Government wants military response to climate change breakdown

by | Oct 22, 2020 | Government

A bill being rushed through federal parliament is raising concerns that the Government is preparing for a militarised response to climate breakdown. Lawyer and human rights advocate Kellie Tranter reports.

The hypocrisy is extraordinary. On the one hand the Coalition Government reluctantly concedes that climate change exists at all and does little of substance to try to counteract it .

Yet on the other hand it is dedicating substantial resources to establish a wide-ranging and powerful authority to tackle what it sees as the perceived threats of disaster from climate change.

A bill being rushed through parliament – the Defence Legislation Amendment (Enhancement of Defence Force Response to Emergencies) Bill 2020 – is raising concerns that the Government is preparing for a militarised response to climate breakdown.

Freedom of Information requests show that Defence is already planning towards extreme climate change impacts.

References are made in the document of the need to “prepare for significantly more disaster support operations and potentially operations involving support to the civil power such as policing the population under exaggerated stresses such as food and water security”.

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Concerns about a militarised response were heightened when it was reported in September that a new civil defence agency will be housed under the Department of Home Affairs to lead a national response to emergencies such as bushfires, pandemics and large-scale cyber attacks.

Shortly afterwards Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo said that climate change risks and pandemics warrant a security rethink.

And now it has emerged that national security risks sparked by climate change have prompted the Bureau of Meteorology to forge ties with the Five Eyes intelligence alliance and that the Bureau is now part of an international group sharing weather information with an impact on national security.

Last year General Angus Campbell gave a speech in which he warned what the world could expect to see from climate change:

“In about 10 years from now global warming above pre-industrial levels is set to rise by 50%. At 1.5 degrees of warming we can expect more significant impacts. Particularly in regards to oceans, low-lying areas and human health. The poor and most vulnerable will be hardest hit. Livelihoods lost. Food scarce. Populations displaced. Diseases spreading. And this now looks like our best-case scenario.”

It’s time the Government came clean. Is it preparing for an increase of 1.5 degrees of warming by 2030? If so, that has huge ramifications for all of us in terms of food and water security.

The global trend is that countries are preparing for a military response rather than a humanitarian response to climate change and Australia seems to be adopting that same approach.

The bill’s official mantra

The official mantra is that this bill amends ‘the: Defence Act 1903 to: streamline the process for calling out members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) Reserves, including for the purposes of responding to natural disasters or emergencies; and provide ADF members, other Defence personnel and members of foreign forces with immunity from criminal or civil liability in certain cases while performing duties to support civil emergency and disaster preparedness, recovery and response.’

But the rushed time frame of getting this bill through parliament is hugely concerning because it is not an innocuous bill.

It was only introduced to parliament seven weeks ago (3 September), progressed to the Senate on 6 October, was referred to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence & Trade Legislation Committee two days later, and has allowed just seven days for public written submissions to be received by 15 October, with the final report to be handed down on 4 November.

In its current form the ramifications of the bill are alarmingly wide-reaching. Its constitutional validity is questionable, it creates the potential for the politicisation of the Australian Defence Force, and it does not enshrine in legislation the non-use of force.

Proponents of the bill have tried to assure members of parliament that this bill does not permit the use of force.

Yet it was reported on 14 August, before the draft legislation was introduced to parliament, that:

“While states and territories would still need to make a request for ADF support, government sources with knowledge of the potential legislation say the changes will make it easier to deploy the military and clearly set out its roles and responsibilities. This would likely include giving defence personnel greater legal protections in the event they have to help police search a property or detain someone”. [emphasis added]

The Bill also fails to properly define ‘other emergencies’. It delegates too much responsibility for the call out to a single minister. It foresees foreign armies and police forces being called in, and extends to them and to local defence forces an unreasonable level of immunity from criminal and civil penalties.

Karen Elphick, from the Laws & Bills Digest Section of the Parliamentary Library, rightly points out in the Bills Digest that: ‘The removal of criminal liability for actions taken in good faith performance of duty while providing certain assistance is likely to have the practical effect of expanding the circumstances in which the ADF can use force when deployed within Australia.’ In other words, if there are no consequences, force will inevitably be used and used more widely.

We saw after the 2019-20 bushfires all along the east coast and into South Australia the desperation and anger of highly stressed communities. What might happen if you throw into such communities ADF soldiers who have been given immunity? The potential for things to go wrong is high.

Instead of taking action to prevent the worst of climate change impacts from happening, the Government is pumping money into agencies to prepare them militarily.

And if the Government possesses information or credible predictions about what’s coming does it not have a responsibility to genuinely reduce emissions and prepare its citizens for all potential eventualities?

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Kellie Tranter

Kellie Tranter

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer, researcher and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter


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    Given that it was only founded/reorganized in 2017 the Department of Home Affairs has become cumbersome beast very quickly

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    They could save all their running around if they destroyed the dozens of H.A.A.R.P. installations around Australia & STOPPED CHEMTRAILING !!! $10m went to Murdoch’s Rain Corp for chemtrailing!

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    The mega-department of Home Affairs is the brainchild of Secretary, Michael Pezzullo. He was advocating for such since the 90s. His record of incompetence, mismanagement, let alone potential corruption (anyone remember the multimillion dollar contract to a company with headquarters on a dead end track on Kangaroo Island?) speaks for itself. As Secretary, he shares the burden of criminal negligence g for the Ruby Princess associated deaths, along with Peter Dutton. It’s a marriage made in heaven. Two pathological liars and megalomaniacal egos… What could go wrong.

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    This is very useful information – thank you Kellie. There is a palpable silence regarding climate change in Australia – mention it and people become uncomfortable. The ABC puts on occasional infotainment shows. Maybe I’m being unfair. I work in a large public hospital and I feel we should be openly addressing this major public health threat in our sector. It is not hard to turn it around as an opportunity for improvements to society that would bring better health and wellbeing. I’m mulling over a letter to our CEO.

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    Thank you for this clarity Kellie.

    It’s no surprise that the machinations of this LNP administration is nothing but pure recklessness from every angle, and prefers to ‘bully’ rather than administer.

    However, given that there is a distinct lack of such capacity all round, it’s no wonder that there are so many negative outcomes with ‘politics of fear’ deployed not only on the public in general, but also within Parliament itself.

    As for the cross-benchers who potentially could hold some push-back, maybe it’s time to get vocal:

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    Plato in about 380BC wrote that after the breakdown in democracy, the next stage is tyranny and dictatorship by demagogues – it would appear that we are currently witnessing and living through the devolution from stage 4 to 5 – democracy to tyranny.

    Suggest read the section on tyranny in that link – and then see if it sounds like anyone you might know of …

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    Makes sense to me. Australia already has a gun pointed at the environment, which refuses to do as it’s told. Next time it misbehaves, we’ll just call out the military. Make more rain, or die, you green villain.

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    Thank you Kellie, this has profound implications. We are already seeing restrictions on activism, and when we marry undefined specifics for ‘other emergencies’ with Karen Elphics’ suggestion military force will used more widely, it seems hard not to think these are plans to suppress the citizenry rising up against government competence and corporate hegemony.
    Your research also extends to Australia Chris Hedges’ analysis.
    Thnks again.

  9. Avatar

    Under a fascist government, a climate emergency could include people protesting, or even just speaking out against government actions.

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    The cynic in me says there’s profit in this for commercial contractors (who just happen to donate to the Liberals).

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