The real agenda behind this story may be two-fold. Firstly, is the implication that Australia could be even more deeply involved in US-led missions across the world if this issue was resolved? And secondly, which “military operations overseas” are we not able to lead?
The Defence Force has conceded it is facing a shortage of medical officers, and is looking to recruit at least 200 health and medical personnel to fill the gap for current and future needs.
A reservist doctor has told the ABC a disparaging culture is forcing many uniformed health personnel out of the military and the situation is hampering Australia’s ability to take the lead in military operations overseas.
Captain Julian Fidge says he is speaking out because he believes the shortage is being filled with private contractors who he believes are not as well trained as serving medical officers.
“I am certain the ADF have an enormous shortage of their specialist service officers despite recruiting many valuable, gifted applicants. These people are basically run out of the Army or the Navy through poor treatment,” he said.
“I worked alongside one of the civilian contractors and I had significant difficulties accepting their level of health care, their provision of health care, and so did my medics.”
Captain Fidge has tried unsuccessfully to lodge his concerns with his superiors and he has been the subject of disciplinary proceedings within the ADF over the issue.
“I was charged with insubordination and found not guilty and I am still waiting to hear the outcome of any further charges,” he said.
He says the shortages are affecting the ADF’s ability to take the lead in operations overseas.
“The ADF is in dire straits with their health personnel and the consequences are that the ADF can probably no longer conduct operations or fulfil its treaty obligations under NATO and other treaties,” he said.
The ADF admits there is a shortage of “some health professionals across the services” and “this is particularly the case for medical officers”.
“Defence is no different to the wider Australian community in that it faces challenges in recruiting and retaining all types of medical and allied health professionals, including medical officers, nurses and dentists,” an ADF spokesman said.
“Where a shortfall of medical officers is identified, ie medical practitioners in full-time permanent military service, Defence engages a combination of civilians and contracted solutions.”