I was asked this question by a Queensland SES volunteer (though I have edited the text somewhat):

Accepting that the power to appoint includes the power to revoke that appointment of an SES volunteer the how might the phrase ‘“only if satisfied the person has the appropriate abilities to bean SES member” in Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 (Qld) s 132 be qualified or clarified?

It’s true that were an Act gives a person, such as the SES Commissioner, the power to appoint a person to an office also gives them the power to revoke that appointment (Acts Interpretation Act 1954 (Qld) s 25).

Section 132 of the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 (Qld) says:

(1) The SES consists of the persons appointed by the commissioner as SES members.

(2) The commissioner may appoint a person as an SES member only if satisfied the person has the appropriate abilities to be an SES member.

The reference to appropriate abilities means that the commissioner does not have to accept every application for membership.  There is little room to challenge that where the person is an applicant, rather than a member.  There is no right to be a member and no loss by not being denied a right to join.  A person who applied to join the SES and whose application was rejected would have little if any grounds to challenge that decision or to argue that they did have the ‘appropriate abilities’.  It is a matter for the Commissioner.

The case is different if the Commissioner, acting on the power in the Acts Interpretation Act, moved to revoke an appointment.   Interestingly the Act has significant details on how the Commissioner must act when seeking to discipline members of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service (see ss 30-33) but these do not appear to apply to the SES.

In any event before seeking to revoke a person’s appointment, either for disciplinary grounds or because they no longer have ‘the appropriate abilities to be an SES member’ he or she would have to give them natural justice, ie the commissioner would have to notify the member why he or she thought action should be taken and allow them the chance to make submissions to the effect that their appointment should not be revoked (see Castle v Director General State Emergency Service [2008] NSWCA 231.  In Castle the NSW Court of Appeal confirmed that a volunteer unit controller was entitled to natural justice when the then Director General moved to close the unit and necessarily cancel the Unit Controller’s appointment.  The Controller argued that he should have been given the opportunity to make submissions to the Director General as to steps he could take to rebuild the membership, Basten JA held that ‘in the present case, that where the decision to revoke the appointment was based upon the deregistration of the unit, the applicant was entitled to respond to the reasons for deregistering the unit…’)

It’s impossible to make any prediction on what the Commissioner may consider ‘appropriate abilities’ but one can imagine it would include a person who’s appointment was going to be terminated as he or she had an injury or disability that meant they could no longer function, but that would be a hard call given the volunteer nature of the SES.  Even if a person could not perform active rescue duties there are likely to be many other roles that they could perform.

So, in any summary, the Commissioner could revoke a persons appointment if they no longer had ‘appropriate abilities’ but he or she would have to give them a chance to be heard before that decision was made.  What would constitute a lack of ‘appropriate abilities’ would be a matter for the Commissioner but given the nature of the SES it’s hard if not impossible to predict what would be sufficient grounds to make that finding.