*Opinion piece published in the Daily Telegraph on 17th January 2023.
Rain is thrashing your roof. Water seeps in around your feet, through your home, into your carpet.
The roads look like swimming pools. The SES knock on hundreds of doors in the middle of the night, saying it’s time to evacuate. People bundle their belongings, children and pets into their cars. They don’t know what they’ll be coming home to. If their home will even be there.
This is the reality for people in Western Australia this week. It’s just the latest in a string of weather events, after floods devastated Victoria, Tasmania, south-east Queensland and New South Wales last year. And it’s only getting worse.
Every flood we’ve faced in the past 12 months, the Australian Defence Force were sent in to help. Whether it’s helping people to leave the area, rescuing people who are stuck, or starting the clean-up, they got in and got the job done.
And we’re doing it again right now in WA.
We’re relying more and more on the ADF to help with disasters and unexpected events. During the pandemic, they were a ring of steel around Melbourne. Some of them flew into Tassie to run a hospital. They delivered vaccines and helped out in aged care homes.
But the ADF can’t do this forever. They’re supposed to be out protecting our national security, not cleaning rubbish off roads and ferrying vaccines around. Asking the ADF to consistently be involved in natural disaster assistance is reducing their capability as our country’s first line of defence.
What happens if the ADF is called to assist with defence matters in the Pacific, but they’re already battling bushfires and cleaning up from floods? It just doesn’t work.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t be helping those who need help. But we need to get on the front foot. It’s clear we’ve been making things up as we go to deal with these disasters and we can’t do that any more.
We need a plan of attack.
I’ve set up a Senate committee into Australia’s Disaster Resilience. It’ll look at how we’re using the ADF in disasters. It’ll look at volunteer groups and not-for-profit organisations working in this space.
We’ll look at how well we respond to these disasters, and what we can do better. We’re having the inquiry because we don’t know the answer to the fundamental question: if we couldn’t turn to the ADF to bail us out, who do we turn to?
To get this right, the committee needs to hear from you.
Tell us if you’ve had floods sweep through your house or you’ve felt the bushfires at your back.
If you’re an SES volunteer or you’ve helped out at town halls handing out canned food. If you’ve tried to help, but haven’t been able to, for whatever reason.
We need people who have lived through this, who know what you need - both during the event and the support you need afterwards. Taking the time to write down your experience will make sure we can give others better support the next time round.
Because there will be a next time. We’re getting more and more of these weather events, and they’re only getting worse.
We’re behind the eight-ball and we’re scrambling to catch up. Flood events over the past six months have proved once again how reliant we are on the ADF. We can’t do that anymore.
That’s why this committee into Australia’s Disaster Resilience is so important. Because the ADF is plugging a gap. And you can only plug it for so long before the levee breaks.
For information on putting forward a submission to the committee, click - Select Committee on Australia's Disaster Resilience