Thursday, December 15, 2022
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Instead of a serious discussion about Australia’s national security and China, we’ve had a grubby descent into public policy madness

If there was ever a time we needed to be having a serious conversation about defence and national security, it would probably be about now. 

Our relationship with our biggest trading partner is in the toilet. That major trading partner is on the rise, and our traditional allies — though apparently it is very rude to say this — are in decline.

Instead of pausing, taking stock and developing a slightly more detached strategic view of what Australia’s interests may be in this, we have retreated into traditional alliances that will deliver something unspecified to us in about 40 years’ time.

There is a strong likelihood of a war in Europe, in which both our biggest trading partner and the United States have significant interests. But there is more.

Last year, the head of the domestic spy agency ASIO, Mike Burgess, announced the agency had dumped terms like “right wing” and “Islamic extremism” as “no longer fit for purpose” and replaced them with broad terms of “ideologically motivated violent extremism” and “religiously motivated violent extremism”.

Mike Burgess in a long dark hallway.
ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess took the unusual step of appearing on 7.30 this week.(Supplied: ASIO)

Last week, in his latest annual threat assessment, he warned “angry and alienated Australians” could turn to violence after being exposed to “an echo chamber” of extremist messaging, misinformation and conspiracy theories during the coronavirus pandemic.

He also noted ASIO had “recently detected and disrupted a foreign interference plot in the lead-up to an election in Australia”.

So, in addition to the very uncertain global outlook, for the first time in decades, according to one of our most senior national security officials, there is a real risk of war of sorts in Australia: we have the angry and alienated, and we have the political system under siege from outsiders.

Smearing, misleading, undermining

Anyone who saw last week’s protests in Canberra would understand that there really are a lot of “angry and alienated” Australians, even if, as Burgess says, there are probably only a small number who might contemplate violence.

Their anger in this election campaign is being fed and stoked not just by foreign players but by a larger number of domestic disrupters than we have seen in politics in a long time.

Chief among them is Clive Palmer, who is already spending a poultice on advertising various messages and his United Australia Party, having taken up the “freedom” cause of protesters against mandates and vaccines. And he has very deep pockets, as we saw in the last election.

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