Page 3185 - Week 10 - Wednesday, 18 October 2006

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Wednesday, 18 October 2006

MR SPEAKER (Mr Berry) took the chair at 10.30 am and asked members to stand in silence and pray or reflect on their responsibilities to the people of the Australian Capital Territory.

Emergencies Amendment Bill 2006

Mr Pratt, pursuant to notice, presented the bill.

Title read by Clerk.

MR PRATT (Brindabella) (10.31): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

On the surface of it, the brouhaha about the bushfire brigade and SES unit bank accounts and community fundraising might seem to be merely a minor admin glitch or perhaps even an unreasonable rebuff by the volunteers of certain initiatives the government might seem to be taking re the way these bank accounts and the fundraising issues are managed, but that is not the case. This matter has impacted—in very, very short order, by the way—quite seriously on our volunteer units. It has impacted quite seriously on their morale at a time when we want our volunteer units, our brigades and SES units to be on their toes and moving rapidly into their preparations for a bushfire season. The opposition is concerned that this matter has not been expeditiously addressed by the government.

Therefore, I have tabled here today the Emergencies Amendment Bill 2006, the aim of which is to address the possible threat of anomalies in the Emergencies Act 2004 and related acts which may affect the RFS brigade and SES unit bank accounts. I stress “may affect”. The minor anomalies which may exist have clearly frightened the Government Solicitor’s office, the department of JACS, the ESA, apparently, too, the COs of the RFS and the SES, and ultimately the minister into having some concern about the proper and reasonable management of these sorts of accounts.

It has been said that such anomalies may put at legal risk the traditional habit of RFS brigades and SES units managing their own bank accounts. It has been said by the bureaucrats—and now the minister apparently believes them—that fundraising by both rural and urban communities is, too, at risk. We are talking about community fundraising supporting various bushfire brigades and SES units, a community and brigades/units practice which goes to the heart of the community and to the heart of volunteerism.

The structure that we have in emergency services in the ACT is based traditionally on volunteerism. Without the volunteer brigades and the volunteer SES units, we really do not have a credible emergency management response beyond the urban edge. We certainly have a professional fire brigade, professional ambulance services and other agencies to take care of the inner circle, so to speak; but, without the volunteer agencies, the good-hearted nature of volunteerism and the willingness of our volunteers to turn out to fight bushfire, flood and other emergencies, we do not have a capability. So it does not make any sense that a stultifying bureaucracy, which is clearly developing at the

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