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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 3 Hansard (15 March) . . Page.. 679..

Emergency services

MR SMYTH (Brindabella) (6.05): Mr Stanhope and Mr Corbell have today deliberately misunderstood the role of a minister of an administrative agency. Of course the bureaucrats manage an agency, and they are responsible for the operational decisions.

The issue that Mr Stanhope and Mr Corbell do not understand clearly is that of the appropriate role of a minister. The issue being debated today was in fact the role of the minister when the bureaucrats fail in their responsibility—that was the issue of today. Clearly the Commissioner for Emergency Services has made a decision about a new management structure. And what has that decision done? It has created considerable anger within various arms of the individual emergency services, culminating today in the extraordinary protest outside the Assembly.

The issue is quite simple: if there is a failure in the competence of senior bureaucrats, the minister has to act. It is the responsibility of a minister to act in these circumstances. The stupid scenarios painted by the Chief Minister are clearly that—stupid. It is not that we are suggesting that the health minister do the work of surgeons, that the education minister do the work of teachers or that the Chief Minister acting as the minister for emergency services go out to fight bushfires, although—

MR SPEAKER: That was a personal reflection; you should withdraw that.

MR SMYTH: Mr Speaker, I withdraw. Even though we know that the minister for emergency services has actually fought fires while he has been the minister for emergency services—and we compliment him on his actions there—the scenarios painted by the Chief Minister are clearly absurd. These suggestions by the Chief Minister simply demonstrate that he does not even understand his role. Moreover, we know that he does not understand his role through his abrogation of responsibility for the 2003 bushfire disaster.

Ministers have a role as minister for a department or for an agency. This role is not to micromanage a department or an agency; this role is to oversight the activities of their bureaucrats, and, when there are problems evident, to take appropriate action.

So what happened with emergency services this morning? Volunteers told the minister for emergency services in a unanimous vote that they did not have confidence in the reforms and they did not have confidence in their commissioner. This was a failure of management at the top level of the Emergency Services Agency and it is up to the minister to take action in the face of that turmoil. This is not an operational issue; this is an issue that goes to the heart of the appropriate role of a minister.

It is absolutely distressing that neither Mr Stanhope nor Mr Corbell understand that role. On the need to exert leadership, they have failed. On the need to show courage, they have failed. On the need to acknowledge responsibility, they have failed. It is a pathetic display of ministerial responsibility, or at least a complete lack of ministerial responsibility, from both ministers.

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