Australia’s Lack of Self-Reliance

Aug 27, 2020

What does Australia’s lack of self-reliance mean for you, your family, your household, your neighbourhood, your city and your nation?

I will try to explain this in three steps:

  • First, in my newsletter I will reiterate the magnitude of the problem and why it exists.
  • In the next Newsletter I will explain how it would impact every one of us in our daily lives.
  • And in a third Newsletter, I will suggest the solution.

Many of us in the government are using the term ‘self-reliance’ as a way to explain to ourselves and others what our nation needs to do to maintain our sovereignty in a post-COVID world.

Others say that what we call the strategic environment (ie the threats in the region towards us, towards our allies or generally towards peace) is becoming less predictable and the chance of conflict is increasing. The PM did not announce on 1 July 20 a promised $270bn increase to our military over the next ten years because the world is all sweetness and light! In his words, our region is “in the midst of the most consequential strategic realignment since World War II”, and that this reminds him of the 1920s and 1930s, in that the power relativities of the world are changing and are unpredictable.

Those threats are not only military, and not initially military. They come from direct assertiveness of regional nations, through trade, espionage, social media’s influence, destruction of trust in our institutions and our alliances, contempt for the rule of law, intimidation of ethnic groups in Australia and particularly through a denial that there is a threat. Threats to this nation are ongoing, and government has responded to cyber threats with the most recent $1.3bn package on top of years of investment and education in our cyber preparedness, offensive and defensive capability.

As well, agencies such as ASIO and the AFP have been strengthened, with heads of ASIO issuing warnings that espionage in this country is at an all-time high, particularly the theft of Intellectual property. This is the kind of activity that has caused the US to shut China’s consulates in the US because of accusations of spying, and what the PM means when he talks about the “grey zone activities”, neither war nor peace.

I have written recently about the need for Australia to defend our sovereignty, meaning our ability to act in our own interests as a nation (links). Unless we have an appropriate level of self-reliance, we cannot act in our own interests. If other countries who might be hostile to us, could control our exports and our imports, we lack self-reliance and so our sovereignty is diminished. This is a threat to our very existence.

Over the last 75 years, market forces have structured our nation to become very efficient in the use of manufactured goods and products from overseas. Because our domestic market is so small, big nations or big industries overseas can produce most things much cheaper than Australia can, so logically we import much and enjoy the lower prices. To pay for our imports and to sustain our high standard of living, we export massive amounts of natural resources and services such as education.

COVID has made us very aware of Australia’s vulnerability to an interruption to our ability to import and export. COVID has turned many nations away from an international focus to an internal focus on their own needs, not that of their neighbours. And this is only a pandemic. A conflict will be far, far worse. If nothing else, COVID has served to show how reliant we are on foreign sources, how vulnerable that makes us, and how little self-reliance we have.

During COVID, sea transport continued to serve both imports and exports, and air transport was used to bring priority needs such as Personal Protection Equipment, medical equipment and pharmaceuticals to Australia.

A regional conflict between China and the US would mean that sea and air transport in our region would cease for an indefinite period of time. The 40% of manufactured goods we import now would immediately be lost, and our exports of gas, iron ore and services that make us rich would cease. We should not be short of food, even if we could replace the 90% of our fertilizer that is imported now, but our ability to harvest and to move food to your kitchen may be severely limited by our 90% dependence on imported crude oil, petrol, aviation fuel and diesel. Critical spare parts for our national energy grid and our information technology system would disappear, as would our ability for our military to operate.

That is why we have a serious problem with national self-reliance and how big that problem is for our nation. This problem will impact everyone of us and every part of our lives, and I will explain that in Part Two in my next Newsletter. But all is not lost. This nation has the most amazing potential for self-reliance and self-defence, and we have a Coalition government that is taking action now, and will continue to take action, and I will address this in Part Three, in my 25 September Newsletter.