As many communities are taking it into their own hands to rescue stranded residents in the current devastating floods, Australian Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said civilians should be given training to provide emergency disaster support.
“I met people in Queensland who jumped in their dinghy, were going around rescuing people off the top floor of Queenslanders around creeks and rivers,” Albanese told reporters on March 8.
He said the dangers in the increased level of disease involved in post-flood clean-ups could pose issues if people are unaware and lack the education and expertise in safely carrying out tasks.
“We know that Australians’ natural instinct is to help out,” Albanese said. “We know that people will provide assistance.”
The establishment of a new unit within the Australian Defence Force that would be dedicated to disaster response was also “worthy of consideration,” according to Albanese
“And historically they’ve done so and they’re doing so at the moment. And we thank them for it,” he said.
However, he said while it was not the time to “make policy on the run” there were measures that needed to be put in place.
“Clearly, we need to have more of a debate about how we provide appropriate assistance,” he said.
The Labor leader was not critical of the ADF and its response to the emergency.
“I think, that we acknowledge that our defence force personnel do their best, as instructed, at any particular time,” he said.
However, he noted that there needed to be an explanation of the issues that left some people stranded on roofs for a long period of time.
“The ADF have access to substantial helicopters, for example. Why are people having to pitch in and privately hire helicopters when the ADF have access to those resource? I think they are all questions that need answers,” he said.
The ADF currently has around 4,300 personnel on task or available for tasking across New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland, an increase of 1,500 people from Tuesday.
Over 3,000 are assisting in NSW, most of whom are stationed in the state’s north, where the most devastation has occurred.
“Well before we were tasked to provide this support, my troop have been keen to assist our local community, with many volunteering their weekends,” Lieutenant Sally Gray said in the northern suburb of Lismore.
“Like all Australians, we really want to help, and we’re looking forward to contributing to the emergency response in whatever way we can.”