8 June 2021

Military expert Professor John Blaxland: “News the army’s Lieutenant General John ‘JJ’ Frewen has been picked to lead a new COVID-19 vaccination task force has prompted fresh discussion of the defence force’s role in Australia. … As someone whose life’s work has been the study of the ADF, my first thought when hearing the news was: Frewen is a good pick… and I have no doubt he will get the job done. But I have broader concerns about Australia’s growing tendency to call in the defence force to deal with crises outside its usual remit. These are crises that could or should be dealt with by well-resourced civilian government agencies and institutions. … Isn’t a vaccine rollout something we should be resourcing our state-based emergency response agencies to do better? … In recent years, we have expected the defence force to respond to crisis after crisis, rather than properly resourcing civilian-led government or community agencies to perform these tasks. … We keep telling ourselves this latest crisis is an aberration. But it’s the new normal. That’s my concern. If it’s not pandemics, it’s fires, floods, pestilence — or all of the above concurrently.” Austerity has fundamentally wrecked our ability to solve social problems, and calling in the military is not going to fix it.