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The North and Australia’s Security Program

John Coyne

The North and Australia’s Security Program provides a sustained research focus on the security of Australia’s north and the north’s critical role in contributing to the broader security of Australia.

Established in 2019, the program concentrates on:

  maintaining a strong public policy focus on the role of the north in the broader security of Australia at a time when strategic circumstances are driving new policy thinking in Canberra
  developing a modernised way of thinking about the north and security by updating strategic frameworks that remain anchored in the 1980s ‘defence of Australia’ context
  situating the north in a broader discussion about national security interests beyond defence—encompassing home affairs, border security and customs; space; cybersecurity; humanitarian and disaster response; biosecurity; and energy security.

The strategic importance of Australia’s north to Australia’s defence has long been recognised by government and policymakers. Despite strategic policy commitments to northern Australia, there is a growing body of evidence indicating that the gap between strategic policy and Defence’s activities and presence in the north is widening. This could well be symptomatic of a gap in Australia’s northern development policies.

Since the publication of the 2016 Defence White Paper, Australia’s strategic environment has deteriorated significantly and can be characterised as increasingly unpredictable. For a third time since federation, Australia’s government must seriously consider continental defence and national security. But that thinking must go well beyond continental defence to include force projection, enhanced regional surveillance and support for the new US approach to force posture in the Pacific and contribute to national resilience and broader defence capabilities.

To date, Australia’s defence strategy remains focused on taking advantage of the country’s strategic geography. In this construct, maritime security is critical to the defence of Australia. Similarly, self-reliance through the support of a sovereign defence industry has been central. Of course, much thought has also been applied to the challenge of war’s newest domains: the cybersphere and space.

Today, there is an increasing body of public discourse on Australia’s strategic outlook, its defence strategy and the ADF’s future force structure and posture. In sharp contrast, there has been no substantial public policy dialogue on the role of northern Australia in defence strategy and national security since the late 1980s.

In addition to the establishment of the highly successful North of 26 Degree South Strategist series, the program’s research resulted in the production of the following reports during the year:

  Strategic Insights report: North of 26 degrees south and the security of Australia:
views from ‘The Strategis’ (volume 1)
  Special Report: Strong and free? The future security of Australia’s north
  Special Report: Running on empty? A case study of fuel security for civil and military air operations at Darwin Airport
  a chapter for ASPI’s After Covid report (volume 1)
  Strategic Insights report: North of 26° south and the security of Australia: views from ‘The Strategist’ (volume 2).

The program continued to produce opinion pieces and The Strategist posts, to provide media commentary on the north and Australia’s security and to deliver invited presentations at national forums on emerging issues in this field.