CQU Agriculture Lecturer pens Australian Strategic Policy Institute's (ASPI) Northern Australia Strategic Policy Centre report

23 August 2022

The challenges and opportunities that food and fibre production in northern Australia present to the region's strategic development have been highlighted in a strategy report written by CQUniversity Lecturer in Agriculture Saba Sinai.

Recently released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute's (ASPI) Northern Australia Strategic Policy Centre' the report' titled Deep Roots: Agriculture' national security and nation-building in northern Australia makes several key recommendations.

Mr Sinai said northern Australia occupied a strategically significant space at a critical time in global affairs.

"While the region occupies 53 per cent of Australia's landmass' it hosts just five per cent of the national population – a situation that presents significant national security challenges'" he said.

"To secure the north and ensure it can fulfil its strategic function' governments must leverage the region's strengths' including its diverse agricultural sector."

Mr Sinai has long had an interest in the role of agriculture in strategic and foreign policy.

"When I saw ASPI published Thinking big!' a report about the vast economic opportunities in northern Australia and how they can contribute to our national security' I wondered what role the agricultural sector could play in this space.

"I spoke to the report's author Dr John Coyne' head of ASPI's Northern Australia Strategic Policy Centre' about his report and the way primary production across northern Australia could have positive benefits for infrastructure development and national security.

"He then invited me to write a short piece for ASPI's analysis and commentary site' The Strategist.

"That piece' Agriculture can drive infrastructure development in northern Australia' considered how agricultural development in sparsely populated northern Australia can help to create an economic base for infrastructure development that support strategic ends' like supporting the movement of defence assets and personnel.

"Dr Coyne and I then discussed some of the other interactions between agriculture and northern Australia's strategic direction' including implications for social cohesion' political discontent' biosecurity policy' international engagement and demographic change.

"With that' I was invited to write a long form report' culminating in Deep Roots.

"Increasingly' we are seeing a growing awareness in the geostrategic dimensions of agriculture' from food insecurity as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine' to biosecurity threats threatening whole industries' and the role of agricultural industries in developing critically important transport and digital infrastructure.

"Agriculture is having a geostrategic moment' but it has also been a critical element of global affairs for millennia."

The report recommends a unified message among all relevant stakeholder groups with awareness of the strategic role of the northern Australia agriculture sector' while also highlighting the need for greater investment in agricultural research to grow and protect agricultural industries' ensuring security is realised through prosperity.

Mr Sinai also recommended greater engagement of Indigenous communities' with genuine appreciation for the role of Indigenous peoples and their connection to' and knowledge of' land and water as the key to unlocking potential.

A cohesive nation-building plan that threads communities together to better coordinate northern Australia's infrastructure and strategic direction is also a key recommendation.

The report outlines the need for governments to appreciate the complex interactions between agriculture and infrastructure investment' workforce development' education' great power competition' social cohesion' rural discontent' Indigenous land rights and environmental policy.