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Thursday 24 Aug 2017 | 15:14 | SYDNEY
Thursday 24 Aug 2017 | 15:14 | SYDNEY

PMs and the national security apparatus

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6 January 2012 10:33

One of the signature foreign policy moves of the Rudd Government was carried out in Canberra. Rudd centralised foreign and defence policy creation, not just into his department (PM&C), but in his office, including creating a new National Security Adviser as the PM's point man. Yet it seems his successor, Julia Gillard, isn't so taken with the changes:

The position of National Security Adviser has been vacant since early August, when the former SAS commander Duncan Lewis stepped down to become Secretary of Defence. And it is only one of six positions within the departments of Defence and Prime Minister and Cabinet that are being filled by acting staff.

The other five are: the two newly created associate secretary positions within Defence; the chief executive of the Defence Materiel Organisation; the deputy NSA; and DPMC's National Security Chief Information Officer.Mr Lewis' deputy, Margot McCarthy, has been the acting National Security Adviser since he left. Some believe that Ms Gillard and the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ian Watt, believe the role should not have the power it had during Kevin Rudd's prime ministership.

While sometimes there are inevitable delays, Gillard has run a more efficient ship-of-state than her predecessor, leading me to believe that it is a disinclination for a centralised security office in PM&C that better explains the delays. This not only fits with Gillard's lower level of passion for foreign policy than Rudd, but hopefully also a recognition that the system Rudd established didn't work.

For all his many strengths as a policy thinker (I still defend the APc concept), Rudd ended up a lone ranger, with poor implementation, organisation and paper flow leading to delays and missed opportunities. All PMs might wish to focus on foreign policy, but there are always going to be too many distractions in the domestic sphere for foreign and defence policy development to be the PM's role.

While it would be a shame to lose the NSA role, if Gillard really is moving policy creation and management back to DFAT and Defence (leaving PM&C to coordinate), it will be to the benefit of Australia's foreign policy. PMs are always tempted to centralise, so it's to Gillard's credit that she's reversing the trend in this area.

Photo courtesy of PM&C.

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