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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1997 Week 6 Hansard (19 June) . . Page.. 1817..

MR HIRD (12.08): Mr Speaker, as deputy chair of the Standing Committee on Legal Affairs, I commend this report to the parliament because it gives due recognition to the important service which the ACT Emergency Service provides to the people of this Territory - a service which I am sure does not always receive the recognition it deserves. There have been concerns in the past, Mr Speaker, about the loss of the Emergency Service's identity, and there has been confusion over their combatant role in assistance to the community, particularly in times of storm and tempest.

The committee, as a result of this inquiry and the report that is now before this house, recognises the importance of the Emergency Service in protecting the community by recommending that the ACTES be given lead combatant responsibility for storm damage and flooding within the community. In particular, I commend this recommendation to the parliament because it finally recognises which organisation should have the lead combatant role in such emergency situations. Emergency Services have done an outstanding job in this field over the years. Late last year, for instance, the prompt action of the Belconnen Emergency Service undoubtedly prevented what could have been a serious situation brought on by the severe electrical storms within my electorate in Belconnen.

The committee's recommendations bring the ACT into line with national emergency concepts. This was pointed out by Mr Hodges, the director-general of Emergency Management Australia, who gave evidence to the inquiry. He very rightly observed that the Government's proposals recognised the difficulties in recruiting and retaining volunteers to carry out community work. Volunteers are the backbone of Emergency Services in the ACT, but without proper recognition of their role in the community there is very little incentive for them to give up their time and energy to perform community service. This report, Mr Speaker, goes some way towards rectifying that problem that has existed within the ACT Emergency Service operations for many years by recommending the implementation of five- and 10-year service medals.

The report also recognises the need for Emergency Services to be properly equipped, and there is a recommendation that vehicles more appropriate to their needs ought to be provided. Another important recommendation to come out of this inquiry is that legislation should be introduced to indemnify Emergency Service volunteers against liability for damage or personal injury. If it is good enough to accept volunteers' services, it should be good enough to ensure that they are covered for damage or injury.

Mr Speaker, this inquiry has demonstrated once again that a community such as the Australian Capital Territory owes a lot to its Emergency Services, and I strongly commend this report to the parliament. In doing so, I wish to record my appreciation, as did the chair, to the committee secretary, Beth Irvin, to my colleagues Mr Wood and Mr Osborne, and to those who gave evidence to or appeared before the committee. As the chair said, it was not an easy inquiry and the report will not please all; but I urge the Government to accept the recommendations of the committee, as a lot of time and effort was put in. I commend the report to the house.

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