Page 4278 - Week 14 - Wednesday, 27 November 2013
Mr Smyth has failed to make the case today. He has failed comprehensively to demonstrate how his solution, looking for a problem, is any answer at all. The government will not be supporting this proposed resolution.
MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo) (12.06): This has certainly been an interesting debate to listen to—two very different perspectives on the world. I think for me the key question really is: firstly, what is the problem that is seeking to be addressed? Mr Smyth has certainly outlined that and, in his recent motion, has identified areas in which he had concern. There is that debate. Do these problems exist? Then the second question flowing from that is: does this proposed restructure deliver a different outcome? They are quite detailed and complicated questions.
There is, of course, a significant history to this matter, one that both Mr Corbell and Mr Smyth have been prosecuting for some time, and prosecuting with each other for some time. I, of course, was not in the Assembly before 2008, but I am aware of the considerable discussions that have gone on about the history of what is the appropriate management model for emergency service responses in the ACT.
After the 2003 bushfires, the McLeod inquiry looked at the structure of the Emergency Services Bureau and, amongst many other things, recommended that a new statutory authority should be established. The McLeod inquiry said it would be separate from and independent of any department of state and would be outside the public service. It is interesting to note, though, that the McLeod report seemed to suggest that the prime concerns were cultural problems of the old establishment. It is now 10 years since that report, and I think it is fair to say that we are operating in quite different times.
Following the report, the Emergency Services Authority was established in 2004 and did sit outside the public service. My understanding is that a few years later the ESA was altered to its current form. This was in 2006, post the functional review, and it was placed under the administrative control of the Justice and Community Safety Directorate.
Why did this happen? My understanding is that there were several reasons. Primarily, I think they were that the ACT faced budget constraints and that as a small jurisdiction it is difficult for the ACT to operate a large number of statutory agencies. This is a genuinely vexed question, and I do understand the difficulty that the government is in when it comes to thinking about those sorts of matters.
Having said that, I would point out that the current administrative structure surrounding the ESA does have several positives. The Emergencies Act, for example, still ensures that the commissioner and chief officers, for operational response, have independence. They also have direct communication with and report to the minister. That is a critical fact, and probably the most important element of a statutory authority.
As members can imagine, there are also significant efficiencies to be gained by having the ESA in a directorate. It saves duplication on things like corporate functions and financial governance. The benefit is that this also allows the ESA to focus more on operational service delivery.