Should the ADF take a bigger role in bushfires and other domestic emergencies? The answer isn’t so easy



SHANE CAMERON/ROYAL AUSTRALIAN NAVY

Susan Harris Rimmer, Griffith University

The Commonwealth and state governments are responsible for keeping people safe, and the role of the ADF is to protect the nation. But how these two roles fit together is not always so clear.

After a tumultuous year of bushfires and the ongoing pandemic, we need a more fundamental conversation about the role of the ADF in responding to domestic emergencies.

The Morrison government has introduced a new bill that would give the ADF more power to respond to emergencies. And a Senate committee has recommended it be “passed without delay”, despite dissent from the Greens.

But questions remain around whether the legislation is even necessary or meets all the recommendations set out in the Bushfire Royal Commission report.




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When the Commonwealth can use the ADF domestically

The scope of the Commonwealth’s “nationhood power” is not settled in constitutional law and so, despite the number of times the ADF has been called out in peacetime, the legal basis of these interventions has always been contested. Section 119 of the Constitution says:

The Commonwealth shall protect every state against invasion and, on the application of the executive government of the state, against domestic violence.

It is generally agreed this does not authorise unilateral military action by the Commonwealth government. The need for this section is due to the fact the states are unable to raise a military force themselves.

But the Commonwealth has radically expanded how the call-out power is used — first in preparation for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and then in response to the Sydney Lindt Cafe siege in 2018.

A convoy of Army vehicles transporting more than 100 Army reservists and supplies on Kangaroo Island during this year’s bushfires.
DAVID MARIUZ/AAP

A bill was passed in 2018, for example, that authorised the use of ADF soldiers to protect Commonwealth interests in Australia and offshore from “domestic violence” if a state requested it.

This bill raised significant concerns over human rights, related to the definition of “domestic violence” and whether ADF or foreign troops would be held accountable for the use of deadly force against civilians.

What does the new bill do?

The new bill would streamline the use of military personnel in a severe natural disaster or emergencies, such as a pandemic. But questions about the parameters of ADF involvement remain unanswered.

For example, the states and territories currently need to ask the Commonwealth for ADF personnel or assets to be deployed and must consent to ADF support during emergencies.

The Bushfire Royal Commission recommends allowing the Commonwealth the power to declare a national natural disaster and get ADF personnel ready to respond. If there are significant risks to lives or property — or it is deemed in the national interest — the government may then deploy the ADF to those areas without state or territory consent.

A child is helped onto an ADF helicopter as Mallacoota is evacuated this year.
Corporal Nicole Dorrett/Australian Department of Defence

This may raise future questions about the scope of the Commonwealth’s call-out powers, as noted in the bills digest and by Professor Anne Twomey’s submission.

Under the legislation, ADF personnel and soldiers from foreign countries would also have immunity from civil and criminal liability when responding to disasters, similar to state and territory emergency services workers.

What else does the Bushfire Royal Commission report say?

The royal commission focused mainly on ways to improve coordination between federal, state and local fire and emergency service agencies in future bushfires.

The commission’s report identified the need for more clarity from state, territory and local governments about how their fire and emergency responders should interact with ADF personnel on the ground, and what they can expect from the ADF in terms of performing certain tasks.

There are many ways the ADF can help states during an emergency, such as logistics support (including both fixed and rotary wing aircraft), sealift (such as the Mallacoota beach evacuation), land transport, engineering and medical support, the building of temporary accommodation and helping to restore communications.

During this year’s bushfires, for instance, the ADF deployed some 8,000 personnel, including 2,500 reservists, to assist with rescue operations and medical and disaster relief. About 500 defence personnel from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Japan and Fiji also provided assistance.

Army personnel from 5th/6th Battalion, the Royal Victoria Regiment (5/6 RVR), joined Victoria police in a search for bushfire victims.
Department of Defence/Supplied

However, the ADF insists it will not directly fight bushfires. There has also been some reluctance to commit more resources to domestic emergencies, arguing this reduces its focus on preparing for conflict and could reveal its capabilities to potential enemies. Using the ADF is extremely expensive, as well.

Calling in reserves instead of permanent ADF staff would mitigate some of these issues. Reservists have training and can provide personnel support with some specialist skills.

Also, it is easier to compensate and insure reservists, rather than the complicated (and sometimes contested) arrangements around compensation for volunteers and their employers.




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The royal commission found more employment protection and accessible compensation would be required to ensure volunteer firefighters are not “worse off” than ADF personnel or reservists.

There was also some uncertainty in the report about the “thresholds” that must be met before seeking the assistance of the ADF — as in, when a locality has exhausted all government, community and commercial options and needs ADF support.

The Commonwealth government says it is working to clarify this.

The future of the ADF as a ‘dual use’ force

Changes are clearly needed to the ways in which we respond to disasters because, as the report makes clear, they are only going to get worse.

As I’ve argued with colleagues elsewhere, the ADF should become a “dual use” force that should respond to natural disasters both here and in the region.




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In order to justify our current level of military spending at 2% of GDP, the ADF should be trained and ready to deal with the increasing risks associated with climate change, such as handling mass displacement and responding to natural disasters.

Defence should earn their keep. But these interventions should come with strict civilian controls, human rights standards and clarity about roles. The current legislation creates more uncertainty about the ADF’s role in disasters and emergencies, when what the community needs now is clarity.The Conversation

Susan Harris Rimmer, Professor and Director of the Policy Innovation Hub, Griffith Business School, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is it time for a ‘new way of war?’ What China’s army reforms mean for the rest of the world



Jason Lee/Reuters

Bates Gill, Macquarie University and Adam Ni, Macquarie University

The ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu once said,

Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.

Looking at the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) today, it’s hard to say which of these tactics is most germane.

Getting the answer right will have enormous consequences for the United States and the future of the Indo-Pacific region. Underestimating the PLA breeds complacency and risks costly overreach. Overestimating the Chinese military grants it unwarranted advantage.

Similarly, for the Chinese leadership, miscalculating its military capability could lead to disaster.

As such, any serious appraisal of Chinese military power has to take the PLA’s progress – as well as its problems – into account. This was the focus of a recent study we undertook, along with retired US Army lieutenant colonel Dennis Blasko, for the Australian Department of Defence.

The PLA’s new-found might

By all appearances, the PLA has become a more formidable force over the past decade. The massive military parade in Beijing last October to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China showed off more than 700 pieces of modern military hardware.

One of these weapons, displayed publicly for the first time, was the DF-41, China’s most powerful nuclear-armed ballistic missile. It is capable of hitting targets anywhere in the US.

Under President Xi Jinping, China has also expanded its military footprint in the South China Sea. Military experts say China has used the global distraction of the coronavirus pandemic to shore up its position even further, drawing rebukes from neighbours. Tensions have heightened in recent days as the US and Australia have sent warships into the sea for drills.




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In the past few years, China has also stepped up its military exercises around Taiwan and disputed waters near Japan, and last December, commissioned its second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, into service with the PLA Navy.

The most recent annual assessment of the PLA by the Pentagon acknowledges China’s armed forces are developing the capability to dissuade, deter or, if ordered, defeat third-party armed forces (such as the US) seeking to intervene in “a large-scale, theatre campaign” in the region.

The report also expects the PLA to steadily improve its ability to project power into the Pacific and beyond.




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A recent study commissioned by the US Congress goes further, saying China’s strategy aims to

disrupt, disable or destroy the critical systems that enable US military advantage.

The report called for a “new American way of war”.

All of these highlight the increasing capabilities of the PLA and underscore the challenges China’s rising hard power pose to the United States and its regional allies. But what of the challenges the PLA itself faces?

A Chinese destroyer taking part in a naval parade off the eastern port city of Qingdao last year.
Jason Lee/Reuters

Overcoming the ‘peace disease’

Interestingly, many of these problems are openly discussed in official Chinese publications aimed at a Chinese audience, but are curiously absent when speaking to a foreign audience.

Often, pithy formulaic sayings of a few characters summarise PLA shortcomings. For example, the “two inabilities” (两个能力不够), a term that has appeared hundreds of times in official Chinese media, makes reference to two shortcomings:

  • the PLA’s current ability to fight a modern war is insufficient, and

  • the current military commanders are also not up to the task.

Another frequent self-criticism highlights the “peace disease” (和平病), “peacetime habits” (和平积习) and “long-standing peace problems” (和平积弊).

The PLA was last at war in the mid-1980s, some 35 years years ago. Today’s Chinese military has very little combat experience.

Put more pointedly, far more soldiers serving in the PLA today have paraded down Chang’an Avenue in Beijing than have actually operated in combat.




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Owing to these and many other acknowledged deficiencies, Xi launched the most ambitious and potentially far-reaching reforms in the PLA’s history in late 2015.

This massive structural overhaul aims to transform the PLA from a bloated, corrupt and degraded military to one increasingly capable of fighting and winning relatively short, but intensive, conflicts against technologically sophisticated adversaries, such as the United States.

But, recognising how difficult this transformation will be, the Chinese political and military leadership has set out a decades-long timeline to achieve it.

DF-17 ballistic missiles on parade in Tiananmen Square last year.
Xinhua News Agency handout/EPA

In Xi’s estimations, by 2020, the PLA’s mechanisation will be “basically achieved” and strategic capabilities will have seen major improvements; by 2035, national defence modernisation will be “basically completed”; and by mid-century, the PLA will be a “world-class military.”

In other words, this transformation – if successful – will take time.

At this relatively early point in the process, authoritative writings by PLA leaders and strategic analysts make clear that much more work is needed, especially more realistic training in joint operations, as well as improved leadership and greater communications integration across the services.

PLA modernisation depends more on “software” — human talent development, new war-fighting concepts and organisational transformation — than on the “hardware” of new weapons systems. This underscores the lengthy and difficult nature of reform.

‘Know the enemy and know yourself’

The many challenges facing the PLA’s reform effort suggest the Chinese leadership may lack confidence in its current ability to achieve victory against a strong adversary on the battlefield.

However, none of this means we should dismiss the PLA as a paper tiger. The recent indictment of PLA personnel for the 2017 hack of Equifax is a cautionary reminder of the Chinese military’s expansive capabilities.

Better hardware is not what China needs at the moment – it needs to improve its software.
ROMAN PILIPEY/EPA

Rather, it means a prudent assessment of the PLA must take its strengths and weaknesses into account, neither overestimating nor underestimating either one. Should strategic competition between the US and China continue to escalate, getting this right will be more important than ever.

So, is China appearing weak when it is strong, or appearing strong when it is weak? Much current evidence points to the latter.

But this situation will change and demands constant reassessment. Another quotation from Sun Tzu is instructive:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

He added,

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.The Conversation

Bates Gill, Professor of Asia-Pacific Security Studies, Macquarie University and Adam Ni, China researcher, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Myanmar: Persecution News Update


The links below are to articles reporting on persecution news from Myanmar/Burma.

For more visit:
http://www.persecution.org/2015/01/22/burmese-army-rapes-tortures-and-kills-two-christian-kachin-teachers/
https://www.mnnonline.org/news/tragedy-strikes-kachin-community/

Myanmar: Latest Persecution News


The link below is to an article that reports on the targeting of Kachin Christians by the Burmese army.

For more visit:
http://www.persecution.org/2013/03/30/why-is-burma-army-targeting-kachin-christians/

Syria: Is the Regime Crumbling?