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Andrew Brown and Maeve Bannister

ADF disaster response may not be sustainable in future

The head of the government's emergency management agency has warned the use of the defence force to assist with natural disasters may not be sustainable in the future.

National Emergency Management Agency director-general Joe Buffone told a parliamentary inquiry into the country's disaster resilience the increasing number of events like bushfires and floods could impact how ADF personnel were deployed to help in the clean up.

Mr Buffone said with climate change contributing to natural disasters, there would be a greater strain on the ADF to assist with recovery efforts.

"What we're seeing is more frequent, more intense disasters, (which) sees the ADF deployed more frequently for longer periods of time. They are one of our most direct physical responses which sits outside of the financial responses that we provide," he told the inquiry on Tuesday.

"One of the key challenges is that the current (ADF) model, we need to look at whether that is sustainable and how we actually supplement those arrangements."

Mr Buffone said the agency was examining what it could do to reduce pressure on the ADF.

Recent natural disasters, including floods in the Northern Territory, had reinforced the need to do so, Mr Buffone said.

"One of the first things that we've done is we've revised the protocol for ADF assistance, and that's actually around trying to have clarity around when the ADF should be used," he said.

"The ADF will remain a critical part of our disaster response architecture, but I think it's important that we set that up and we build capabilities that support states when they reach those thresholds."

A defence submission to the committee detailed how its commitment had created workforce pressures on its permanent and reserve ADF capacity.

The submission says the ADF has also had to reprioritise its workforce to meet government directions during natural disasters which reduces its capacity to train, maintain and sustain workforce levels for defence purposes.

"The use of both full-time and part-time defence personnel to support the Australian community since 2019 has been at an unprecedented scale, duration and frequency," the submission said.

"Since 2019 over 35,100 ADF personnel have deployed in domestic disaster relief operations, some multiple times."

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