12 November 2021

New ACT Emergencies Amendments Bill allows for greater community assistance during crises

| Max O'Driscoll
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ACT Fire and Rescue Superintendent Matthew Shonk

ACT Fire and Rescue’s officer in charge of community safety, Superintendent Matthew Shonk. Photo: Michael Weaver.

Members of the community could be called on to assist first responders as part of changes to the territory’s emergency response under the ACT Government’s new Emergencies Amendments Bill 2021.

The legislation, which was introduced in the ACT Legislative Assembly on 9 November, implements several recommendations made to the ACT Government in the ‘Review of the Emergencies ACT’ report released in August 2021.

A centrepiece of the new Bill is the ability afforded to the ACT State Emergency Service Chief Officer to call upon private contractors or ACT Government officers to provide reasonable assistance to emergency services. For example, utilising Roads ACT or other traffic controllers to aid evacuation during an emergency.

The principle behind the change is so emergency service resources can focus on the major incident taking place, rather than the smaller, but often burdensome, tasks that could be completed by other individuals or groups in the community.

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The Bill also increased employment protections for volunteers who have to leave the responsibilities of their primary vocation to help during an emergency, protecting them from victimisation in the workplace.

For the most part, primary employers of volunteers of the ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA) understand the contribution of volunteers to the community, the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements Report identified this increase of employment protection as vital to ensuring future capabilities of emergency services to respond to natural disasters.

An ACT Government spokesperson said that under the new Bill this could include protection outside of emergencies.

“The Emergencies Act Amendment Bill would give the Minister the power to declare that the employment protections in Section 183 of the Act may apply outside a state of alert or state of emergency,” said the spokesperson.

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“This would ensure that volunteers are protected and able to service the ACT community in emergencies which may pose a serious threat, but are not at the scale to warrant the declaration of a state of alert or state of emergency.”

ACT Minister for Police and Emergency Services Mick Gentleman said he is “immensely proud” of the work of the ACT’s emergency services, and that the Bill is a way of improving the way in which they are supported in the future.

“These changes will further improve our response to emergencies that impact our community and will enable our staff and volunteers to continue to keep our city safe and informed,” he said.

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