How resilient is Australia’s democracy?

How important do Australians regard the danger of cyber interference in elections and political process? How robust do we think our democracy is to resist and combat such pressures?

Measuring Australia’s democratic resilience is vital to the success of Government and defence policies – so Flinders University is undertaking new research that will help recommend a preferred path of action within this fast-shifting space.

Researchers will define national and democratic resilience – being the strength of key systems that underpin the stability of national economic, environmental, infrastructure, social, governance and democratic systems.

“The concept of national and democratic resilience tends to be hazy and vague, so our project will help key national government agencies make targeted interventions to strengthen our democracy,” says lead researcher Dr Rob Manwaring.

The study – which has received $137,000 from the Department of Defence Strategic Policy Grants Program – examines a range of potential threats to Australia’s democracy, including social media and increasing foreign interference in Australia’s democratic processes. It will also determine how democratic resilience can be factored into Government and Defence policy responses as a strategic response to cyber-enabled foreign interference.

Dr Manwaring says democratic resilience should be viewed as a strategic resource for mitigating unpredictable and unknowable threats in a changing security environment, such as cyber-enabled foreign interference in democratic processes – hacking, doxing, disinformation, and coordinated trolling.

“State and non-state actors alike are leveraging social media to manipulate citizen political attitudes and amplify social tensions,” says Dr Manwaring, pointing to cyber-enabled interference in recent elections of several Western democracies.

Building national resilience can mitigate persistent or unpredictable threats to Australia’s security, mindful that non-traditional security risks via cyber and space elements are increasing.

“Resilience is the capacity of a system to maintain function and recover from shocks or interference through adjustment or adaptation,” says Dr Manwaring, who expects the study to be completed later this year.

“One of the key missing pieces for policy makers is that we don’t really know what citizens think about these threats, and what they think will help strengthen the integrity of Australia’s democracy.

“Our research should provide a critical missing link – citizens voices – in this ongoing puzzle.

“Resilience addresses uncertainty – which is vital as digital technologies advance alongside artificial intelligence, machine learning and, as a consequence, automation and the reach of sophisticated cyber influence operations will increase.”

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