In what Julia Gillard describes as a 'post 9/11' environment, Australia's National Security Strategy has shifted its focus from 'non-state actors' and terrorism to individual countries. The only problem for the new agenda, writes Catherine McGrath, is a lack of money.
In 2008 then-prime minister Kevin Rudd delivered the first National Security Statement, promising annual updates that never eventuated.
He also announced the first ever national security adviser. That person was former SAS Commander Duncan Lewis. Duncan Lewis went from that position to establish a successful career as a senior bureaucrat.
He was appointed Secretary of the Department of Defence but was sent off to Brussels as Ambassador to NATO last year after a speech he gave to a defence audience in Canberra was interpreted as criticising the Government's defence budget cuts. Budget cuts to defence are a sensitive topic for the Government.
It is now an election year and the first major policy event of 2013 has taken place with the launch of the inaugural National Security Strategy "Strong and Secure" outlined in Canberra this week.
We may be a small country in population but as the 12th largest economy in the world Prime Minister Julia Gillard wants Australia to be influential in security terms. Not waiting for events to happen, but helping to shape them.
The Prime Minister believes Australia can assist in building patterns of cooperation and trust in this part of the world.
Gone from Australia's policy is the concept of the threat from the 'arc of instability' to Australia's north, and terrorism has moved down the national order of risk.
There is no sense of panic in the newly released National Security Strategy. Instead the tone is confident and conciliatory.
The country is embracing once again the idea of exerting its 'creative middle power' credentials in the Asia Pacific region as it did under previous Labor and Liberal governments. The diplomatic footprint is to expand and five-year priorities to enhance regional engagement have been set. Cyber threat has been identified as a new danger.
The only problem for the new agenda is money, or the lack of it.
Spending on the country's international priorities are at decades-long lows. Cuts to the Department of Defence have taken $5.4 billion from its budget, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been slashed by successive governments and diplomatic representation overseas is 37 per cent smaller than it was in the 1980s.
That said, across the globe budget cuts have been impacting on diplomatic and defence resources. It is a problem from Washington, to London and many places in between.
So Australia is working with what it has and delivered for the first time a National Security Strategy that seeks to outline the objectives and the key risks to the country as well as an agenda for the future.
The risks have been listed: espionage, instability from fragile states, cyber activity, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, organised crime, state-based conflict and terrorism.
Times are changing. The September 11 period saw the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the Bali and Jakarta bombings and Mumbai attacks. So called 'non-state actors' or terrorists were the threat.
Now it's a new time, the Prime Minister describes it as "post 9/11". Non-state actors are of less importance and states - or individual countries - are the ones to watch.
Points of possible conflict are named: the South and East China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, and India/Pakistan.
Australia offended China in 2009 via the last Defence White Paper when it described China as a country that 'could cause concern'. So outraged was Beijing that a delegation was sent from the Department of Defence to diffuse the row.
No such mistakes have been made this time.
China's role in the region, its growing multilateral engagement and its economic transformation is applauded in the document:
In economic and political terms, China is unquestionably already a global power.
China's military growth is a natural, legitimate outcome of its growing economy and broadening interests.
There is caution about military modernisation giving rise to uncertainty, exacerbated by territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
And in line with usual Australian policy it concludes that the relationship between the United States and China is crucial to stability.
Indonesia is the only other Asian country to be mentioned specifically in this way. The relationship with Australia is described as 'increasingly deep and productive', and the paper states 'our positive relationship with Indonesia contributes profoundly to Australia's overall security'.
The Government concludes that globally there is no room for complacency.
Economic growth has increased the pressure on water resources, food and energy supplies with implications for global markets and stability.
The National Security Strategy is an attempt to catalogue the risks and align them with government programs, priorities and spending.
It is just the first announcement in the security agenda for the year. The draft of the 2013 Defence White Paper is with Defence Minister Stephen Smith with a mid-year release date.
The Government remains committed to major equipment purchases including the submarine program and purchase of joint strike fighters from the United States but the current funding doesn't match the promise.
Officials can't mention that though publicly, after all, look what happened to Duncan Lewis.
Catherine McGrath is the Political Editor of Australia Network. View her full profile here.
Topics: defence-and-national-security, security-intelligence, government-and-politics, federal-government, gillard-julia, terrorism, unrest-conflict-and-war