Defence Assistance to the Civil Community (DACC), specifically how the ADF can respond and when, the wrong use of ADF images or footage and the correct direction of anger, which isn’t at our Defence Force!
I shouldn’t have to but after everything this Defence Spouse saw from the media, elected members of Parliament, influencers, social media and everyone bad mouthing the ADF, my heart is heavy for the Defence community and I feel compelled to set the record straight.
After much DACC – Defence Assistance to the Civil Community – operations across the last several years of floods, fires, Covid-19 and more floods, there is now a very wrong assumption that the ADF can instantly help with anything and everything, anywhere and everywhere.
Here’s why that assumption is wrong.
First, for the Defence Force to move there needs to first be a request for them to do so. The Defence Force cannot just make up its mind to go about something – including flood assistance. The State and Territory governments are sovereign and need to make a request for assistance from the ADF. That request has to be agreed to and then approved. This request goes to the Federal Government, who then liaises with Defence.
I am yet to be made aware of a request that Defence has declined. DACC has been provided recently in the 2019 Townsville floods, 2019/2020 bushfires, 2020 and 2021 Covid-19 pandemic, 2022 Aged Care crisis and at the time of writing this the South East Queensland and Northern Rivers flood. At the same time as DACC in recent years, the Defence Force has provided assistance to Fiji, Tonga and Ukraine, Afghanistan operations, border patrol and surveillance and day-to-day combat preparedness.
Second, as with all other service agencies, Defence requires training on equipment before personnel can use it. Contrary to popular opinion, not every member within the Defence Force would have qualified on chainsaw use. It might seem self explanatory to use one but you can bet you won’t find untrained Defence personnel picking up a chainsaw and using it because they have regulations to abide by. That’s the same as the SES and RFS except for them using one is much more part of their core job than it is for a Defence Member.
Third, the Defence Force doesn’t have a bottomless pool of resources, personnel and money.
There is a cap on the number of personnel in the Defence Force at any given time. At all times personnel are needed to provide training of new recruits and various other personnel courses, which are tasks that you cannot simply turn off. Similarly, there are other domestic and international operations you cannot turn off to free up resources. What you can turn off needs to be carefully weighed up.
Not only does this take time but a lot of operations and field exercises the Defence Force are on occur fair distances from the base personnel are posted to. It’s not uncommon for courses to also see personnel interstate for weeks to months at a time. When DACC needs to happen this is therefore going to often require bringing personnel and equipment back from somewhere to redeploy, which again adds time to the ability to provide DACC instantly.
You also have to consider that each Defence base houses different equipment and capabilities that it takes time to coordinate and transport this cross-country when required at a certain location.
Adding even more time is the logistical organisation that needs to happen to move Defence Force assets to the needed region and the fact that if there is flooding Defence assets are going to be hard pressed getting anywhere before water recedes. The Defence Force is good but they can’t shift floodwaters.
Then there are paperwork processes for certain vehicles to drive on civilian roads, safety checks that need to occur, regulations such as safe driving distances and pit stops that need to be abided by and food supplies that need to be planned because you can’t just move even more people into a disaster area without planning to feed, water and house them.
Fourth, let’s also not forget that Defence families, homes and bases have been affected by this disaster too. There would be Defence Members and units we therefore couldn’t call on at this time. That said, flood affected Defence Members remain on the ground helping still.
Fifth and turning to the topic of Defence personnel, there is a lot of talk that Defence – the Army in particular – are a professional disaster relief organisation. If you took a look at Defence equipment, you would see the bulk of it is combat-based equipment and not state of the art rescue and fire fighting equipment like DACC operations call for. Heck, the Army still use vehicles that did tours in Vietnam. I don’t see the Defence budget allowing for the purchasing of more SES and RFS like equipment anytime soon.
There is probably a tonne more I can sit here and say but by now you get the point of what needs to be factored in when it comes to the current flood crisis or any other DACC operation and the Defence Force response time.
Finally, I want to correct a few “influencer” and “celebrity” claims doing the rounds about the ADF and DACC.
To those who say “I’m criticising the Government, not the ADF”
You might mean to criticize the Government but when you’re using images of ADF and commenting that “the military should have been here days ago”, sadly and wrongly, you’re blaming and ridiculing the ADF.
Whereas if you say the Government is at fault for not warning out, putting on stand by or enacting the ADF earlier, then this is fine.
To those who say “the Army is nowhere to be seen”
Over 2000 ADF personnel were on the ground assisting when the claims they weren’t ramped up over the weekend. A further 3,000 were committed for this week. The total number of personnel assisting is now 5,000. Did it take time for them to arrive? Yes and no! Immediate in location units responded right away to the call for help. Reinforcements will always, for the reasons explained above, take time to arrive. That’s not a fault of or valid complaint about the ADF.
Secondly, the ADF isn’t automatically in charge because they are there. There are plenty of places people would like them to be and that they are needed but can’t possibly be. But they set to work where, when and how they could. Both SES and Defence have had to operate within the weather conditions safely and suspend operations where they were too hazardous and risked their own personnel’s lives. No one is commenting about the SES suspending operations for safety; it’s only the ADF who aren’t allowed to do this it appears …
To those who say “the army / Defence Force are sitting or standing around doing nothing”
No, they’re not. Behind the photos plastered on social media and the news this week of Defence personnel sitting or at McDonalds is the fact they are on a well-earned meal break or observing work to rest ratios during convoy, all of which is in accordance with the work to rest ratio and fatigue management policies, which by the way aren’t even hard to find if you’ve got Google.
To those who say “The Army should be the national disaster recovery agency; it’s easy to establish this as you can just take a few officers who can raise this cell easily and they not only have the people needed to carry out this operation and the equipment”
See aforementioned. Additionally, this suggestion fundamentally changes the function of the Defence Force, which is to defend Australia and its national interests to advance Australia’s security and prosperity. It would be no small feat and certainly not one that would serve Australia well, particularly regarding retention in the ADF.
There are also already disaster and national emergency response agencies (or supposed to be) including Resilience NSW, Department of Home Affairs Emergency Management, Geoscience Australia, Disaster Assist and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). All of who are supposed to have various tasks to prevent, prepare, respond to and aid recovery from disasters and emergencies. If we’re talking about where anyone is shouldn’t it be about where such agencies, all that funding and the Government have been?
Importantly, the natural disasters and their frequencies are a result of climate change, the solutions for which require a whole of Government and scientific approach. Defence is one department in the whole of Government approach but can’t be the whole approach and certainly isn’t filled with scientists. They’ve got engineers, mechanics, medical and combat personnel.
To those who say “why should we be doing it when we aren’t trained professional disaster relief workers?”
The scale of devastation is too extraordinary for it to just be an ADF or emergency services response. Also, no one has the right to require people to operate in hazardous conditions they wouldn’t operate in themselves. Additionally, there probably won’t ever be an agency big enough to deal with the scale of this flood alone. It’s still always going to require everybody to play a part and chip in.
If you’re concern is that you aren’t trained, then maybe you should be asking what you can do about that. Maybe you should join your local RFS, SES or even the Reserves of the Defence Force … this would solve your problem.
To those who say “if no one is supporting our Defence Force and they are underpaid there needs to be a royal commission because if we can’t get access to our army when we need them what’s the point?”
Yes, someone responded to me with this! There is a current royal commission … into Defence and Veteran Suicide … but thanks for knowing and supporting the need of #YourADF!
Moreover, we need more than a royal commission. We need people like yourself to not hear we have a problem and say “well not my responsibility, you need this”. We need you to care and sure up our support and needs the same way you ask us to for everybody else. A royal commission won’t solve the pay issue where expenses are increasing more than Defence salaries. Nor will it solve anytime soon, the stretching of our salaries to include all new tasks and operations that I know first hand we don’t get paid more than a small incidentals (toothbrush, deodorant,) allowance for (hello operation Covid-19 Assist). No other employer would get away with this and Defence and our Federal Government shouldn’t either.
I don’t deny that the flood affected have a right to be outraged and heard. It’s only the blaming of the ADF for their plight and suggestions that the ADF isn’t doing enough or could do more that I disagree with.
What do you think, can we think twice before ridiculing Defence assistance to the civil community now? Can we think twice about whether we have facts or are posting misinformation? Can we think twice about how they and their families are human and don’t need to be seeing derogatory comments about their service and sacrifices.
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