Page 1676 - Week 05 - Tuesday, 4 May 2010

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Emergencies Amendment Bill 2010

Debate resumed from 18 March 2010, on motion by Mr Stanhope:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MR SMYTH (Brindabella) (12.11): The opposition will be supporting this bill, although I will mention some of the concerns we have in a moment. This bill makes an important change to the way in which emergencies are considered in the ACT. The bill proposes a more generic approach to determining an emergency.

It is interesting that much of the focus of public policy in Australia has been on bushfires as the cause of many of our significant emergencies. Of course, emergencies can be caused by a range of natural events and also by human actions. The focus on bushfires is important, but our public policy approach should be to acknowledge emergencies in general and to devise policies and programs that are appropriate to all types of emergencies.

As this bill proposes, there can then be a scale, or a spectrum, of emergencies established. There can be a very localised emergency, perhaps a chemical spill or something similar. Then there can be a major, all-encompassing catastrophe such as the bushfire disaster we experienced in January 2003. Moreover, with the increasing emphasis on security matters and the potential for security emergencies, the extension of the notion of an emergency, which is implicit in this bill, to incorporate security issues is sound. Overall, this all-hazards approach is a most appropriate amendment to make to the emergency management regime in the ACT.

As an aside, I note that the bill encompasses the whole range of activities associated with emergency management. The proposed amendment to section 3(b) includes preparation, prevention, response and recovery. These are critical responsibilities, dealing with emergency management, that are placed on the government of the day by legislation.

This bill decouples the appointment of an emergency controller from the need to declare a state of emergency. In adopting this approach, the bill recognises the spectrum of possible emergencies, ranging from those emergencies which are relatively minor to those emergencies that might require the appointment of an emergency controller and to a state of emergency, when an emergency controller must be appointed. This provides a reasonable hierarchy of stages in recognising and responding to emergencies.

I want to thank the minister for arranging a briefing on this bill. The bill contains some matters that are rather complex, and this briefing was particularly helpful.

I need now to make some comments on the way in which the minister presented this bill. I was surprised by the approach adopted by the minister when he presented this bill. Some of the minister’s comments seemed to be somewhat intemperate and even contradicted other information. The minister said:

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