Security College has called for the appointment of a sovereignty commissioner to lead a public conversation on Australia’s approach to national security.

Speaking at the National Press Club today, Professor Rory Medcalf said Australia needed a national security strategy, which would work best if it is supported by this public discourse. 

“It’s time for a national security strategy – or perhaps more accurately a national interest strategy,” he said.

Professor Medcalf said the new strategy could look at how to integrate security with other vital areas of policy related to the national interest: prosperity and social cohesion.

“This national strategy should address the tensions between security and prosperity, or between security and cohesion in our multicultural society,” he said.

Professor Medcalf said the national security conversation would need to grapple with the true nature of security as being about confidence and inclusion, rather than fear and exclusion.

“National security officials are not ideally placed to lead this conversation,” he said.

“There could be scope, for instance, for an independent voice – let’s call her or him something like a sovereignty commissioner – to sustain constant consultations and outreach.

“Parliament, too, has a larger role to play in the inclusive national security story. All parliamentarians – Federal and State – would benefit from greater situational awareness about risks like foreign influence.”

Professor Medcalf said all Australian states and territories needed to establish dedicated National Security Units to meet the security challenges of the 21st century.

He said state and territory governments are seen by foreign powers as “weak links” when it comes to Australian sovereignty and creating a unified foreign and security policy.

“States and territories are where it gets real,” Professor Medcalf said.

“They don’t deal with the abstractions of diplomatic talking points or strategic analysis, but the tangible day-to-day elements of national resilience and national vulnerability – critical infrastructure, frontline geography, and the daily decisions and livelihoods of Australian citizens.

“So state and territory governments need to accept that they have special responsibilities in securing Australia. That means they need to be equipped to do so. Right now, they are plainly not.”

Professor Medcalf was joined at the National Press Club by Michelle Price, CEO of AustCyber, the Australian Cyber Security Growth Network.

Both speakers set out distinct and complementary roadmaps for Australia to protect its cyber security interests and values in the decade ahead.

These involve drawing on the lessons of 2020 and building foundations for new kinds of security, spanning defence, economics, diplomacy, society, information and technology.

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