House debates

Wednesday, 9 December 2020


Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade; Report

6:41 pm

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I present the committee's report entitled Inquiry into the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for Australia's foreign affairs, defence and trade.

In accordance with standing order 39(e) the report was made a Parliamentary Paper.

by leave—It's my pleasure to present the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade report for the inquiry into the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for Australia's foreign affairs, defence and trade. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how closely an interconnected world links domestic outcomes with international events. Over the medium and long term, the pandemic will affect every aspect of Australia's global relationships.

COVID-19 presents one of the greatest threats to global human health since the influenza pandemic of 1918. In addition to the number of cases and deaths directly attributable to the virus, the pandemic will have a wide range of other implications for global health and health systems.

The committee inquiry concluded the lessons from the COVID-19 are not primarily about health. One of the key findings of the inquiry was the behaviour of nation-states in response to COVID-19 has called into question assumptions about the extent of adherence to global rules based order. Assumptions such as these have underpinned many aspects of Australia's foreign affairs, defence and trade policy in recent decades.

For Australia, COVID-19 has exposed structural vulnerabilities in some of the crucial national systems that enable us to function as a secure, prosperous and First World nation. Many of these vulnerabilities are caused by supply chains that rely on just-in-time supply from the global market. In some cases this is exacerbated by supply coming, in whole or substantial part, from companies that are subject to extrajudicial or coercive direction from some foreign governments. Decreased support for the norms of the rules based order negatively affects collaboration and conflict resolution between nation-states as well as the efficacy of commercial relationships between companies throughout the supply chains.

A key lesson from COVID-19 is that returning to business as usual is not an option if Australia is to be resilient, remaining secure and prosperous, in the face of future crises. Another zoonotic pandemic like COVID-19 is only one of the potential crises facing Australia and our region that would disrupt business as usual. Unexpected or sustained disruption due to grey-zone coercive or military actions is likely to substantially degrade if not disable one or more of Australia's critical national systems. Australia must identify the supply chains that underpin critical national systems and work with industry to reduce, if not eliminate, vulnerabilities and increase resilience. This will require changes to the Commonwealth Procurement Rules to specifically recognise the value for money that is inherent in partnerships with industry that create or expand sovereign capabilities which provide identified enablers for a critical national system. It will also require more whole-of-government strategic assessment, investment and diplomatic effort into increased resilience through trusted and transparent partnerships with like-minded nations.

Australia, like much of the Indo-Pacific region, has benefited from the global rules based order, which has underpinned increased security and prosperity. Poor outcomes from some key multilateral institutions have decreased engagement by some nations, and there is evidence of authoritarian nation-states seeking to influence global rules and standards away from the transparent, plural and democratic values that have informed global norms in recent decades. It is clearly in Australia's national interest to work with like-minded nations to ensure that reforms to key multilateral institutions are effective and consistent with democratic values and the rule of law. COVID-19 has seen Australia respond effectively, including with novel approaches to governance such as national cabinet and partnerships with industry that have placed strategic outcomes over rigid adherence to established process. Responding to the lessons of COVID-19 identified in this report will require a similar commitment to whole-of-government outcomes-focused assessment and timely funded implementation of novel solutions which will challenge the status quo.

I thank all the members of the committee and the members of the secretariat and commend the report to the House.

6:48 pm

Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I thank the member for Menzies for his contribution. As a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I seek to speak on the inquiry into the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for Australia's foreign affairs, defence and trade. I'd firstly like to thank the chair of the committee, Senator David Fawcett, and all members who have played a role in this report. I also want to thank the former deputy chair of this committee, Nick Champion, for his role in supporting this inquiry. I also welcome the secretary, Julia Morris, who started in her role recently, and thank the secretariat, Lynley Ducker, Stephen Sherlock, Peter Pullen and Dorota Cooley, for their work. I'm pleased to announce that I've been elected as the Deputy Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, a committee which does an inordinate amount of work for parliament, and I am proud to be a member and the deputy chair.

This report was largely undertaken via web based work and communication, which added a challenge to an already important piece of work. I would like to thank all of the witnesses who made submissions and took the time to give evidence during the inquiry. Thanks for your contribution. We can ensure that more effective action is taken to deliver these outcomes.

I want to take a moment to speak about the implications of COVID-19 as laid out in section 2 of the report and also note that I truly hope the government takes swift and decisive actions on all of the recommendations, but particularly recommendations 1, 2, and 3. Briefly, the committee recommends that, within 12 months, the Australian government define which critical national systems are essential to Australia's ability to function as a secure, prosperous First World nation. In recommendation 2, the committee recommends that the Australian government develop a national resilience framework to assess which elements of Australia's critical national systems are vulnerable to high-consequence supply chain disruptions. Thirdly, the committee recommends that the Australian government develop specific shared objectives with allies and regional partners to increase global support for the rules based order that underpins the global system of security, international relations and trade.

This truly has been one of the greatest threats to global health that our economy has witnessed in our lifetime, and all Australians should be incredibly proud of the resilience that they've shown during this pandemic. As a prompt to the government, one of the key lessons from COVID-19, as the chair pointed out in his remarks and foreword, is that we cannot return to business as usual. It is not an option for Australia, and this report provides us with excellent recommendations and evidence as to how we might move forward.

I commend the recommendations and the benefits they will have for the Australian Defence Force, particularly. We understand that, as a country and as a global community, we will never return to business as usual. Australia's island status has created a barrier that is both protective and precarious. Whilst we are girt by sea, it is across these seas that supply chains must span. This report and its recommendations help us in aiding industry and government to ensure that we are collectively resilient and that we continue to be a secure and prosperous nation in any future challenges.

I commend the report to the House.

6:52 pm

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the House take note of the report.

Question agreed to.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.