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  • Writer's picture2022 Global Voices Fellow

Fighting The War Of Natural Disasters

By Haiden Threlfall, Department of Defence, GLOBSEC, 2023

Haiden Threlfall works at the Department of Defence and his policy paper is on Fighting The War Of Natural Disasters

Executive Summary

The 2020’s in Australia have been defined by continuous natural disasters ranging from

bushfires, to floods, to the COVID - 19 pandemic (Henderson, 2023). In fact, studies have

confirmed that natural disasters have become more frequent (Royal Commission into

National Natural Disaster Arrangements, 2020). It is known, that in Australia, State and

Territory Governments are primarily responsible for disaster response (Royal Commission

into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, 2020). Despite this, throughout the 2020’s,

there has been a consistent reliance on the Australian Defence Force (ADF), a Federally

controlled asset, to be what Robert Glasser (2023) of the Australian Strategic Policy

Institute has called a “primary responder."

Simultaneously, fueled by the Sino-US competition, Australia has been walking into an

increased age of strategic competition within the Indo-Pacific (Parry, 2022). Consequently,

the ADF should be focusing on its own training to increase overall combat effectiveness

and preparedness to execute conventional warfare (Dibb & Brabin-Smith, 2021). However,

being the primary responder for domestic disasters and training for conventional warfare

are in direct tension with one another. As the Defence Strategic Review 2023 (DSR)

highlighted, the ADF’s continual response to domestic disasters had “negatively affected

force preparedness, readiness and combat effectiveness” (Glasser, 2023). This policy paper

proposes solutions to reduce the tension placed on the ADF between domestic disaster

response and engaging in the current age of strategic competition. The paper will propose

legislative amendments to the Defence Act 1903 that limit timeframes for ADF support to

domestic disaster response. Further, the paper proposes that the Defence Force Reserves

transition to a National Guard structure. Thereby, increasing State and Territory capacity to

coordinate their own disaster response without the Federal Government’s intervention.

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