This from a correspondent from South Australia:

The South Australian Emergency services are embarked on a reform process whereby the SAFECOM Board will be replaced by a Commissioner with the intention, according to the Minister, to avoid duplication and waste and at the same time ensure the three agencies (Metropolitan Fire Serve, State Emergency Service and Country Fire Service) work together to ensure better outcomes for the community.

Attached is a recent press release from the Minister announcing that the positions of Chief Officer for each of these services will be retained for the time being, but in a reduced capacity whereby they will be operationally focused and their respective organisation will be streamlined as non operational areas such as training and purchasing from the three services are brought together (see Press Release15_02_23 Sector_Reform).

Currently the Chief Officer of the CFS has roles which are laid down in the Fire and Emergency Services Act. In that Act he/she is nominated as the responsible person with extensive powers to, among other things, (Div 3, 60 (4)) control all resources of the CFS, manage all staff and any other function to maintain, improve or support the operation of the CFS. He/She also has extensive powers in relation to discipline and of volunteers.

When a Commissioner is appointed, he/she will in effect be the Superior Officer to the respective Chief Officers.

Is the Commissioner able to direct the respective Chief Officers  in matters such as structure (which clearly has to change to meet the ministers objectives) when the prevailing legislation states that these matters are in fact the Chief Officers prerogative? Are previous decisions in matters such as discipline under Regulation 22 (Conduct and Discipline of Members) able to be rescinded by, or otherwise varied by the Commissioner?

Could the Chief Officer of a service simply tell the Commissioner to “Butt out” of matters which are defined within the Act as the Chief Officers responsibility?

The short answer is that it is impossible to answer this question.  As my correspondent has noted the roles of the CFS Chief Officer is set out in the Fire and Emergency Services Act 2005 (SA) and the Fire And Emergency Services Regulations 2005 (SA).  Regulation 22 deals with ‘Conduct and discipline of members’ and imposes duties, obligations and powers on the Chief Officer and the Deputy Chief Officer.    What the Act does not yet do is provide for the office of Commissioner so how roles and functions will be shared across the offices remains to be seen.   What is obvious is that when a commissioner is appointed, the Fire and Emergency Services Act 2005 (SA) will not be as it is now.

Readers of this blog, particularly those from South Australia, may be interested in the model that applies in the Australian Capital Territory (the ACT).  In the ACT there is an Emergency Services Agency headed by a Commissioner (Emergencies Act 2004 (ACT) s 7), with a chief officer for each of the four emergency services – Fire and Rescue, the Rural Fire Service, the State Emergency Service and ACT Ambulance (ss 28-31).    The Commissioner is ‘responsible for the overall strategic direction and management of the emergency services and operational and administrative support to the services’ (s 8) whereas the chief officers are responsible for ‘the general management and control’ and ‘matters relating to the professional and technical expertise’ of their service (ss 28-31).

The Act does not have specific provisions dealing with the discipline or management of members but it would seem clear that this is a matter for the chief officers.  (See also “ESA commissioner criticised over Sydney Building fire” (October 28, 2014)).

Whether South Australia will adopt a similar model, or not, remains to be seen.