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

18 thoughts on “About

  1. Hi Michael, I am a captain of a NSWRFS brigade in a high risk bushfire area. I am also the proponent of the NAPA proposal. As captain of my brigade I am unsure as to how I determine whether my front line firefighting members are fit for service under new WHS legislation. I understand that the ACT have a fitness standard and that NSW is supposed to be falling in line with them.
    Our staff are unwilling to add any definitive SOP on this issue probably because of the effect it will have on volunteern frontline numbers. What as Captain should I be telling my volunteers? This is not an issue that has just arisen, it has been on the cards for ages. Yet can we or can’t we send members to the front line without having a fitness standard to guide us? Thanks

  2. i object to the term “professional firefighters” many volunteers are more experienced and more highly trained trained than many paid firefighters, therefore they are more professional. most volunteers are very professional about the way they go about their duties as firefighters. being paid or not does make a person a professional person in their the trade or profession

  3. Re: Discovering crime during an emergency response

    I am a member of VICSES.

    We were doing a search for a missing person in a small rural town, the missing person suffering from a range of conditions including dementia. In searching a property, I came across some plants. I chose not to report these as it would be obvious where the information would have come from and I did not want VICSES to be seen as de-facto police.

    Upon returning to the police station, the first question that the Senior Sergeant asked (in a light-hearted manner) was did we find any pot plants? He then told stories of how things had changed since he first joined the police force regarding drug arrests. Without saying it directly, he gave the impression that he was not interested in knowing of any plants grown for personal use, but wanted us to focus on find the missing person.

  4. Hi Michael, I’m a tax agent with emergency services clients. A couple of my clients have asked if the premium they pay is tax deductible. The ATO don’t know (it’s too new for them to have a handle on it yet); ordinarily death and disability cover is not deductible because it’s doesn’t pay out a taxed income (but recent changes may allow that to happen), but the compulsory nature of the premiums and requirement to work may make them deductible. I’m going to put in for a ruling from the ATO, but in the mean time, do you have any knowledge or thoughts in the tax deductibility of the premiums?

  5. Good afternoon, I am based in Queensland. Would you advise if there is a legal obligation for an off-duty paramedic to provide care in an emergency situation if they were the ‘best’ qualified person present? Or is it simply, a moral obligation?
    Many thanks.

  6. If an elderly patient is competent (informed, understands risks/benefits etc) and refuses care but a third party who claims to be her carer and therefore can make medical decisions on her behalf gives consent to the treatment am I legally able to treat and transport the patient? which person do I listen to?

    1. If an ‘ elderly patient is competent’ why would anyone else be able to make medical decisions on their behalf? Being ‘elderly’ does not diminish a person’s autonomy.

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