Speech to the Australian Crisis Simulation Summit - Hosted by the Australian National University - 13/09/2021

13 September 2021


I acknowledge the lands I am joining you from today are the traditional lands for the Kaurna people and that we respect their spiritual relationship with their country.

I acknowledge the Kaurna people as the custodians of the Adelaide region and that their cultural and heritage beliefs are still as important to the living Kaurna people today.

I also pay respects to the cultural authority of Aboriginal people joining us from other areas of Australia.

Thank you to the directors of the Summit for the introduction and the invitation to join you today.

I want to wish you all well for your work over the coming days.

I also acknowledge:

  • My parliamentary colleague Senator Fawcett;
  • Admiral Chris Barrie AC, Patron of the Australian Crisis Simulation Summit; and
  • Professor Brian Schmidt AC, Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University.

For many years, we have witnessed a trend of rising nationalism and extremism.

Countries like ours rely on multilateralism, but we’ve seen that multilateralism fraying – at the same time as competition between the great powers has been increasing.

It’s an operating environment that requires Australia to work much harder to secure our interests.

And of course all of these problems have only been accelerated because of the crisis of the global pandemic.

The less stable the world becomes, the more we crises we can expect.

Many crises cannot be precisely foreseen.

But precise foresight is not a prerequisite for preparedness.

We know enough from experience, and from our forecasting, to know the kinds of crises that will likely come our way.

We know that there will be natural disasters, like tsunamis and earthquakes.

We know that some natural disasters are being made worse by human activity, like storms, floods, droughts and fires.

We know there will be outbreaks of disease.

We tend to know the kinds of problems we can expect, and we can prepare for them.

Preparing to meet crises is intrinsic to leadership, today more than ever.

And that preparation involves clear-eyed scenario planning, prioritizing resilience, and building our capabilities.

And it also means listening to warnings.

We knew for many years that the United States would be withdrawing from Afghanistan.

We knew that when that happened we would need to help Australians leave – as well as those Afghans who worked alongside us.

Warnings were made publicly and privately to Mr Morrison about the need to act.

So it was quite distressing to me – but more importantly to many veterans - that there was a preoccupation with paperwork for those who were trying to leave.

And it wasn’t until after Kabul fell, and the crisis was full blown, that Mr Morrison began to move.

We are grateful to the brave people on the ground who enabled the evacuation of thousands of people in extremely dangerous circumstances.

Great courage was displayed by our personnel; great sacrifice made by our American ally.

But we also know that much more could have been done earlier to expedite visas and get our people to safety.

Acting on warnings would have made a big difference.

Just as it would have made a big difference before the bushfires.

And in ordering a wide range of vaccines early.

We know that there is more to come in this pandemic, domestically and abroad.

More variants. More economic fallout. More demand for vaccines, for people of all ages.

These are all scenarios we need to plan for.

Just as we need to plan for future pandemics.

An Albanese Labor Government will establish an Australian Centre for Disease Control to bring us into line with other advanced economies.

It is regrettable that the last national pandemic preparedness exercise before COVID-19 was as far back as the Rudd Government.

Of course, the really big pandemic is climate change.

And on this, we have been warned for decades.

I could speak for a long time about what we ought have done and what we need to do.

I’m going to start with signing up to Net Zero Emissions by 2050.

Failing to do so jeopardises our interests and our strategic stability.

The Biden Administration has made addressing the climate challenge a central strategic priority.

It’s past time for us to get on the same page as our ally, and avoid being left behind the rest of the world.

This is the issue that affects all others, and cannot be solved without global cooperation and leadership.

And we don’t have to look far to see the existential threat climate changes poses to our neighbours – our failure to take the threat seriously directly undermines our leadership role in the Indo-Pacific.

Instead of diverging from our most important partners on this coming crisis, we should be joining with them to act and to lead in building the region we want.

One that is stable, prosperous and that respects sovereignty – and that is resilient to future threats, including climate change.


Military conflicts, pandemics, climate change - all of these compounding crises require clear thinking and analysis, frank advice and comprehensive scenario planning, as well as a focus on building our capability to meet them.

But they also demand political leadership – to make clear our national interests and to commit the necessary resources to achieve them.

There is an aphorism widely used in the military: proper planning and preparation prevents poor performance.

While we don’t know everything we are going to face, we know enough to make preparations.

Those who dismiss their failure to prepare and failure to protect simply do not understand their leadership responsibilities.

We do not ask of our leaders heroism in hindsight.

We do ask that they lead.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.