Australian Emergency Law

Discussion on the law that applies to or affects Australia's emergency services and emergency management, by Michael Eburn, PhD and Barrister.


This blog is maintained by Michael Eburn (Barrister and Honorary Associate Professor at the ANU College of Law, the Australian National University, Canberra) to discuss legal issues affecting the emergency services (that is fire, ambulance and rescue services) in Australia.

My Qualifications

I hold the following degrees:

  • Bachelor of Commerce (in Economics)/Bachelor of Laws (NSW);
  • Bachelor of Arts (with Honours in Philosophy. Honours dissertation – The Sanctity of Life and the Law: A review of two recent cases) (New England);
  • Master of Laws (by thesis- Euthanasia and Medical-end-of-life decisions in Australia) (Newcastle, Australia);
  • Master of Professional Education and Training (Flexible, Online and Distance Education) (Deakin); and
  • Doctor of Philosophy (by thesis – Australia’s International Disaster Response – Laws, Rules and Principles) (Monash).


I have served with:

  • St John Ambulance Australia (NSW);
  • The Ambulance Service of NSW (Paid, 1988; Honorary 1989-1990); and
  • The State Emergency Service of NSW.

Why this blog?

I have been an academic researcher looking at legal issues. I was the chief investigator on a Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC project looking at the Policies, Institutions and Governance of Natural Hazards.   Before that I was a researcher on the Bushfire CRC funded project Mainstreaming Fire and Emergency Management across Legal and Policy Sectors; Joint Research and Policy Learning.

I am the author of Emergency Law: Rights, liabilities and duties of emergency workers and volunteers (1st ed 1999, 2nd ed 2005, 3rd ed 2009, 4th ed 2013 The Federation Press, Sydney) the only book on the subject of emergency law in Australia.  Apart from my book I have written numerous articles and given conference papers and inservice training on legal issues affecting the emergency services. You can see details of my work, and also download copies of papers, presentations and in some cases audio recordings of presentations, here.

On this blog I will put up my thoughts and reflections on developing issues, in particular developments in the law that I think may impact upon the emergency services and members of those services. I also want to hear from the members of the emergency services, paid and volunteer. If there is an issue that you think needs discussion post it here (or you can email me at

Having said that I have to add the usual lawyer’s disclaimers. This is not a place for providing specific legal advice, so I won’t be able to answer questions that are based on actual events, such as “we responded to a job and now someone wants to sue me, what should I do”.  For those jobs you (or more importantly, the service of which you are a member) needs to get legal advice from a practising lawyer. I also won’t comment on questions about service decisions, so questions like “My service has just issued a directive/policy/item of PPE and I think it is illegal, what do you think?” won’t be answered. Finally I won’t get into inter-personal issues “A fellow member said this, is it defamatory or can we kick them out of the service?” Having said that I want to hear as many things as possible because if I know the issues that are affecting the members I can do more productive and useful work in trying to find answers. If your concern clearly falls in the above categories then understand I may not be able to give an answer, but remember there is no harm in asking and if I think I shouldn’t answer a question or comment on an issue, I’ll say that.

I hope this site proves useful and interesting for all and I look forward to our discussions.

Michael Eburn
12 September 2019

6 thoughts on “About

  1. Hi Michael, I read your comments in an ABC article on the declaration of a climate emergency. I am currently lobbying Councillors on the Unley council before they debate a motion to declare a climate emergency. One Councillor who I believe is a lawyer says she thinks such a declaration would be ultra vires. I don’t think she is right based on your comments for the ABC article. Do you have any other information or comment I can pass on to her to correct her view?
    If you have the time to respond, many thanks!
    Andrew Boorman

    1. There is a general rule that individuals can do what they like unless there is a law that says they cannot, governments cannot do anything unless there is a law that says they can. In the absence of the law allowing it, it may be ‘beyond power’ but even if they could do it, it would have no legal meaning.

  2. I have been reading the Mental Health Act details about Ambulance and Police. Who has the greater power? If the ambulance paramedic doesn’t think someone needs transporting to hospital and has not immediate probable threats harm indicators can the police then use s.22 powers? Also the person that s. 22’s the person, do they need to fill out the paperwork?

    1. Paul, I have answered those questions in detail – see;; and

      Police can exercise their powers under s 22 if they believe the conditions set out in that section have been met. If paramedics advise the police that they don’t think the conditions have been met, police would be wise to take that information into account and rethink their assessment. If police take action they need to complete their paperwork as they always do. There is not prescribed paperwork under the Mental Health Act (compare that to s 19).

  3. Thank you for your succinct and clear piece Accessing a judge or magistrate’s reasons for decision.

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