Senior defense officials are acknowledging that the increased involvement of Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel in natural disasters may be negatively impacting recruitment and retention. Air Vice Marshal Stephen Chappell testified at a parliamentary inquiry into the nation’s disaster resilience that the ADF’s responses to events like bushfires and floods are becoming unsustainable due to their increasing frequency. In addition to taking time away from primary ADF duties, these responses are also affecting broader defense numbers. Chappell stated that the workforce is under pressure, which is a contributing factor to the ADF’s inability to retain and recruit personnel. Since 2019, more than half of the force’s 62,000 members have been called out to national disasters, totaling over 35,000 personnel. While there have been suggestions for reservists to respond to disasters, this also poses problems as they are often fully committed in their civilian roles. Talks are ongoing with the Department of Home Affairs to improve disaster relief with the ADF’s assistance. National Emergency Management Agency director-general Joe Buffone recognized the strain on the ADF and stated that the current model needs to be reevaluated. Defense officials elaborated on the challenges that the ADF faces with its permanent and reserve capacity. The ADF is crucial to disaster response architecture, but other capabilities need to be built to support states when they reach critical thresholds.
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