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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (10 December) . . Page.. 3436 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

Mr Speaker, members may well remember the genesis of Australia's awareness of the need for disaster arrangements in the days after Cyclone Tracy. Just prior to that disaster the Natural Disasters Organisation was formed in the Department of Defence and has evolved today to become Emergency Management Australia, which provides interstate coordination and Commonwealth support to the States and Territories for emergency matters. However, emergencies are generally a State or Territory responsibility under the provisions of the Constitution and this Bill seeks to formalise the emergency management arrangements appropriate for this Territory.

In December 1997 an exposure draft of the present Bill was presented to the Assembly, with the opportunity for all to comment and participate in the development of the final Bill. A number of constructive comments were received, and in light of those comments some rewording and restructuring of the Bill has been made. This structuring clarifies the relationship between the pre-emergency management arrangements and the actual management of emergencies.

In addition, officers have used this time to add new provisions giving coverage to the operations of the ACT Ambulance Service, a service which has never had statutory protection for its functions. In particular, arrangements which currently exist in the Ambulance Service Levy Act 1990 are wrapped into this legislation and the old Act will be repealed. Further, the Bill provides protection to ensure that standards offered by private providers of ambulance services, which are being established all over Australia to assist with non-urgent patient care, are approved prior to anyone using the term "ambulance" to describe their service.

A number of other changes have been to the earlier draft of the Bill, such that today's Bill bears little resemblance to that earlier exposure draft. The Emergency Management Bill is now presented to the Assembly.

The object of this Bill is to make provision for the organisation, management and planning necessary to enhance capability, reduce vulnerability and improve community awareness of the effects of an emergency. Should a serious emergency occur, and we hope that it will not, the Bill provides for the declaration by the Chief Minister of an emergency. At the time of declaration, the responsible Minister shall appoint a Territory controller, who gains extraordinary but necessary powers to manage the emergency. Those powers can be delegated to members of an emergency service agency, including police, and can be limited to be exercised in part by officers of an agency. But the Bill provides, necessarily, for that decision to rest with the controller.

Members will be aware of instances in our neighbouring State where emergencies have been declared because of a serious situation which required significant multi-agency coordination and management to deal with the crisis. The Sydney bushfires in 1994, the Thredbo landslip in 1997 and the Newcastle earthquake are examples of such disastrous events. The Bill also includes a definition of emergency risk which provides for emergencies arising from technological problems, which would cater for emergency planning for, for example, potential significant public safety events arising from the millennium bug.

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