National defence is the first responsibility of any government
National defence is one of the three key roles of government traditionally (along with ensuring a sound currency and public law and order).
It is commonly described as the first responsibility of government and is a matter requiring long-term planning and sustained national investment.
In Australia’s democratic pluralist society, however, defence and wider national security matters are too often ignored or subsumed by shorter-term and often much less important issues that many of our politicians believe to be of more immediate economic and social concern to voters.
No matter how transitory the voter interest or how politically expedient, at the cost of good governance, these other issues might be in contrast to the long-term importance of national defence matters.
Few Australians change their vote on a defence issue alone.
Rather than appropriately focus on our national defence as a long-term national governance responsibility, the usually minimal electoral benefits of taking defence issues seriously means political attention and consequently the funding allocated tends to chase votes elsewhere.
Recurring complacency and neglect
This recurring comparative neglect of national security and disregard for the ensuing long-term consequences is exacerbated by the short-term and/or party-political focus of too many Australian politicians, opinion makers and media commentators.
It is also a result of the trend for many, probably most, Australians to be inadequately aware of defence matters — and/or ignore them until it is too late to remedy the long-term complacency or neglect before a crisis occurs.
The history, underlying causes and long-term effects of this overall situation are discussed in more detail here.
Informed debate helps reverse neglect
As a public-interest watchdog organisation with a long-term focus we believe that effective public debate on strategic security, defence and wider national security issues requires active input from more than the official and political sources involved in parliamentary, departmental and other governmental processes.
This is especially so where genuine public consultations are usually non-existent or peremptory, and knowledge of such discussions or wider consultations is often filtered through, misunderstood or poorly interpreted by the generalist mass media anyway.
Moreover, the conceptual and practical problems of defending our country and securing its national interests do not miraculously disappear if ignored; indeed the reverse generally happens.
Defence is a universal civic responsibility of all Australians
Nor are the problems of defending Australia and securing our national interests somehow someone else's responsibility.
How we should and can defend Australia and our interests is instead a matter for all Australians and a fundamental responsibility of Australian citizenship.
As well as governmental sources, proper public debate on strategic security, defence and wider national security issues also needs informed and regular input from:
- academia (including university-based and public think-tanks specialising in defence, strategic studies, foreign policy, industrial development, legal and related matters);
- profession-based sources such as the Institute of Engineers and the Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers, and key specialist profession-based think-tanks such as the Navy's Sea Power Centre, the Army's Land Warfare Studies Centre and the Air Force's Air Power Development Centre; and
- the Australian people as a whole, including (among many other inputs) our independent, non-partisan, contributions focused on presenting and protecting the long-term public interest from the often short-term views and perspectives, or the sectional biases or single-issue stances, of many, perhaps most, other contributors.