There is much to be said about the Federal Government’s role, irrespective of one’s political party, about what it’s powers should be in disaster management. Democracy is slow, and so churning out an efficient scheme for the immediate aftermath of the bushfires this year was near impossible. As we reel from the consequences of this disaster, we must explore multiple avenues for us to better prepare for the next disaster.
One possibility up for debate is the creation of a Federal Fire Service to address the issues of the people and attend to the government’s needs. Two alternatives are either a federalised fire service or using a new division of the military as frontline firefighters. The first has its issues in being too slow, as it relies on collaboration between all levels of government, so I will be focusing on the latter with credit given to Peter Jennings, Michael Thomas, and Marcus Hellyer of The Strategist.
It should be stressed that this plan doesn’t seek to deviate from current military spending or strategy, instead, opts to offer better ways for disaster management to be developed with minimal expenditure under guidance from the Australian Defence Force’s 2016 White Paper. Increases in military spending over the next 15 years means there are immediate and long-term strategies for this government to develop an effective Military-based Fire Service and Disaster Management group.
The importance of utilising the ADF for this is simple; their centralised command structure, efficiency, and how spread they are across the globe grants them a special ability for assuming this role. History shows that a dedicated and trained disaster response group is more effective, and Australia can relate to this through Brazil’s federalised Fire Service the Corpo de Bombeiros Militar (Military Firefighter Corps). Though it may be viewed as costly, the ADF has plans to develop further as a whole over the aforementioned 15 years, which offers significant opportunity, including what we’ll call ‘hand-me-downs.’
The ADF will replace Armoured Personnel Carriers, Helicopters, etc. and the equipment being replaced could be recycled into this Disaster Management group. The increase in fuel and wage expenditure would be low as this group is only accessible for disaster relief such as previous summer’s bushfire season, and any other unexpected disaster events within the country, or across international borders. Even better? Much of this group could be integrated into existing Army/Navy groups in vital areas or added to new ones.
Many bases exist close to high-risk areas such as Singleton (NSW), Whyalla (SA), and Alice Springs (NT), though this option is tougher due to it being more accessible to Australian Signals Directorate/National Security Agency. These readily available sites not only show us a capability for minimal expenditure in the broad scheme of the ADF’s current development plans, but would also bring more wealth to these areas from military placements and development of job, and/industry prospects.
This would also decrease the expenditure required by the State Fire Service and respective Governments that oversee them, as states like Queensland would become less reliant on QGAir for the Fire Service and SES, and would simplify their duties just towards ‘Search and Rescue.’ Stepping away from assigning responsibility on so many general roles in state-managed disaster management would allow the states to develop these entities as specialists rather than generalists.
Moving responsibility away from the State Fire Services is important not only for expenditure reasons, but because their water-bombing ability requires specialist training which a volunteer without an experienced disaster management background does not have. A reduction in dependency on the Queensland Fire Service also allows for the State government to funnel those resources back into other services.
It is also important to note that an improved Disaster Management group allows for the ADF to effectively follow through with its disaster management plans throughout the Pacific, exerting its influence with an effective force friendly to neighbouring governments. Militarily, it also offers us access to other international collaborations extending further from our borders and may even save money in the long-term by being closer to areas requiring immediate response.
There is clearly a place where a Federal Fire Service can exist, evidenced by this idea of a Disaster Management group from the ADF. It is low cost whilst offering more extensive reach and influence which allows the ADF to ‘kill two birds with one stone’ towards an all-encompassing goal, where the people’s needs are met, and the government’s strategic planning can be attained.
In closing, a Federal Fire Force must exist and grow. Not only has the bushfire crisis given us much to think about, but the increase in natural disasters (like the Townsville floods or spread of the Coronavirus) show us a need for an emergency force. To efficiently co-ordinate and lockdown in times of disaster is only achieved through the military and is the best way of brokering towards what all interested parties want.
As results are what Australians want.
Dion Tillema is a member of the Young LNP.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authorand do not necessarily reflect the views of the Young Liberal Movement of Australia.