Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2014 Week 12 Hansard (28 October) . .
Emergencies Amendment Bill 2014
Debate resumed from 25 September 2014, on motion by Mr Corbell:
That this bill be agreed to in principle.
MR SMYTH (Brindabella) (10.58): The Canberra Liberals will be supporting the majority of this bill. Much of the bill seems to be sensible and clarifies the work that is undertaken to make the ACT secure in the case of an emergency, but there is a lot of contention and concern, particularly within volunteers in the bush fire brigades and members of the Fire & Rescue service, about clause 9, which amends section 8A of the existing act and is largely concerned with directions given by the commissioner in relation to emergencies.
There are a large number of dilemmas with this issue. Currently 8A has three subsections. Subsection (1) says:
This section applies to an emergency other than one for which an emergency controller is appointed.
Subsection (2) says:
The commissioner may direct a chief officer to undertake response or recovery operations in relation to the emergency.
Subsection (3) says:
The commissioner may not direct the chief officer to undertake an operation in a particular way.
Of course what is happening is that parts 2 and 3 are being removed and are being substituted with the words that, for the effective coordination of the emergency, the commissioner may direct a chief officer to undertake response or recovery operations.
What is being removed, of course, is the clause that prohibits the commissioner from directing operations in a certain way. And there is a very valid reason for that. It goes to the nature of the service. ESA has four services under its umbrella: the Fire & Rescue Service, the Ambulance Service, the Rural Fire Service and the State Emergency Service. An officer who would have qualifications across all four of those emergency arms to enable him to undertake and direct operations would be a very rare individual. That person would need to have those qualifications, have them current, keep them current and be able to do it across the four services. In a way section 8A(3) is a protection for the commissioner. But it also protects the integrity of the services and allows them to get on with their jobs, without having somebody look over their shoulder. And that is what is being removed today.
We had the incident of the Sydney Building fire earlier this year where, indeed, the commissioner, depending on whom you speak to, did attempt to direct operations. It has been put to me that he was on the fire ground. You would have to say, in the case
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