The Prime Minister has announced changes to the Federal Cabinet, including a new role for Robert McClelland.   Mr McClelland will be replaced as Attorney-General by Nicola Roxon but he will remain in Cabinet as Minister for Emergency Management and Housing (see ‘Gillard unveils expanded Cabinet’, ABC Online).

Australia has not had a Minister for Emergency Management before and it’s not clear what his role will be.   One task of a Minister is to take responsibility for administration of the legislation assigned to the portfolio.  The list of ministers, and the legislation for which they are responsible, is set out in the Administrative Arrangements Order (the current Order is dated 14/10/2010).  As there is no specific Commonwealth emergency management legislation it is unclear what, if any, Acts the Minister for Emergency Management will be responsible for.

The Attorney-General’s Department has a number of emergency management divisions (the Department’s organisation chart as a pdf is here); the National Security Resilience Policy Division, Emergency Management Australia, National Security Capability Development Division and National  Security Law & Policy Division all have important emergency management functions. Will those functions be moved to a new department or will the Minister for Emergency Management join the Minister for Home Affairs as a third minister administering the department?

Having a Minister for Emergency Management may go someway to making emergency management a whole of government affair.  The Minister may be given a ‘roving’ brief to ensure all government departments have in place plans to identify how they will continue to function in an emergency such as a the impact of  a major natural hazard, and what there role will be in assisting the community to recover.  Canada has a Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to exercise leadership in the area of emergency management.  The Minister’s role and responsibilites are set out in the Emergencies Act 1985 and the Emergency Management Act 2007.  The Minister is to ensure that there are policies and plans in place to for an adequate and timely emergency response. The minister is to coordinate the response by the Canadian government to an actual emergency, and to participate in international emergency management activities.   This may be a model for the Australian Minister for Emergency Management – and perhaps we will see forthcoming Australian legislation in this area.  (For an argument on why we need it, see my article, ‘Responding to catastrophic natural disasters and the need for commonwealth legislation’ forthcoming in the Canberra Law Review).

Michael Eburn
12 December 2011.