The last couple of months have demonstrated how important it is to be prepared for a crisis. As the next generation of Australia’s leaders, students need to be prepared to tackle the challenges of the 21st Century and solve the inevitable crises Australia will face in our increasingly contested region.

In September 2020, the nation’s top national security experts came together to prepare 70 future Australian national security leaders for the next big crisis, through the country’s first-ever fully virtual crisis simulation.

70 students chosen from across Australia received invaluable guidance from ANU Chancellor, the Hon Julie Bishop, Former Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral (Ret.) Chris Barrie, Australia’s Ambassador for Arms Control and Counter-Proliferation, Amanda Gorely, and other experts engaged directly in crisis management from across government and the private sector.

This Summit was Australian first and very timely given the current climate. As far as we are aware, no other Australian University or institution has ever run a simulation of the kind or on the scale of ACSS. The event carried national significance.

Students participated in three realistic and challenging crisis simulations that touched on salient issues in cyber security, Australia’s engagement with the Pacific, vaccine geopolitics, climate change, international law and potential conflict flash points in Antarctica.

ANU Chancellor the Hon Julie Bishop said the Summit is an important initiative at a critical time for Australia’s future: “I am particularly proud that this is an Australian-first initiative, led and managed by young Australians.”

The ACSS was founded and organised by Tim Hobbs, Alexandria Smith and a group of 30 ANU students who are passionate about Australia’s national security prospects.

Delegates participated virtually in the Summit via teleconferencing and live streaming technologies, a mobile app, and through Conducttr’s advanced crisis simulation software – currently used by NATO, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Army. The ACSS was the first occasion such software had been used in Australia.

Admiral Chris Barrie, as Patron for this ground-breaking simulation, said the Summit will provide “students around Australia the chance to experience the dynamics of managing national security issues by engaging with the highest levels of government.”

Accompanying the simulations was a live news talk-show hosted by current and former Australian journalists, including Virginia Haussegger, Karen Middleton and Greg Jennet. The show was produced by Lyndal Curtis.

The Summit was supported by government departments such as the Department of Defence, the Department of Home Affairs, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and private sector businesses such as PwC, Clayton Utz, and Trellis Data. Diplomatic staff of the Five Eyes nations also provided support to elements of the Summit.

The knowledge delegates built in the crisis simulations was contextualised by a series of Q&A panels. Delegates had the opportunity to ask questions of the people and institutions who play a key role in shaping national security discourse in Australia. A highlight of the week was our Five Eyes Alliance Panel with Senator the Hon David Fawcett, the Ambassadors and High Commissioners to Australia from the Five Eyes Nations and Prof. John Blaxland.

Leading ANU academics, including Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt, Professor Rory Medcalf, Professor James Batley, Katherine Manstead, and Dr Dominique Dalla-Pozza also provided guidance and expertise to delegates.

Bringing past, present and future Australian national security leaders together, the Summit facilitated the transfer of inter-generational knowledge to safeguard Australia’s strategic interests.