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Why soldiers say they shouldn't have to help out in civilian disasters

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One of the Australia’s most senior serving defence force officers has called for state emergency services organisations to be fully equipped and trained for climate disasters, instead of repeatedly calling in the army to fill the gap.

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Giving evidence before the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, Brigadier Kahlil Fegan told the inquiry he had been told “in no uncertain terms” by his soldiers that deployments in civilian disaster zones were “not aligned” with their “war-fighting functionality”.

“I can fully appreciate how that is frustrating for our people,” Brigadier Fegan told the inquiry on Monday.

“I would love to see a State Emergency Service that is equipped and enabled to respond more nationally to these events such that we don’t have to rely on our armed forces who need to be prepared to fight the nation’s wars if we should be required to do so.”

Brigadier Fegan, who commands 3000 soldiers at the Lavarack Barracks, was the first witness to appear on Monday at the commission’s nine day hearing in Townsville, one of the country’s largest defence communities.

Former Veteran’s Affairs Minister Andrew Gee is due to appear in the witness box on Tuesday.

Gee is expected to be pressed over his threat to resign from cabinet on the eve of the federal budget in March unless $96 million was found to clear the huge backlog of unprocessed veterans’ compensation claims.

Also due to give evidence is the chief of the Australian Defence Force, Angus Campbell, who has been slated to appear on Thursday and Friday.

The commission, which began its inquiry in 2021, is examining systemic and cultural failures in the defence forces which have led to high rates of suicide among defence members and veterans who struggle to transition to civilian life.

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