BILLIONS OF DOLLARS are being spent in the name of security. Most of that money goes to hyper expensive man/technology intensive defence measures (e.g. security cameras). Unfortunately these systems do not, and cannot, make us secure.
I define ‘secure’ as meaning ‘acting competently to improve our prospects of survival’. This is useful because it defines a result that is in the interests of every member of our society. It’s a focus that we could all use.
From that definition we can see that national security requires that we:
• consolidate our resources to best effect,
• are competent to care for our sick and injured,
• use resource policies that enhance our survival prospects,
• act quickly and effectively to deal with threats to our survival,
• build relationships with other countries that are conducive to our survival.
Howard’s idea of spending all of our security budget on quasi-military initiatives is a massive mistake and opens our whole country up to different classes of threat.
His approach has failed to deliver any national security at all. From climate to health, schoolyard to aboriginal settlement, from irrigators to workers, all are less secure now than when Howard was first elected.
Australia’s debt now tops ½ trillion dollars. Some security!
We have also lost our focus on many ‘soft’ threats that could overwhelm us. Can we respond to climate change? Are we positioned to deal with worsening long term drought? What will we do about fire risks in Tasmania? How can we help our food producers to survive?
Think about it.
The complex fundamental support systems for our entire socio-economic system are themselves exposed to risk, whether deliberate, accidental or calamitous. Putting those services onto a commercial basis has only encouraged service suppliers to skimp on system maintenance and security, thereby exposing stake holders to greater risk.
Let’s contemplate the “Gas error triggers Qantas inquiry” story from the Age (16 Dec 07) in which it appears that Qantas had mistakenly filled a number of aircraft cockpit emergency oxygen bottles with nitrogen. If depressurisation occurs, breathing nitrogen instead of oxygen will cause the pilots to black out spelling certain death for all on board.
It was, what one wag doctor called ‘a pretty serious mistake’.
So an (obviously) easily made mistake, occurring deep in a maintenance cycle, places dozens of planeloads of people at risk while millions are being spent checking our luggage.
That is not security, it is diversion.
We need to improve system quality to help prevent dangerous occurrences, and make our systems more robust and resistant to problems and attacks.
There’s not much point surrounding our systems with an expensive wall of security when the systems themselves can so easily collapse by accident.
We’ve ended up spending billions on airport security while more planes are being put at risk by our inability to avoid mistakes and errors! It’s like spending all of our car maintenance money on ever bigger roo bars so that we end up the most protected hulk by the roadside.
Howard chose to focus Australia’s energies on needlessly attacking countries thousands of miles away, spend up big on ‘security’ measures designed to foil terrorists, imprison innocent asylum seekers and strip away what few rights Australians still had in the name of security.
Domestically he chose to push his favourite - Work Choices, a decision that led to his well earned demise.
The ‘opportunity costs’ of Howard’s distractions included threats from climate change, drought, collapsing health and education services, declining family incomes and the adverse productivity impacts and costs of his focus on physical ‘security’.
While we’ve been searching everyone’s luggage and imprisoning innocent doctors, our food production farms are being lost to drought or trees and our urban populations are starting to lose their access to water. Our hospitals and schools are suffering severe budget shortfalls and we are lagging behind in skill levels, productivity and resource security.
Recent readers might note Howard’s focus on his ‘circle of concern’ (see Break out!) with a consequent collapse of his circle of influence.
An opportunity for Kevin Rudd
The Howard government has been using inappropriate priorities for the situation that we are actually in.
If we embrace security in its full meaning, then we increase our prospects for survival because our survival becomes the focus. It should be clear that we have no security if we cannot grow our own food, if our young cannot participate in the world because they are limited by their education, or if our health system cannot protect us from sickness and injury and so on.
We need a full spectrum approach to our own survival, not one limited to defence and removal of our rights.
If Kevin Rudd can dump Howard’s simple-minded vision and recognise that national security must encompass all domains relevant to our survival - food, resource, energy, health, education, defence etc, then we are a long way ahead.
There’s a lot of work to do, but with a national security model that takes into account all of our survival needs, from energy to resource use and from urban design to education, then Australia should still be able to compete effectively in the new global environment.
An opportunity for all of us
Thinking about security in this way, we can see that exactly the same ideas can be applied to our own situations (in complex systems work we learn that patterns true at one level of complexity tend to be true at other levels of complexity).
From a security standpoint, we can determine which aspects of our lives are vital for our own existence by listing the usual priorities of air, water, food and so on.
As we build our list, we can put asterisks by those items that could be doubtful, along with the reasons for those doubts.
Once completed, we can explore how we can reduce our doubts, i.e. develop personal strategies for becoming more confident about our own security. Lack of confidence in our own security can form a serious background set of worries that may best be dealt with head on, rather than hiding from them.
Our personal security is often compromised by failures of government, and we can use those failures to strengthen ourselves. For example, it’s been reported that Tasmania is now seriously short of general practitioners who can diagnose our ills and prescribe solutions and that many people cannot get access to a GP.
This implies that we need to learn more about ourselves and our weaknesses so that we can act to look after ourselves more effectively. (Note. Check http://www.diagnose-me.com that provides a diagnostic tool par excellence that delivers a complete personal diagnosis along with medical and natural strategies for dealing with any problems).
Those domains where we believe we have little or no security form opportunities for us to explore our problems and begin to devise solutions for ourselves, and for others in our social networks.
When our security appears compromised by government action, or inaction, we can see opportunities for us to tell our politicians what we want and why.
By the way, recent news reports make it clear that our media often prefers to get ‘answers’ from politicians rather than find people who actually understand what’s going on. At every turn in Tasmania there’re politicians scurrying to be seen to ‘do the right thing’ while sadly it is clear that they often haven’t the fainted clue what to do. It’s a popular political activity that I call ‘posturing’ – giving the appearance of doing something.
Our politicians are there to represent us, not tell us what to do or how to behave. If they wish to wander into illegitimacy by failing to represent us, then I suggest that they lose the legitimacy to tell us what to do.
Support your politician
We need to support the politicians that are representing us and doing their jobs. That might mean advocating for them, it might mean emailing them, dropping them a letter or talking to them. If we treat them all the same, then they’ll tend to react in similar ways.
If we reward those who are doing right by us, and criticise/vote out those who do not, then we’ll gradually start to correct the government mess that we seem to be in.
Mike is a complex systems consultant, change facilitator and executive and management coach.
If Kevin Rudd can dump Howard’s simple-minded vision and recognise that national security must encompass all domains relevant to our survival - food, resource, energy, health, education, defence etc, then we are a long way ahead. There’s a lot of work to do, but with a national security model that takes into account all of our survival needs, from energy to resource use and from urban design to education, then Australia should still be able to compete effectively in the new global environment.