Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (10 December) . . Page.. 3438 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
In the event of an earthquake, major flood or the like, it is of critical importance that the management of the emergency to preserve life, property and public health be the crucial factor under which those decisions are made. The Bill seeks to give the controller whatever necessary powers, in addition to other legislation, such as the Public Health Act or the Environment Protection Act, that he or she requires to achieve the restoration of essential services, the recovery from the emergency and the prevention of further damage or loss of life. There is provision for a system of compensation for persons who suffer loss as a result of the exercise of the Territory controller's powers. This strengthens the accountability provisions and ensures that our obligations to provide compensation on fair and just terms under the self-government Act are preserved.
Some members of the Assembly may recall that in my speech covering the Government's response to the Legal Affairs Committee inquiry into the ACT Emergency Service restructure, I foreshadowed that the Emergency Management Bill would formally establish the ACT Emergency Service and provide for its roles and functions. This Bill carries this into effect. It establishes the ACT Emergency Service and gives statutory direction and protection to all its members in relation to their activities.
There is also provision for the appointment of a director of the ACT Emergency Service and members of the service, for the maintenance of an operations manual, and for the direction of members and casual volunteers. As with many of the provisions of this Bill, they operate on the basis that the overarching framework must be provided for, but the operations and duties of emergency service workers must be managed with a degree of flexibility and responsiveness which can only be dealt with by service heads. It should not be necessary for the parliament to unduly restrict the activities of emergency services, because it is often not practicable to return to parliament for the widening of powers in the event of a major emergency.
As I outlined above, Mr Speaker, in discussion of the changes to this Bill, there is statutory provision for the establishment of the ACT Ambulance Service and for the appointment of a chief officer and members to that service, including the provision for the direction of members and casual volunteers supporting the Ambulance Service.
The Bill also makes provision for the establishment of a trust fund for emergency relief funds and for the payment of compensation from this fund to persons suffering loss as a result of an emergency.
The Bill prohibits victimisation by employers of employees who volunteer their services during emergency operations, but does provide for an employer to request the release of an employee from the chief officer of the service in the event that undue hardship is caused to the business. The Bill also provides for a penalty in the event of the obstruction of a person undertaking duties during a declared emergency. Mr Speaker, the penalties are significant for such an event. I am sure that members will agree that the obstruction of emergency recovery operations by anyone or any corporation is a most serious offence, and the penalties involving fines of up to $1m are appropriate.