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Special Report Issue 28 - Here to help: Strengthening the Defence role in Australian disaster management

By Anthony Bergin and Athol Yates

This Special Report argues that it’s time for Defence to more fully incorporate domestic disaster assistance tasks as part of its core business.

Defence is likely to be used more frequently in the future to assist in domestic disaster management. There will be larger and more frequent extreme weather events due to climate change; increased vulnerability of the growing populations in coastal developments and in bushfire-prone areas; continual reduction per capita in the number of volunteers and emergency services personnel; and growing community and political expectations to use military resources to support whole-of-government counter-disaster efforts.

To prepare for the increased demand on, and expectations for the use of, Defence in disaster management there are three actions that should be taken:

  • Australian Government should clarify that Australian disaster assistance is an ADF priority task. Elevating domestic disaster assistance into a core Defence activity will ensure that this priority flows through the Australian Defence organisation.
  • Defence should undertake a fundamental review of its domestic disaster assistance role with the goal of maximising its contribution to Australian disaster management. This is likely to involve modifying existing organisations, policies and procedures, logistics and training.
  • Defence and civil counter-disaster organisations should work together to facilitate the transfer of capability development, research and development and other skills to accelerate the development of the states and territories next-generation disaster management systems.