Australian defence force needs more funding to juggle national disasters and military role, inquiry told | Australia news

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The Australian defence force will need a bigger budget to meet growing community expectations that it will help out during natural disasters while maintaining preparedness for a traditional military threat, the royal commission into national natural disaster preparedness has heard.

The ADF were called in to help the bushfire response this summer, and have been embedded in health and police departments as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Peter Jennings, the executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told the royal commission on Tuesday that the ADF would not be able to continue to juggle domestic support roles with its actual defence responsibility without additional funding.

The commission is in its final week of hearings and is due to deliver its final report to the federal government on 28 October.

“I cannot see any way out of that dilemma that doesn’t involve, frankly speaking, more money in defence to produce a larger defence force [that is] able to meet both of those objectives,” Jennings said.

The former deputy secretary of the defence department said Australia’s 2020 defence strategic update made it clear that “not a dollar less can be spent on preparing the Australian defence force for dealing with conventional military operations”.

Jennings said more frequent and more severe national disasters, exacerbated by the climate crisis, would become “a major strategic problem in its own right”. And that the Pacific region, and south-east Asia, would be “the epicentre of natural disaster risk going forward”.

“So in other words, the one set of risks, the natural disaster picture, is in all likelihood going to have cascading second-order effects in the geopolitics of the region and how we think about more conventional strategic threats,” he said. “So this is a rather tangled collision of two problem sets … and the ADF is in the spotlight of both of those things.”

Dr John Coyne, the director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s strategic policing and law enforcement program and head of its northern Australian division, said the pandemic had exposed the weakness in Australian supply chains. Darwin, for example, has just 28 days’ worth of fuel on hand.

“If a hypothetical Cyclone Tracy 2.0 were to hit [Darwin] … if it hits on day one, just as the big ship arrives and fills the [fuel reserve] facility up, we’re probably pretty lucky, we’ll have 28 days of fuel supply then,” he said. “If it hits on day 27, unfortunately we run out of fuel and I think in many cases the supply chain that’s there is like that.”

Mark Crossweller, the head of the national resilience taskforce and a former director general of emergency management Australia, said the pandemic had exposed Australia’s “extreme dependence on a just-in-time supply chain” which was very vulnerable to disruption.

Crossweller also said the emphasis placed on risk from natural disasters being equally shared between governments and institutions on the one hand, and ordinary people who may be living in a disaster-affected area on the other, was “unrealistic and unsustainable”.

“That’s fine if you have half a chance that the risk is reasonable, but if the risk is unreasonable because of the institutional decision making that’s predicated or preceded it, then it’s almost impossible to be resilient,” he said.

He said the information on which decisions were made by institutions to minimise risks in Australia was “suboptimal” and decisions were often based on economic considerations, not on minimising harm.

“We expected citizens to be responsible for the risks on their property or the risks around their property,” he said. “But once you move away from the citizen and you move into institutional framings it gets cloudy very quick. And given those big decisions are what’s really causing us the biggest grief at the moment …

“Values around prosperity and other factors often take precedence over values around hazard mitigation or risk reduction.”

Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Australian defence force needs more funding to juggle national disasters and military role, inquiry told | Australia news

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