More than six months after the Defence COVID-19 Task Force was established, its commander is shifting his focus to the high-risk weather season.
CAPTION: Above: Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, arrive at Perth Airport, Western Australia, to support quarantine compliance monitoring. Photo by Petty Officer Yuri Ramsey.
Right: Commander COVID-19 Task Force Lieutenant General John Frewen updates members of Task Group 629.4 at Keswick Barracks, South Australia. Photo by Sergeant Bill Solomou.
“Our focus and priorities are changing,” Lieutenant General John Frewen said.
“In the past few weeks, Defence has been reviewing our ability to sustain operations into the new year.
“As we enter the high-risk weather season, it’s important that we focus on preparing our enterprise and our people to respond to the highest national priorities.
“We saw last year how important the ADF was in responses to natural disasters such as the Townsville floods and the devastating bushfire season.
“We must be prepared to answer the call again should the states and territories request our assistance, and do it in a COVID-19 environment.”
Defence has ended its support to border control checkpoints in Queensland and Western Australia, as well as informing NSW and South Australian authorities and agencies of its intent to wind down support of their border measures.
The ADF will focus its efforts on supporting the states’ mandatory quarantine arrangements to help get Australians home, noting that overseas arrivals present a risk of COVID-19 transmission.
“As always, if there is an urgent need and no local solution available, Defence is prepared to respond to requests for assistance,” Lieutenant General Frewen said.
“However, this must be balanced with our other urgent national priorities.
“During the pandemic, we have built or maintained excellent relationships with state and territory governments and authorities.
“That means we can continue those conversations more easily and quickly should the need arise.
“COVID-19 won’t be the only thing to challenge us in the next few months, so the task force is in the best position to help when needed.”
Lieutenant General Frewen said the safety and wellbeing of every Defence member during the pandemic would continue to be the highest priority.
Currently, there is only one active case of COVID-19 in Defence.
Lieutenant General Frewen said this was testament to the organisations’s ability as an organisation to respond to health crises.
“More broadly, as restrictions around Australia change, we are encouraging our people to return to the workplace as circumstances permit.
“Of course some of our work can only be performed at a Defence site.
“However, everyone at Defence is encouraged to speak to their commander or manager about their working arrangements.”
Lieutenant General Frewen also reflected on the high operational tempo for personnel deployed on Operation COVID-19 Assist in the past few months.
“There was a surge in our support to the COVID-19 response in Victoria that, at its peak, saw about 2000 personnel deployed to that state alone,” he said.
“Our contributions there have been critical to the whole-of-government response.
“Our medical testing personnel helped perform more than 250,000 COVID-19 tests – we’ve supported police at checkpoints and taken part in vital community engagement, among many other tasks.
“Progress in Victoria is promising, but we must remain cautious and vigilant as COVID-19 can very quickly re-surge.”
The COVID-19 Task Force has also turned its focus to the important posting and leave season, which can be a busy and challenging time for Defence people and the organisation in a normal year, let alone during a pandemic.
As a result, Defence has established the Posting Cycle Movements Coordination Cell (PCMCC), which is the single point of coordination for all posting-related movements of Defence personnel over the 2020-21 peak posting period.
“We must expect unavoidable disruptions but our people will continue to post,” Lieutenant General Frewen said.
“They will do it in line with quarantine requirements so we can ensure their safety and the community’s.
“Wherever Defence members are working or posted to, my expectation remains the same – be flexible, be professional and be an exemplar in following the latest health advice.
“Thank you for your contributions so far in 2020 – it has been a year like no other for Defence and the ADF.
“I know it has been a challenging year and many of you are preparing for some much-needed rest.
“You and your families have made sacrifices in the service of our nation.
“Be in no doubt that your contributions are appreciated by our fellow Australians.”