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Australia urged to address resilience issues

Published 23 Nov 2020
Ben Colter

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed critical weaknesses in Australia’s preparedness and resilience during times of crisis, a leading security expert says.
John Blackburn, pictured above, delivered the warning when addressing an AIIA Queensland webinar on July 7. He identified and discussed weaknesses in Australian security and resilience, notably our overreliance on maritime trade, and spelt out how these problems could be identified and addressed to meet future challenges.
Mr Blackburn is a former Deputy Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force who now has a high profile as a defence and national security consultant. He serves as chairman of the Institute for Integrated Economic Research and holds a Master of Arts and Master of Defence Studies. Since retiring from the Air Force in 2008, Mr Blackburn has been conducting extensive research with the Institute for Regional Security and the Sir Richard Williams Foundation. He began his address by urging the Australian Government to identify critical risks and vulnerabilities within our national security. While this term has been typically associated with the military, Mr Blackburn said security problems existed across Australia’s political, social, and economic systems. These flaws could hinder our ability to respond to crises that threaten our wellbeing. During times of crisis, it was common for countries to quickly adopt isolationist foreign policies and that was true of the current pandemic. He cited the growing ‘America First’ sentiment that continues to spread within the United States, a factor which is cause for concern. These policies had the potential to further threaten supply chains between nations, of which could prove drastic for Australia’s economic interests.
While Australia has managed to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Mr Blackburn stressed that Australia lacked resilience when dealing with crises which shut down trade and supply chains.
This was demonstrated by our reliance of critical imports, with 90 per cent of our medicines and 90 per cent of our fuels coming from overseas. In addition, a staggering 98 per cent of our trade was dependent on foreign controlled maritime trade systems. Mr Blackburn argued that Australia, as an island nation, had deeply complex supply chains that even the Federal Government did not fully understand.
This country is a large exporter of key ingredients in critical products that are shipped overseas to be processed and then brought back to Australia as finished products. While this made goods cheaper, Mr Blackburn said it undermined our resilience and national security in times of crisis.
He said that “we have, in effect, left our resilience, and therefore our sovereignty and security, to the largely foreign owned market”.
Mr Blackburn said that while the pandemic has eroded the integrity of international institutions, engagement between nations was critical in re-building market systems. In essence, he said, what we are living through was not the death of globalism, but rather, a necessary repurposing of it. Going forward, Mr Blackburn argued that Australia should work with other nations and implement a strategic framework to sustain our domestic supply chains. He said this meant our resilience would run parallel with regional neighbours. Australia would need to improve and assist their resilience as well, forming bilateral partnerships that would ultimately strengthen supply chains. This was an urgent task as the reality was that our country would face greater challenges in the future.