At the time of writing this dangerous bushfires are burning in Victoria and South Australia. In South Australia, the Police Commissioner has declared that the fires constitute a ‘major emergency’ (‘Adelaide Hills facing most dangerous fire day since Ash Wednesday, CFS saysABC Online, 3 January 2015).

South Australia has a graduated scale of emergencies. An event may be a ‘major incident’, a ‘major emergency’ or a ‘disaster’ (Emergency Management Act 2004 (SA) ss 22-24).   The Police Commissioner, in his or her role as ‘State Coordinator’ (s 14) may declare that an event is a ‘major emergency’ in accordance with guidelines published by the State Emergency Management Committee (s 21).   Whilst the declaration remains in force,

… State Co-ordinator must take any necessary action to implement the State Emergency Management Plan and cause such response and recovery operations to be carried out as he or she thinks appropriate. (s 25).

The State Coordinator is given various emergency powers that reflect or a similar to the powers that a fire or emergency service has when dealing with a ‘normal’ emergency (see Fire and Emergency Services Act 2005 (SA) s 42 (Metropolitan Fire Service; s 97 (Country Fire Service); s 118 State Emergency Service).

The State Coordinator will also be able to direct the recovery operations (s 27). That section says that the State Coordinator may give those directions ‘at any time after the declaration of a … major emergency…’ so the implication is that this power continues even after the declaration is withdrawn or lapses.

It is an offence to fail to ‘comply with a requirement or direction of the State Co-ordinator or of an authorised officer …’. The maximum penalty is a fine of $20 000 for a person or $75 000 for a company.   An authorised officer is a police officer or a person appointed by the State Coordinator (either personally or a member of a group) as an authorised officer (ss 3 and 17).

Conclusion

Although the fire services remain responsible for fire fighting, it is now the case that the State Coordinator, not the CFS Chief Officer, who is responsible for coordinating the emergency response to these fires.