Security establishment frets over attracting youth

Young people see climate change as a bigger risk than hostile nations and national security experts say this perception is shrinking the available labour pool for positions in an increasingly complex strategic environment.

Despite high demand, Australia is not producing enough workers with the necessary skills in geopolitics, experts at the Securing our Future National Security Conference said on Tuesday.

That has implications for Australia's AUKUS alliance with the US and UK, the centrepiece of which is a $368 billion nuclear-powered submarine program expected to create 20,000 jobs over the next three decades.

Young Australians are not as attracted to opportunities in defence and security areas as past generations, strategy expert William Leben, from the Australian National University's National Security College, said.

"If you ask a lot of people in their early 20s, they will, for good reason, tell you that the biggest security problems facing the country has to do with climate change," he told the conference.

"They're not particularly interested in geopolitics."

The emergence of artificial intelligence is also transforming the contours of the strategic threats and Australia needs to bolster the national security workforce to tackle the challenge, Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil said at the conference.

"A lot of the national security issues we face today rely on technologies that didn't even exist 20 years ago," the home affairs minister said on Tuesday.

"Cyber is central to about every national security challenge we face."

More broadly, the nation's social lives, migration, telecommunications, supply chains and migration routes are all embedded into vast global networks, making technology central.

Though this improves convenience and cooperation, Ms O'Neil said it also enables "rapid contagion of viruses, malware or dangerous misinformation".

Ms O'Neil pointed to the slate of cyberattacks that affected millions of Australians in 2023 including the Medibank hack and the attack on stevedore DP World.

"Australia has faced very difficult global security environments before, but I don't think we have faced one as complex as this," Ms O'Neil said.

Alastair MacGibbon.
Former national cybersecurity advisor Alastair MacGibbon wants more diversity in cybersecurity.

Employing more women and people from different communities could provide a solution in an industry the former national cybersecurity advisor Alastair MacGibbon called "incredibly non-diverse".

Within cybersecurity, roughly 20 per cent of workers were female-identifying, he said.

Deputy Director-General of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Catherine Burn, said diversity could have significant benefits and support for these groups must go beyond the hiring process.

"There's little point going into all the effort to bring somebody in who is culturally different, and then the organisation itself doesn't support it," she said.

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