Page 1857 - Week 05 - Thursday, 6 May 2010

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Emergencies Amendment Bill 2010

Debate resumed from 4 May 2010, on motion by Mr Stanhope:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo) (11.18): Members may recall I was in mid sentence the other day when the power surge stopped the Hansard recording. At the time, I was discussing the human rights implications of the bill that had been raised by the scrutiny committee. I had noted the minister’s comments that the bill sought “intuitive simplicity”. It certainly is intuitive that, in times of emergency, people will need to be ordered about. People will respond well to a clear direction from someone in a position of authority. It is also intuitive that, when an emergency is approaching, action will need to be taken to prepare.

The amendments in this bill remove any confusion that could have existed, and the Greens support them on that basis. The scrutiny of bills committee was correct to point out that the human rights implications, however, do not justify a delay or amendment to the government’s legislation.

A second major amendment in this bill is the abolition of the existing Emergency Management Committee and their replacement with a senior officials group. The role of this group will remain the same, which is to provide strategic advice to cabinet on emergency management. Apart from the name change, the minister will no longer be required to “try and ensure” that the community and environment are represented on the group. This legislative wording was particularly weak and placed no real onus or requirement on the government to involve these groups in decisions. Nevertheless, the removal of the words did stand out to us, and we asked for some further explanation of the rationale behind this change.

Departmental staff were able to provide that further information in writing, and I would like to thank them for that assistance. With their assistance we were directed to the objectives of the act and how they are expanded by this bill. The expanded objectives will now include the need to prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from emergencies. This is known as the comprehensive approach. The department advised that, implicit in this approach, is the need to consult with all affected community groups at each step of the way.

The departmental advice was clear that the bill does not preclude consultation with community groups or experts. This was an important point for us to clarify. The requirement to comply with the objectives applies to SEMSOG, the ESA commissioner and an emergency controller, if one is appointed. Each of these groups or individuals will need to follow the comprehensive approach and the associated consultation. This provides for a broader based consultation than currently set up in the legislation and provides the various officers with the opportunity to make the most of extensive community expertise. I believe it would be wise for them to do so, and I trust that this change in the law will offer that opportunity that will be taken up to harness that community expertise.

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