Coat of arms

Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
Senator for South Australia

Media Release
8 December 2020

Report on the COVID-19 pandemic’s implications for Australia’s foreign affairs, defence and trade

Federal Parliament is releasing the report of its inquiry into the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for Australia’s foreign affairs, defence and trade policy.

The Committee found that the lessons from COVID-19 are not primarily about health.

The Chair of the Committee, Senator the Hon David Fawcett said that “the behaviour of nation states in response to COVID-19 has called into question some assumptions about the willingness of nations to support the global rules-based order”. He added that “these assumptions have underpinned many aspects of Australia’s foreign affairs, defence and trade in recent decades”.

Senator Fawcett stressed that “any decrease in support for the norms of the rule-based order negatively affects collaboration and conflict resolution between nation states, as well as the efficacy of commercial relationships between companies.”

The Committee concluded that the pandemic revealed vulnerabilities in Australia’s security and critical national systems “caused by supply chains that rely on just-in-time supply from the global market, particularly where companies are subject to extrajudicial and coercive direction from foreign governments”.

Senator Fawcett said that because of the increased risks identified in the Strategic Update 2020, Australia must have a timely and strategic, whole-of-government response and that “returning to ‘business as usual’ is not an option”.

Senator Fawcett said that “unexpected, sustained disruption due to another pandemic or grey-zone, coercive or military actions by state actors could degrade if not disable one or more of Australia’s critical national systems.”

The Committee recommended that the Australian Government should change procurement rules to partner with Australian industry sectors which provide priority enablers to critical national systems. This partnership should be through the use of procurement to build and sustain sovereign capability, not just by offering one-off grants.

The Committee concluded that Australia also required more investment and diplomatic effort to increase Australia’s resilience through trusted and transparent partnerships with like-minded nations.