March 8, 2018  |  Second reading

Emergency Management Legislation Amendment Bill 2018

Mr Howard – (Buninyong) (12:10:37) — I am certainly pleased to add my comments with regard to the Emergency Management Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 before the house. I note at the onset that, in my time representing the people of Ballarat East and now Buninyong, sadly I, like so many other members within this house, have experienced serious emergency situations in my electorate. I could just about sing
from that James Taylor song, ‘I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain’.

We know that these are events that, sadly, happen all too often. I have seen floods in my electorate. I have seen some serious fires too in a number of parts of my electorate, both in the urban area of Ballarat — in Mount Clear — and in Daylesford, in the Wombat Forest area in particular. We know that issues of emergencies do not only include those areas and that authorities that are responsible for caring for our communities are alert to all of the possible emergencies that can take place in our communities and are prepared for any emergency.

Of course we know that since Black Saturday and the fires in the Hazelwood mine and in other areas we keep getting more information that helps us review what we did right at the time and what we may have done wrong at the time. Most recently, in 2014 the Victorian emergency management reform white paper came out, and it advocated further reviews into the way our emergency management planning goes.

The bill before the house clearly tries to take into account new information that has come forward about how planning has worked in the past and tries to clarify how that planning needs to be guided into the future. The bill starts by noting that the key objective of any emergency planning is to recognise that we are looking at all communities across the state and all kinds of emergencies and that communities are the centre of our planning. In doing that, this new legislation clearly focuses on that new objective and then sets out how planning can be improved. It certainly looks at how we can ensure we integrate. We know there are so many different authorities that are involved when an emergency takes place. We think firsthand of the Country Fire Authority — or I do, in my electorate — and the great work they have done when we have fires or other emergencies. There are a range of others including the Victoria State Emergency Service and Victoria Police.

Having lived through an example of a significant fire happening in the Daylesford area, I remembered afterwards how the local council, the Hepburn shire in that case, took on a major role in helping to bring together the resources that were needed to support people. We know that there are so many other bodies, as others have recognised — other welfare organisations, the Country Women’s Association and other bodies — that come in to provide food for people who might need it, whether they be emergency service workers or people who are displaced from housing, hopefully temporarily. We need to ensure that all those different groups that are involved in dealing with that emergency are alerted and understand their role when the emergency takes place and that we can move forward.

We have set in place in this legislation the issue of looking at state level planning and then recognising that at a lower level in regions and country areas there need to be separate bodies established to review, in particular municipalities, how that emergency management planning will work. We are working with emergency management planning committees. The legislation clarifies who should be core members of those committees, so there will be a list specified in the act of the key bodies that will form the core groups on these planning committees. We all know, especially looking at regional and country areas, that there are others who might not necessarily have to be part of the core team of the planning for an emergency, but there might be other individuals and groups who might have particular expertise in particular emergency situations. They could be additional representatives brought onto a planning committee at various stages to recognise particular risks that are identified in particular areas.

These are going to be very soundly managed and need to look at the opportunity to be flexible in their operation. As new information comes to hand, as further experiences are brought to bear or as further feedback comes to those planning committees, they might see perhaps that a plan they put together a few years ago might need to be varied or might need to be made flexible to meet variations in perceived needs. Once we have these plans in place that are put together at a regional level as well as at the state level, then they need oversight to see that, yes, they have identified all the key issues and they have thought things through. The inspector-general for emergency management will clearly have a significant role in this situation of appraising those plans that are put in place and assuring those plans. The State Crisis and Resilience Council will also have a role — this new body that will be put in place — in overseeing that and tying all of those emergency management plans together.

I think this government is clearly doing the right thing, recognising that we need to be ahead of the game as much as possible. While of course we cannot predict into the future, we know that there are a range of emergencies that can happen and that we clearly need to be alerted to to ensure that when anything happens we do not have people unsure of their roles, that we do not have bodies doing the wrong things and that there is a clearly designated line of authority in terms of who takes control in particular situations and how various support agencies, whether they be the emergency services support agencies or the range of other groups that will have a role to play, know exactly how they will fit into place in this.

This bill clearly does try to ensure that the communities across our state — across my electorate and across the broader part of Victoria — can be confident that there are people planning ahead for future potential emergencies and that, if those emergencies take place, the right people will be in place to act in a coordinated manner to meet their needs. I commend this bill to the house. Clearly consultations have taken place in developing the bill, and the feedback has helped to further vary the final wording within the legislation. We have had, for example, feedback particularly from local government bodies that recognise they have a significant role to play in their own municipalities. We have tried to recognise that in the bill. It is always important when you are doing this that you hear from all the people who have been working in emergencies in the past, to understand where they have seen problems in the past and to ensure that we overcome those in our planning and that we are alert and ready for any major concerns.

I trust that when the next emergency happens, as, sadly, we know it will, whether in my electorate or with other emergencies across the state, the authorities will have planned for it. This bill will act as the central planning guidance tool for the authorities involved, and they will know exactly what to do when particular emergencies hit. Those who take senior responsibility will understand their role, and others who have a role to play will know how they fit in, who their contact people are and so on. I am very pleased to see this bill come before the house to further refine our emergency management, and I commend it to the house.