The Leaderboard: Margot McCarthy

Who is she?

Dr. Margot McCarthy is currently Australia’s national security advisor (NSA), a position created in 2008 under previous prime minister Kevin Rudd. In this role, she leads the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s National Security and International Policy Group.

McCarthy has worked in the national security community for two decades. She was appointed deputy national security advisor in March 2010 after serving as deputy secretary for strategic reform and governance in the Australian Department of Defense. Prime Minister Julia Gillard appointed her the country’s first female national security advisor on February 3, 2012.

Dr. Margot McCarthy. Source: Australian Government, creative commons license.

Why is she in the news?

McCarthy’s name has not been in the news, although her position has been. During her speech launching Australia’s National Security Strategy on January 23, 2013 Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that as a result of her predecessor Kevin Rudd’s 2008 national security statement, “the government appointed our country’s first national security adviser to improve strategic direction within the national security community and across the public sector.” Gillard’s new strategy, which has received much attention, laid out Australia’s national security “risks, priorities, and capabilities.”

The fact that McCarthy herself has been under the radar is not new. After serving as the first NSA, Duncan Lewis left in August 2011 to become secretary of defense and the NSA position went unfilled for six months, sparking some speculation that Gillard was rejecting Rudd’s national security point person. Then, in February 2012, Gillard quietly appointed McCarthy to become NSA.

What can we expect from her?

Graeme Dobell of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute recently described the NSA as a “small but important….new creature” in the “heart of Canberra’s defense and intelligence jungle.” The NSA might soon, he writes, evolve from “herbivore to meat eater” as the office’s reach expands.

It is possible that McCarthy’s role will increase in light of the government’s heightened interest in articulating a clear national security strategy, with a focus on state actors and cyber security. Collaboration with her fellow national security advisors from around the world will be critical. From the perspective of Washington, we might see McCarthy meet with high-level U.S. officials, as she did in May 2012 when she participated in a roundtable discussion on national security with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.


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