Diggers denied medal for bushfire service

18 Feb 2021
Diggers denied medals 2021

Hundreds of army personnel who lent a helping hand to Adelaide Hills residents affected by the Cudlee Creek bushfire last year are ineligible for medals designed to recognise their service because of a 'bureaucratic oversight', the Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie claims.

“Someone in an office somewhere without a clear picture of what happened when the fire broke out in the Hills on 20 December 2019, and its aftermath, has drawn up a set of eligibility criteria for the Australian Defence Force’s National Service Medal that has made it almost impossible for reservists and regular army personnel to get recognised,” Rebekha said.

“Meanwhile, the vast majority of those who did any service to help the bushfire-affected community on Kangaroo Island are eligible, creating an untenable situation where we have servicemen and women feeling unappreciated and some refusing to accept the medal because their colleagues won’t be recognised.

“The ridiculous thing is this can just be fixed with some common-sense and the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen, so I have written to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison to ask him to intervene.

“I have also made an urgent request for a meeting. I realise the Prime Minister has been occupied this week with serious assault allegations and a call for a workplace culture review in Federal Parliament, but this issue needs to be addressed in a timely manner.

“These are servicemen and women who cut down burnt trees, cleared away debris and built fences as well as providing logistics and strategic planning expertise. They deserve to be recognised. They should be recognised.”

According to the National Service Medal criteria detailed by the Department of Defence, ADF personnel who helped out at Cudlee Creek are missing out because the declared ‘Area of Operation (AO) excludes personnel who provided logistics and other recovery support at the Army’s Woodside and Keswick barracks; the declared timeframes for the AO meant many could not meet the requirement of five-consecutive days of service, even if they had served that time or more; and they are not being recognised for their volunteer service before the Government officially declared the compulsory call-out of ADF Reserves.

“The ADF was there for the recovery efforts, not firefighting, which meant that the timeframes set by Government simply did not cover the much-needed service they actually provided to our community, let alone the specialist services they provided from an army base that wasn’t physically on the fireground,” Rebekha said.

The Cudlee Creek Bushfire began on 20 December 2020. ADF personnel answered the unofficial call to help out in late December 2019 and they continued to assist until 27 February 2020.

The timeframe for the Adelaide Hills AO was 20 November 2019 until 6 January 2020.

However, the compulsory Call Our Order for Operation Bushfire Assist was effective from 4 January 2020 which meant that soldiers who assisted couldn’t meet the criteria of five consecutive days of service in the designated AO timeframe.

In response to the escalation of the Kangaroo Island bushfire, the Island AO dates were amended up until 6 February 2020 so ADF personnel who served in that area were able to accumulate their five days of consecutive service.

The Adelaide Hills AO was also limited to a certain geographic area bound by the fireground.

“There are around 600 soldiers involved in helping out in the Cudlee Creek community and around 300 of them are based in Woodside, outside the designated AO, as well as many soldiers who provided specialist support at Keswick,” Rebekha said.

“I believe a Statewide AO should have been declared, like the Government did in Victoria for the Black Saturday fires of 2009, and if they amended the Adelaide Hills AO date to 6 February 2020, the same as KI, that would cover most of those ADF personnel who served.

“The current situation is leaving many regular army personnel and reservists feeling dejected.

“Those who have been deemed eligible have expressed a reluctance to accept the medal as they served alongside many who are unfairly deemed ineligible.

“The Prime Minister can fix this with some bureaucratic amendments. I call on him to demonstrate to all our ADF personnel who helped out that their service is valued and recognised.”

The National Service Medal issue was raised with Rebekha by former reservist Dr John Bruni who is the founder of the geo-political thinktank SAGE International Australia (SIA).

“We at SAGE International Australia believe that all Australian Army personnel, regular and reserve, who answered the Prime Minister’s national callout be awarded the National Emergency Medal," Dr Bruni said.

“It is ridiculous that a bureaucratic oversight allowed some 600 army personnel who served on Operation Bushfire Assist in South Australia in 2020, 300 of whom are resident in the Adelaide Hills, are denied the National Emergency Medal on the grounds of ‘scheduling problems’ and organisational issues.

“For instance, those who served in the Kangaroo Island and Adelaide Hills Areas of Operation should not have been deemed separate and distinct but as part of one South Australian AO.

“As for scheduling, Australia’s Bushfire Crisis ended in March 2020, not in February, therefore all those who answered the national call out should be entitled to receive the NEM.

“This can’t be a matter of penny-pinching by those in Canberra.

“Issuing medals to those who sacrificed their personal time and safety during the bushfire clean-up assisted communities in getting back on their feet.

“This was dangerous and dirty work and proved vital in the re-establishing normality for the communities affected.”

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