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  • Writer's pictureDavid James Connolly

Stop using army for floods and fires, defence review says

Governments must stop relying on the military to help out in natural disasters as it is detracting from the capacity of the Australian Defence Force’s primary objective of defending Australia, the Defence Strategic Review says.

Amid an increasing dependence on using the armed forces to help with bushfires, floods and even during the COVID-19 pandemic with aged care and vaccine distribution, the review says Commonwealth, state and local governments need a different arrangement “to deal with all but the most extreme domestic disaster preparations”.

“Defence must be the force of last resort of domestic aid to the civil community,” the review says in a section that underscores the challenges posed by climate change.

“This is critical, given the urgent geostrategic risks that the nation faces, and the need for the ADF to be in a position to respond to regional contingencies.”

The review says climate change already holds “significant implications” for defence, including increased humanitarian disaster relief missions at home and abroad.

“If climate change accelerates over the coming decades, it has the potential to significantly increase risks in our region,” the review says.

“It could lead to mass migration, increased demands for peacekeeping and peace enforcement, and intrastate and interstate conflict.”

ADF at risk of being ‘overwhelmed’

An acceleration of climate-related events risks “overwhelming” the ADF, the review says.

“Climate events already place concurrency pressures on the ADF, and this has negatively affected force preparedness, readiness and combat effectiveness.”

Moreover, the ADF was not “structured or appropriately equipped to act as a domestic recovery agency concurrently with its core function, in any sustainable way”.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the concerns raised were serious and “there will need to be further consideration of how we deal with these natural disasters”.

“We need to, as a government, and as a nation, work out an appropriate response.

“The defence force [is] always very willing to participate, it must be said, and they have done an extraordinary job. And will continue to do so.

“But the review indicates that there’s a need to consider the broader issues in that context.”

Mr Albanese declined to comment on the status of plans to establish a federal civilian Natural Disaster Agency, but sources said nothing was imminent.

Opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie said alternatives have to be explored.

“That is not their primary task,” he said of disaster relief. “The primary mission of the ADF is to win wars.

“That has always been the case, and so they need to focus on being the best war-fighting enterprise they can possibly be. We have to become better at managing disasters.”

Via Phillip Coorey: here

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