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Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies

AJDSS Volume 2 Number 1


National mobilisation: What are the strategic risks to Australian national security planning?

Donna Boulton

To cite this article: Donna Boulton, 'National mobilisation: What are the strategic risks to Australian national security planning?', Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies 2, 1 (2020): 115-124,

Published online: 21 August, 2020


In the Australian context, national mobilisation has only occurred during the World Wars when the nation enjoyed the luxury of relatively long mobilisation lead times. Now, for the first time since the Second World War, Australia is challenged by a major power capable of projecting force constituting an existential threat into our near region. 1

Compounding this challenge, political, economic and societal changes have altered the context in which future Australian mobilisation might occur. Even a crisis such as COVID-19 and the establishment of the National Coordination Mechanism in response to what is primarily a public health crisis, is not a national mobilisation committee akin to the Advisory War Council of World War Two. 2

Mobilisation is the process of generating military capabilities and marshalling national resources for the conduct of military operations to defend the nation and its interests. 3 For Australia, mobilisation can occur as a graduated response across four stages. 4 In its most fulsome fourth stage, national mobilisation occurs in the face of a significant threat to the nation and requires total Defence mobilisation and government coordination of a national effort to enable profound increases in Defence capability to achieve national objectives5.

In this commentary, I argue that Australia has unconsciously permitted its mobilisation base to atrophy as the world has changed around it. Globalisation has brought great wealth to Australia. However, the issues noted above are generating security concerns not seen in a generation. Australia faces several challenges should it be required to effectively mobilise for a future major conflict or national security crisis. Nonetheless, this commentary will constrain itself to consideration of mobilisation relating to Australia's industry base and critical infrastructure. These two fields are intertwined and require national planning and coordination across multiple layers of government and the private sector. This requires the commitment of State and Territory governments, the private sector and citizens if Australia is ever to succeed in protecting the nation and its interests from an existential threat.

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1 Paul Dibb and Richard Brabbin-Smith, 'Australia's management of strategic risk in the new era', Strategic Insights 123, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 17 November 2017,

2 Michael Shoebridge, 'Australia needs a national mobilisation committee to navigate the coronavirus crisis-now', The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute 19 March 2020,

3 Vice Chief of the Defence Force Group (VCDFG), Defence Preparedness Handbook. 1st ed. (Canberra: Department of Defence, 2016), 17.

4 VCDFG, Defence, Defence Preparedness Handbook.

5 Defence, Executive Series 2004, Preparedness and Mobilisation, ADDP 00.2, (Canberra: Department of Defence, 2004), 7.