It was a visit to a frontline of a different kind for Defence leaders as they paid tribute to more than 200 staff who had redeployed to Services Australia at short notice.
Lieutenant General John Frewen, the commander of the Defence COVID-19 task force, and Justine Greig, the Deputy Secretary Defence People, heard firsthand from some of the public servants who have redeployed.
They are among more than 2,000 Australian Public Servants who are supporting Services Australia to process JobSeeker claims and help operate the phones as part of the whole of government response to COVID-19.
“This is a really unique challenge for us that has generated some unique responses,” Lieutenant General Frewen said during his visit.
“We’re making contributions right across Australia: from quarantine compliance in Sydney, to assisting remote Indigenous communities, to the important work we’re doing here in Canberra.
“Coming off the back of Operation Bushfire Assist a few months ago, it’s especially impressive the way we’re contributing as part of a combined civil-military response.”
More than 400 Defence civilians had volunteered to help, with Defence redeploying graduates right through to senior executives.
“We’re so grateful for your flexibility because it’s such an important time for our community,” Ms Greig said.
“To see the enormity of it and the diversity of people involved in a whole-of-government response is incredible.”
The Secretary of the Department of Social Services, Kathryn Campbell, also accompanied the group to thank staff who had integrated into the whole-of-APS effort.
She explained that Services Australia had expected to process a million queries from the public within the first six months. However, there were almost a million in the first week alone.
It has been a different year to the one Defence logistics graduate Sebastian Ward expected.
He is one of about 50 Defence graduates who been redeployed to Services Australia.
“It has been a lot more rapid and fluid than I thought,” he said.
“I’ve seen first-hand how hard people have been hit by this pandemic and I’ glad I can contribute in some way to help.
“But meeting and spending time with a diverse and interesting team has really opened my eyes to how the different agencies operate and has really taught me a lot.
“I’ll be able to bring back the amazing experience from Services Australia to Defence.”
Logistics graduate Brayyd Turner had been deployed for about three weeks and quickly overcame the steep learning curve on a system he’d never used.
“By contacting customers, my customer service and public engagement skills have really had to grow; it has been a fantastic space to learn these new skills,” he said.
“I am enjoying the independence and responsibility we have been given with processing claims, you really feel like you’re helping get Australia back to normal.”
Defence staff are also assisting Services Australia in Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide.
Defence is assisting other federal agencies, including Home Affairs, the National Indigenous Australians Agency and Austrade.