A confidential report prepared by the Defence Department last year eerily predicted that Australia would suffer “massive upheaval” in a global crisis, detailing public hoarding, shortages of medical equipment, and mass worker lay-offs.
The report, viewed by ABC 7.30, outlined it would take just three months for essential services to break down.
Defence’s director of preparedness and mobilisation Cheryl Durrant appeared on the program Tuesday night, revealing that Australia’s “most vulnerable areas” were studied at a top-secret Melbourne meeting last year, as part of a review into how Defence should prepare for a major crisis.
Ms Durrant commissioned the review in the event of a global catastrophe triggered by circumstances including the impact of climate change and natural disasters, a global power conflict, or a pandemic.
The meeting gathered 17 leading engineers to discuss whether their industries would survive if a crisis brought global trade to a standstill due to the severing of their supply chains.
“We wanted to understand what was the thing we were most vulnerable in,” Ms Durrant told 7.30.
The report in question laid out a three-month timeline for the failure of our essential services in the face of a crisis “far worse than COVID-19”, accurately predicting a number of issues that have come to fruition amid the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the ABC, the first prediction was public hoarding, followed by shortages of medical equipment, then mass worker lay-offs.
“We knew there were problems, we knew this may be coming, we knew various things needed to be done,” Ms Durrant said.
“I would say our preparedness planning was probably about a D-plus, C-minus, but our response was much better.”
She clarified that there had been warnings “for years” about these vulnerabilities.
“A growing group of Australia’s top brass has warned for years, our reliance on overseas supply chains makes the nation vulnerable in an increasingly unstable world.”
Now, she says, Australia is in a “fragile position”.
“We’re worse off than a few countries. Ninety eight per cent of our trade, imports, exports, depends upon foreign-owned shipping systems.”
She added that the pandemic has highlighted many aspects the report hadn’t covered, such as sanitation, which would quickly start to fail when imported water treatment chemicals run out.
“If you think of the COVID-19 crisis as a test run, it’s highlighted a lot of things that we hadn’t thought about. It’s really a critical thing for us to learn from this.”
“If we take the attitude, I think, “she’ll be right”, business as usual, bounce back, I think we’re going to find ourselves not as well prepared for what happens next,” she said.