Budget 2016: Securitization Discourse and the Defence Budget

The morning after the release of the 2016 Budget, opposition leader Bill Shorten was interviewed by a commercial radio breakfast team. He was given an opportunity to say what was right about the budget. His first, brief response before continued political rhetoric about how the budget is good for big business and high income earners was succinct and telling:

“Defence spending is good.”

We are living in a new world order and face new warfare. We have new enemies and new allies. Our troops are in battlefields fighting with new tactics, new intelligence and new weapons (Kaldor, 2013). We honour the old alliances and build new ones to fight new common enemies. Since 1938 when defence spending was at the same level, we have seen a rise in defence force personnel from 10,000 to 58,000, with 18,000 public servants “looking at threats, guiding policy and planning for security” from the mere 57 in 1938 (Baldino & Carr, 2016).

So what do our governments do? They talk about it. Securitization is the theory that given the right context, issues progress outside the realm of “normal politics” and into a matter of security (Balzacq et al., 2015).  The advantages of using such rhetoric to convince an audience that an issue will impact national security gives politicians, military and law enforcement more justification in their actions and in their policy changes. Take for example, airport screening: we are happy to take longer to get through airport security with comprehensive bag and personal checks under the proviso that these measures will reduce the risk of terrorist attacks or airplane hijacking.

At the end of the day, do we question the recent increase in defence spending in the same way we question funding cuts to education and tax breaks for big business? Rarely. National security concerns stands outside of realms of normal politics, so it needn’t follow the same scrutiny. A state that cannot protect its citizens and sovereignty is rightfully considered a failed state.

We allow this to happen because of innate ideas that trained and experienced military advisors and governments know what is best for national security. The general public is not privy to all government intelligence regarding Australia’s national security as it can be informed about all areas of education funding debates, so we cannot expect to be able to make clear judgement as normal, everyday citizens on defence policy.  We are expected to trust in the choices made by our military in return for the reassurance that out sovereignty and individual freedoms are held safe. If waiting in line at the airport takes longer than it did before to ensure our safety, so be it.

In this new world order, what do we need to know about the budget and defence?

“Defence spending is good.”


Baldino, D. & Carr, A., 2016. The end of 2%: Australia gets serious about its defence budget. [Online] (1) Available at: http://theconversation.com/the-end-of-2-australia-gets-serious-about-its-defence-budget-53554 [Accessed 10 May 2016].

Balzacq, T., Léonard, S. & Ruzicka, J., 2015. ‘Securitization’ revisited: Theory and cases. International Relations, pp.1-38.

Kaldor, M., 2013. In Defence of New Wars. Stability, 2(1), pp.1-16.