Page 1107 - Week 03 - Thursday, 22 March 2012

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On the surface, this is a very simple matter. It is to give the commissioner the express power to direct chief officers during an emergency when that event does not warrant being classified as a state of emergency or having an emergency controller appointed. I note the advantage to the ACT in our having a single act dealing with the provision of emergency services. As the minister alludes in his presentation speech, other jurisdictions in Australia typically have a range of acts dealing with emergency services. This is a legacy of the evolution of the legislative regimes. It can lead to unnecessary complexities, as seen in the comments made by the minister. Indeed, this multitude of legislation can create confusion. The ACT has the benefit of being a late starter in that regard in developing emergency services legislation and we see that in having a single act.

I will now turn to some of the provisions in this bill. As I have already noted, the opposition will be supporting the bill. At the same time, however, I want to note various provisions in the current act which relate to collaboration between our four emergency services. I note, for example, that the objectives in section 3 include providing for “cohesive management by the commissioner of the four services”. This appears to give the commissioner the capacity to require the services to collaborate. I also note section 37, which provides for “joint operational activities”. This appears to require each chief officer to be prepared to collaborate with the other services as necessary.

I note section 41, in relation to the Ambulance Service, and equivalent provisions for the other three services, specifying that an additional function for each service is “to undertake assistance operations to support other entities in the exercise of their functions”. Again, these provisions require collaboration between the services as this might be necessary. The fact that we now need to specify provisions to give the commissioner the power to direct a chief officer does seem to be perhaps overkill. Alternatively, there could be an opportunity to rationalise the various provisions in the current act which already deal with collaboration between the services.

I now turn to clause 4, which identifies a range of characteristics which are required of a person who is being considered for appointment as commissioner. I find this inclusion surprising. How have we selected our commissioners to this point? What qualities have we sought in the people who have been appointed as commissioner? The management of emergency services in the ACT has been quite successful to this point with the existing provisions in the act. I assume that appropriately qualified people have been appointed as commissioner on the basis of the objectives set out in section 3 and the range of functions for the commissioner which are set out in section 8. I also note that the words in proposed section 7(2) are identical to those already in the act and applying to each of the four chief officers. I repeat that I am therefore surprised that the government has seen it necessary to add this new section to the act.

There are also some other matters that I want to mention, as we seek to achieve the highest standards in our legislation. Paragraph 2 in the explanatory statement explaining clause 7 contains an errant “that”. I understand that the word should be “the” and with a “the” the paragraph actually makes sense.

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