Keynote Address to Australasian Security and Intelligence Associations


Keynote Address to Australasian Security and Intelligence Associations: Thursday 1 December 2011

Keynote Address speaker: Admiral Chris Barrie  AC, the patron of the Australasian Council of Security Professionals and former Chief of the Australian Defence Force.

I welcome the opportunity to address you as keynote speaker this afternoon. As I’m sure many of you would know once Jason had put in a headlock on me about becoming patron of the Australian Council of Security Professionals the result was inevitable.

Notwithstanding this slightly humorous remark when I was preparing for this afternoon it did occur to me that in the 10 years since I retired as CDF have taken on a number of honorary posts that share a common interest: namely as patron of the Australian Risk Policy Institute, as President of the Australian Crime Prevention Council, and most recently as patron of the Australian Council of Security Professionals. So what occurred to me was the thematic that runs through this continued participation in public life.

I became patron of the brand new Risk Policy Institute in 2007, a time when few of us could have anticipated the economic and financial turmoil that was to follow in the wake of the global financial crisis. More recently we have seen unrest that has a wider base – social turmoil, as represented by the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. Some would argue that the GFC has had a much greater impact on a larger number of people than the attacks of 911. And I am sure we all know, following events in the United States and in the Eurozone over the last few months and indeed weeks, that we are not out of the woods yet.


We set up the risk policy institute to be a lobby organization that promotes a proper connection of risk thinking with leadership responsibilities and accountabilities whether these are in business, government, or any other significant enterprise. For us the track record of abysmal failures of leaders to be held accountable for anything in their organizations and to deal diligently properly with the trust of dealing in other peoples’ money should make us all ashamed. We have not held these peop[le to account and the problem is, as far as we are concerned, there is little evidence that much has changed. So the fight to elevate risk policy into the boardroom and elsewhere goes on.

It was not long after 2007 that I was approached to become president of the Australian Crime Prevention Council. At the time I wondered –  why me? I later found out a close friend had put me in the frame but regrettably he is no longer with us to take the blame for what he started!

I found Crime Prevention Council was an organisation made up of some very interesting people both in the judiciary or law enforcement and social support networks that all of whom shared in the belief that we could do a lot more than simply incarcerate more and more people and throw the key away. The figures for incarceration particularly for our indigenous Australians are rather shocking. For example, though they comprise only 2.4% of the population they make up 22% of the prisoner population. This is an annual cost of over $500 million. We assert that there is much more to be done to head off this humanitarian disaster which is and will continue to be a stain on all of us. And yet our belief is that, at State government level particularly, and in other jurisdictions, nobody wants to promote crime prevention fully rather than spending more and more on the cost of locking people up. The social consequences of such our present approach are shameful. While this is a very troublesome issue –  we must do better! And part of this answer lies in restorative justice programs.

And now following the initiative of Jason Brown’s as endorsed by the Council I have been delighted to accept the patronage of the Australian Council of Security Professionals. Perhaps it would be useful to meet outline my motivations in doing so though I am fairly certain that we are in strong alignment.

When I retired in July 2002 I thought that I could live a quiet academic life considering the imperatives of strategic leadership and how we might enable the next generation of leaders to become successful. There was a certain naivity about this approach I soon discovered even though I thought I knew quite a lot about the security space given my 41 years in the Navy. And it is these security factors, as I call them, that reshaped my thinking and made me more assertive about the demands of modern leadership.

First, I have watched the use of the term security grow into becoming perhaps the most fashionable word of the 21st Century so far. As I hear the story almost everything that we are doing, in government and in business, seems to have a “security” content. As for “national security” I guess I am lucky that I am not the national security adviser as my world would just about cover everything! We have added that label to nearly every proposal for money that goes to government. Imagine trying to sort out priorities on such a basis.

My point is that “security” has become a much abused term and in my work over the past year with the National Security College I have tried to come to some better understanding of what we mean when we say “national security” – what does it mean? Where are the boundaries? What are its implications? Are these new? Or are they enduring? The truth is that I have not been seriously able to progress far beyond where I started: that is to re-iterate that issues of national security are the most fundamental and critical obligation of an elected government which is to provide for the protection of the people who elected it.

Once I start to consider this proposition of protection – I thought things become a lot clearer. We can start to think about threats and vulnerabiliities, for example. This enables us to build frameworks and facilitates decision making.

Finally there is one aspect of security that has always worried me and that is the notion that somehow we the people can do what we like but when we get into trouble that is the government’s problem! I saw this attitude at play during my period of service over this question of protection of Australian citizens overseas and I still believe it is at play – even over 14 year olds who arrive in Bali and think they can behave as they like until, they get caught.

Actually I have seen this aspect of the security problem exacerbated by our modern practice of allowing people more than one passport. If I could make one simple adjustment in the international community setting for security I would not permit any person to hold the current passport of more than one country. The present system invites abuse by those who want to exploit the vulnerabilities it offers!

We also have to begin an education about security matters very early in the education of our people. Actually I believe that good security can be enabled by a life-long learning, and because security really involves everybody! And that is a message we need to communicate to our community.

Let me turn to the Australian Council of Security Professionals. I have been impressed with your objectives of establishing a system for accreditation and admission to a society based on professional standards – which is important work in a world now awash with so called security professionals who have no serious qualifications, possessing limited knowledge and training at best. As I am sure we all agree work in the security world cannot be left for amateurs to solve.

I am also impressed with the Council’s efforts to grapple with many of the thorny issues that surround security. Questions of how much security should we afford or the balance to be struck between passive and active security measures will never be amenable to simple answers I suspect. But one of my take outs during the Sydney Olympics security scenario was to learn just how much good security could be achieved through intelligent infrastructure design!

As well I am sure that there needs to be a lot of work done on the cyber security question – but I do not have another day to begin a discussion on this question either!

But let me conclude my address with one final pitch.

Ladies and gentlemen – our world is at risk. It is at risk from issues flowing from the consequences of population growth and demographic changes. It is at risk from the consequences of unmanageable climate change. It is at risk from the collapse of the western capitalist economic system – a system fundamental to the kind of country Australia is and who knows what will take over? None of these matters is going to be solved quickly or easily but of one thing I am certain.

Without a serious change in the current way we find and reward our leaders, across all of society, I hold little confidence for the world of my grand children. If they are lucky enough to survive I remain fairly pessimistic that their world will look a lot worse than mine has been. For these reasons I commend the work of the various risk, security and intelligence associations.

So these are also the reasons I have become involved in my three organizations of choice – ARPI, ACPC and ACSP. It is through seeing the work of organizations like these that I hope we can begin to build a more promising future.

To each one of you here today my challenge is the age old leadership request. You must not accept the status-quo. You must actively work to build a better world. And in this endeavour I am anxious that you are wholly successful in shaping the kind of future we all desire!



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