Canberra doesn't own national security

‘Canberra knows best’ simply doesn’t cut it in the national security arena. Anthony Bergin says we need a new federalism that recognises and integrates the role of Australia’s states and territories.

With the Commonwealth shake-up of its security arrangements through a new Home Affairs Ministry, there is an opportunity to better integrate the roles of the states and territories in security affairs.

It’s a conversation Australia’s policymakers need to have, as the states and territories contribute many of the powers and capabilities needed to support our overall effort in dealing with a wide range of national security issues.

All too often, national security has been run as a ‘top-down’ policy, with a tendency towards a Canberra-knows-best approach. This means that Commonwealth-State interactions can be a critical ‘rub point’ on national security issues.

Defence is constitutionally the only major area of government that is wholly funded federally. The Commonwealth also has jurisdiction for external affairs (there are some small state trade offices overseas), and the only real capability to advance national interests and prepare to defeat external threats to those interests.

Intelligence is essentially only a Commonwealth role (although a few states have crime commissions and police have intelligence capabilities). By and large the same holds true for border security.But it’s the states and territories that have a primary role in responding to many of the threats we face each day across a broad sweep of national security issues, particularly terrorism.