Military Must Not Be Our First Resort in a Public Health Crisis Involving COVID

Military Must Not Be Our First Resort in a Public Health Crisis Involving COVID

There’s something fundamentally wrong when the Premier of our State defaults to the military option rather than strategically preparing his Government’s health system and infrastructure for a future health crisis.

Roger Cook’s recent comments to a Commonwealth COVID inquiry that he wanted to deploy the army to “patrol and secure” WA’s borders, and to turn military bases into quarantine centres in the event of another health crisis like the pandemic, demonstrates a concerning lack of vision, leadership, and planning.

Contrary to Mr Cook’s opinion, the military is not at the beck and call of a State Government to act as a stopgap measure to cover for a poorly prepared or underfinanced emergency health response program. And military bases are not suitable as quarantine centres. It was for that very reason the WA Government spent $400 million on the notorious 500-bed quarantine centre in Bullsbrook.

The military’s role and resources are in place to ensure the sovereignty of the whole of Australia’s borders and the defence of Australia’s people and assets. Any dilution of this task lessens the capability of our defence force to be prepared to respond if necessary and would undermine its effectiveness.

ADF personnel work at a vehicle checkpoint during the COVID pandemic. Credit: James Ross/AAPIMAGE

In times of national catastrophic disasters and where no other option is available, the defence can be called upon to provide support, but this should not be, as Mr Cook seems to be suggesting the default option.

It is the role of the State Government to budget appropriately for a fully capable health system to deal with the next health crisis. That is their job, to see what could arise out of the norm and to be fully prepared.

To simply lean on military intervention rather than acting now to forecast and prepare is a leadership failure.

Invoking martial law is not a viable policy for future crises, it is lazy and a worrying footnote as it shows that the government has learnt little, especially in view of the WA Auditor General’s financial audit results report from 2023. That report was scathing in its analysis of the Government’s policies during the State’s COVID response, finding that there was a lack of transparency and little consideration given to the significant costs of its COVID-driven spending spree.

What is most concerning, is that a default position of “what worked last time” is seen by our Government as an appropriate response to future health crises, and it indicates how very little the Cook Government has taken on board about the lessons learned during this period.

The aim should be to learn from the last pandemic, not merely repeat the same emergency stopgap measures. Militarising a public health response does not in any way amount to careful planning or sound policy development.

When the Premier indicates this as his preferred course of action, it feels like we are heading down a slippery slope of heavy-handed authoritarianism rather than doing the correct thing, which is fixing and preparing our already straining health system to deal with the next crisis.

Donna Bates is an ex-member of the Defence Force and an Integrity expert.

Click here to read this article in The Western Australian

Donna Bates

Donna is a Strategic Planning Consultant, whose talents have been refined over 25+ year corporate career.

She is an Award-winning, Business & Marketing Growth Strategist who specialises in consulting with company's going through growth, change & upheaval.

Being a “legacy leader” she has mentored talented people across a wide spectrum of industries globally, helping them to grow & pivot their businesses, to stay relevant & profitable.

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