Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (10 December) . . Page.. 3435 ..
MR HUMPHRIES: I move:
That this Bill be agreed to in principle.
I am pleased to present this Bill today. It is the first stage of legislation designed to completely modernise the ACT's statutory response to emergencies and disasters. This Bill will codify the existing emergency management committee arrangements and provisions for disaster plans.
The ACT and Western Australia are the only Australian mainland jurisdictions without some form of emergency management legislation, although I am advised that Western Australia is also moving to enact legislation to cover responses to major emergencies and natural disasters. The interim ACT disaster plan was last updated in 1994 to take account of changes due to self-government arrangements and the establishment of the Emergency Services Bureau. There is a continuing need to upgrade these arrangements to provide a formal basis for counterdisaster action and coordination, while also ensuring that our practices and procedures are at the cutting edge of best practice.
Specifically, this Bill will formally support disaster countermeasure planning, interservice and multiservice organisational arrangements, preparedness measures, response action and recovery arrangements. The Bill allocates major responsibilities and powers which will help to ensure that such responsibilities will be properly and clearly implemented and potential conflict with some existing legislation and assumed responsibilities will be minimised. In particular, this Bill gives wide-ranging powers to the Territory controller in the event of a declared emergency - powers which, under everyday circumstances, I am sure all members would agree would not be acceptable. But the reality is, Mr Speaker, that combating a disaster requires lawful authority for the exercise of powers which are designed to preserve life, mitigate damage to property and aid in the recovery of infrastructure, community services and health. The Bill will assist in providing a uniform national approach, thus ensuring that all levels of the national counterdisaster structure receive the full benefit of ACT support, including the provision of cross-border arrangements.
The ACT is an island in southern New South Wales surrounded by rural and regional communities. The region depends on Canberra's size in many areas of its day-to-day existence - the transport of goods and the provision of services. But, in addition, Canberra depends on the region for its good environment and other produce. Hence, an emergency here will affect people over the border and an emergency in New South Wales will affect this community.
As members will appreciate, coordination of the response to and recovery from emergencies is essential for the wellbeing and safety of persons adversely affected by such events or the community generally. That is not to say that multi-agency response to significant emergencies has not been evident in the past - the ACT has a well-established public safety capability. However, members will appreciate that legislation that permits overall management of the various facets of large-scale or complex emergencies will be a valuable aid to the Territory agencies and this community generally.