In 2019, Louisa Bochner became the inaugural recipient of the Office of National Intelligence and National Security College Scholarship for Women.
Having now graduated with a Master of National Security Policy, Louisa plans to pursue a career in the national intelligence community.
We spoke to her recently to find out more about the experiences she had while studying the Master of National Security Policy.
Thanks for chatting with us Louisa. Firstly, can you tell us about when you were younger: what did you want to be when you grew up?
An archaeologist like Indiana Jones, or James Bond. I think I watched too many films.
And what did you end up studying for your undergraduate degree?
Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Philosophy and Chinese Studies. I did my honours thesis in Chinese Studies, too.
What first got you interested in the field of national security?
I was always interested in the Australia-China relationship – I wanted to go deeper on how Australia can tackle threats in the grey zone such as economic coercion or foreign interference. I’m especially interested in how we can work with our friendly neighbours to ensure our region continues to be free and prosperous.
Was your mind set on a career in Australia’s national security community when you started studying?
The National Security College opened my eyes to new opportunities. I had no idea about the breadth and scope of national security problems before I started my degree.
Do you have any specific areas of interest?
I’m interested in grey zone activities – the actions taken by a state which is everything short of conflict. This can include activities in the economic or cyber domains, or mass influence campaigns conducted on social media.
Last year, you wrote an option piece for the Saturday Paper on ‘China’s influence on our campuses’. What motivated you to write on that topic — and do you think the security challenges have shifted since when you wrote this?
At the time of writing, Australia was beginning to feel the brunt of economic coercion at the hands of the Chinese government, such as massive tariffs on the import of Australian barley. This was in response to a list of 14 grievances, including calls by the Australian government for an independent investigation into the origins of Covid-19. Many commentators wondered if higher education was next on the hit list.
I had also observed, over many years, increasing self-censorship from universities who felt reluctant to discuss issues sensitive to the Chinese government due to their financial reliance on Chinese international students. At the same time, constant capitulation from the universities showed a lack of respect to the international students who supported democratic values and free speech. I wanted to explore how Australian universities became so vulnerable to the political whims of the PRC government; how we can better support international students in a free and open society; and if the recent bouts of economic coercion were an opportunity for universities to become more financially independent. The topic is still highly relevant and don’t think I addressed most of these questions in my short piece, so I think there’s still a lot more work to be done.
What are some of your fondest memories from when you were studying the Master of National Security Policy? Were you given any special opportunities?
It’s been a fantastic degree – there have been many fond memories, even though most of it has been online! We had one fantastic guest lecturer – a former senior public servant – who said that one of the biggest career challenges was figuring out how to deliver important, timely information to the Prime Minister without looking “breathless”. That stuck with me.
Did you find the College a useful place to develop professional relationships and networks?
Do you have any advice for women who are considering the Office of National Intelligence and National Security College Scholarship for Women?
You shouldn’t think it isn’t for you – it is. National security is such a diverse discipline, and so much more than knowing what kinds of capability we should acquire (although that’s interesting too). If you’re interested in making policy on climate change, technology, energy, cyber security, or foreign interference, all on the backdrop of a rapidly changing international playing field, then this is the degree for you. We need more diversity and more women who can think differently.
Your studies are over, for now. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Now more than ever I think there’s scope for the states and territories to be brought into the tent of national security policy making – especially as threats like climate change, pandemics, or cyber affairs become national security issues which require the whole of government and economy responses to solve them. With that being said, I can definitely see myself in Tasmania with one foot in the national security camp, and one foot on a rural property (with chickens, hopefully).
All the best, we look forward to seeing your career evolve in the years ahead. Thanks again for speaking with us!