1. Introduction

On Wednesday, 13 May 2020, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade adopted an inquiry into the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for Australia’s foreign affairs, defence and trade.


The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how closely an inter-connected world links domestic outcomes with international events. Over the medium and long-term the pandemic will affect every aspect of Australia’s global relationships.
The quality and security of Australia’s supply chains is of critical importance to the nation’s physical and economic health. Part of the responsibility of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is to negotiate trade agreements that link multiple economies and ‘help Australian businesses reduce transaction costs and better access global supply chains’1, which in turn stimulates investment and supports one in five Australian jobs.
The DFAT Annual Report also highlights DFAT’s role in keeping Australia safe and secure; acknowledging that ‘... threats are diverse and evolving, from nuclear weapons proliferation to terrorist insurgency, cyber attack and transnational crime.’2 To counter these threats, DFAT reports that: ‘Australia’s interests are strongly served by acting with others to support an international rules-based order’.3 The commitment to a stable, rules-based global order is also a core part of Defence’s strategic direction, as set out in its Annual Report.
Both DFAT and Defence respond to humanitarian crises and work to build resilience in our international partners. The pandemic has shown the close link between Australia’s safety and the vulnerability of our near neighbours.
Given that many of the implications of the pandemic are not yet known, and many decisions are still to be made, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade undertook an inquiry under the terms of reference below to better inform Australia’s position.
The terms of reference for the inquiry are:
The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade will inquire into the strategic implications of COVID19, having particular regard to:
Implications for Australia’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade policy, particularly with respect to strategic alliances and regional security;
Threats to the global rules based order that emerged due to actions by nation states during the pandemic, and how such threats can be mitigated in the event of future crises;
The impact on human rights;
Supply chain integrity / assurance to critical enablers of Australian security (such as health, economic and transport systems, and defence);
What policy and practical measures would be required to form an ongoing effective national framework to ensure the resilience required to underpin Australia’s economic and strategic objectives; and
Any related matters.

Conduct of the inquiry

The Committee announced the commencement of the inquiry by media release on 13 May 2020 and requested submissions from interested members of the public. Submissions were requested by 30 June 2020.
The Committee received 109 submissions and 16 supplementary submissions from a range of government agencies, non-government organisations, academic institutions and individuals. Submissions are listed at Appendix A and can be viewed on the inquiry website,4 apart from any submissions that were confidential.
The Committee held 14 hearings in Canberra. Transcripts of the hearings are available at the inquiry website.5 A full list of public hearings and witnesses is available at Appendix B.

Report structure

The report is divided into five chapters:
Chapter 1 briefly introduces the inquiry and its context.
Chapter 2 describes the global implications of the pandemic, including on global health systems, global economy, Indo-Pacific countries, human rights, international relationships and security, and the global rules-based order and alliances.
Chapter 3 discusses the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Australia, including Australia’s international relationships, the health system, the economy, scenarios for future crises, supply chain vulnerability, as well as examples of initiatives taken by Australian industries in response to the pandemic.
Chapter 4 outlines the need for a national resilience framework to analyse the exposure of Australia’s critical national systems to disruption to global supply chains.
Chapter 5 details the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic for a number of Australia’s foreign affairs, defence and trade policies and potential responses by the Australian Government. Proposed initiatives include sustaining commitment to the global rules-based order, ensuring that multilateral institutions are fit for purpose, supporting supply resilience initiatives and making changes to Commonwealth procurement.

  • 1
    Department of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Annual Report 2018-19, p. 42.
  • 2
    Department of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Annual Report 2018-19, p. 54.
  • 3
    Department of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Annual Report 2018-19, p. 80.
  • 4
  • 5

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