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Work to consider civilian natural disaster agency as alternative to ADF as recovery focus shifts to mental health

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Shadow defense minister Brendan O’Connor says the defense force should be trained for military purposes, not disaster response.

Labor will consider setting up a civilian natural disaster agency rather than use the defense forces to respond to floods and bushfires as the focus of recovery in NSW turns to mental health support for victims of the riots. floods.

Shadow defense minister Brendan O’Connor cited the “increased incidence of natural disasters and also the need for our defense force to be trained for military purposes” as reasons to consider a separate agency.

O’Connor’s comments to ABC on Sunday come as Scott Morrison was still defending the pace of the Australian defense force’s emergency response, arguing that the community is “always first” on the scene because it’s not possible to have ” an ADF base around it”. the corner of each town.

O’Connor told ABC Insiders that “the incidence of natural disasters [is] increasing as a result of climate change,” resulting in increased “non-military deployment” of ADF.

“And that is at the same time … that we have increased instability in the region where we require … a more significant effort in terms of potential military investment.”

Related: Scott Morrison says locals will always play a key role in responding to natural disasters

If elected in May, the Albanian Labor government would review the climate change threat assessment and make “a number of decisions” in the first four months, O’Connor said.

“One of the issues that would be under consideration is whether, in fact, we would continue to deploy the defense force in the way that we are doing, or whether we need to think of some other means of responding so quickly on the scale of nature. disasters we are experiencing”.

O’Connor said Australia might need a “national emergency task force”. While the ADF assistance is helpful, he said he “wasn’t sure it was sustainable in the way it’s currently operating.”

O’Connor said former defense force chief Chris Barrie, Peter Cosgrove and defense analyst John Blaxland had submitted proposals.

He argued that the Queensland and New South Wales floods were the most recent instance in which the prime minister “failed to act on national disasters”, suggesting that the ADF might have been in place sooner if it had “made it clear from the start principle” that would be used and declared a national emergency.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that NSW SES had twice rejected ADF offers of assistance on 25 February, before ADF helicopters were requested and dispatched to Lismore on 28 February.

NSW SES Commissioner Carlene York defended the decision, arguing that the forecast at the time for northern rivers was for minor to moderate flood levels. She said that at the time, NSW SES provided resources at those levels.

“Now, history will tell us that when we look back in hindsight, those flood levels exceeded the maximum flood reward level and reached almost 14.4 meters, which is 2 meters above anything we’ve ever experienced in that area. area”.

She said they were relying on local experience and experienced volunteers in the area had not seen flooding of this level.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the delayed call would form part of the flood review and said he welcomed “honest feedback” on what could be done better.

“There is no doubt that this event was not planned. It wasn’t planned it wasn’t what [BoM] I was saying… I don’t want anyone in our state to feel isolated or abandoned. And we will review that and I think there are a lot of lessons that come out of that,” she said.

“Our SES, RFS and all of those teams have done an amazing job through this. I don’t want there to be any sense that there were any flaws in that place and I’ve been with the commissioner for that period of time. They have to make the assessments based on the evidence and the information that they have in front of them.”

Perrottet announced $25 million over three years in funding for trauma and recovery services in communities most affected by the floods, including $7 million for primary health networks to increase access to psychological and clinical support, $5 million in grants to non-governmental organizations to fund trauma-based programs targeting youth, older residents, and Aboriginal communities, $3.5 million for Headspace and Lifeline, $5 million for statewide resources and support, and $3.5 million for 10 local recovery coordinators.

The government has also set aside $1 million to establish four pop-up safe havens in the hardest-hit locations for people experiencing suicidal thoughts or distress.

Perrottet said it was clear after visiting evacuation centers that the funds were needed.

“I think this additional $25 million in funding will ensure that we’re not just focused on the here and now, but that the care and support will be there now and in the future,” he said. “And my message is that we will get through this.

“I know that for many people this event, this destruction can be overwhelming. But we’ll be there, side by side with you every step of the way. Let’s get out of this. We will get housing, we will complete the cleanup, and we will get every community and every person back on their feet as quickly as possible.”

Morrison previously told Channel Nine’s Today that “we moved as fast as the defense force and the agencies could.”

Morrison said that compared to the call after the 2011 Queensland floods, the current response has seen four times as many ADF staff mobilized a week earlier.

The first response “is always from the community,” followed by the SES and then the ADF, he said.

When asked about the scenes of Australians rescuing their neighbors, Morrison said “we need people to do that”..

“The community is always the first to arrive. To deploy a nationally positioned defense force, to mobilize with heavy equipment and supplies, you can’t just turn that on and off. We don’t have an ADF base around the corner in every city.”

Morrison said the floods were “one in 500 years” but admitted that climate change has affected the severity and frequency of such events.

The Coalition “has always been very clear on the issues of resilience and adaptation,” he said.

Morrison also boasted that Australia has cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, a reduction driven in part by Labor’s carbon price, which the Coalition repealed in 2014, and cheaper renewables.

Morrison dismissed “labor comments” that the government had been slow to act in the face of wildfires and floods, citing a host of other crises it had responded to quickly, including wage subsidies for workers and border closures to China at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and Building a “safety net” against regional threats.

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