• There is a contrast in clarity between messaging from the Australian and NZ militaries.
    There is a contrast in clarity between messaging from the Australian and NZ militaries. NZDF

The difference in public communications around COVID-19 between the Australian and NZ governments has been commented on much in the past month, usually to the detriment of Australia. But perhaps an example at the military/department level also needs some reference.

“NZDF has taken significant steps to reduce our activity levels and we will only be focussing on activities that directly support the Government’s response to COVID-19,” according to a statement from Brigadier R. S. Krushka NZ’s Chief of Joint Defence Services. “As such the NZDF will need to show leadership and meet Government intent of only conducting essential duties in order to combat the spread of this disease. 

“It is acknowledged that our reduced activity levels will have an impact on some of our suppliers as we reorient to only keeping essential services operating, however this is a rapidly evolving situation and we will need to remain flexible with regards our ability to turn activities on or off as required to meet Government requirements.”

The three-page statement aimed at industry partners is easy to read and provides clear direction on what to do and who to contact.

The two relevant pages from the Australian Department of Defence are less clear on this front. The Department of Defence page is more aimed at informing people about what Defence is doing as part of a Whole of Government response to the pandemic.

“Defence is monitoring possible impact of COVID-19 on industry and the supply chains that support ADF capability,” the Defence page states. “Contractors are advised to seek care through their usual health care provider and to call 1800 DEFENCE (1800 333 362) to help Defence implement preventative measures and monitor potential impacts on operations.”

The only public facing area where Defence has interacted with industry has been around restarting manufacturing of “medical protective equipment such as surgical face masks, sanitizer, goggles and gowns” in regional Victoria.

Minister for Defence Senator Linda Reynolds said around a dozen ADF personnel are helping under Defence Assistance to the Civil Community (DACC) arrangements.

“The team, which is comprised of highly qualified engineering maintenance specialists from the Army Logistic Training Centre and the Joint Logistics Unit – Victoria, are supporting the request,” Minister Reynolds said.

“These skilled soldiers are with the company’s existing staff on production, maintenance and warehousing tasks. The Defence support will fill a short-term gap while Med-Con recruits and trains supplementary staff. This is an example of the kind of exceptional circumstances which the DACC rules are designed to cover.”

The Government has also put out a Request for Information (RFI) to get a further understanding of the manufacturing capability and capacity that exists domestically, so that as a country, we are well-positioned to increase production of these products at home, according to the joint statement from Minister for Defence Senator Linda Reynolds and Minister for Industry Science and Technology Karen Andrews.

One would think that such information on national capabilities should already be resident somewhere within CASG or Industry Division or in Minister Andrew’s department for a broader picture.

This is a time where clear lines of clear and consistent communication are imperative. Uncertainty is the bane of everyday existence and while this pandemic is throwing the world into confusion on so many fronts, it is the perfect time for Defence as an organisation known for its leadership to demonstrate it at every opportunity. 

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