Role of the States and Territories
States and Territories have principal responsibility for disaster preparedness and response within Australia and are fully responsible for managing any natural disasters within their areas of jurisdiction.
The arrangements within each State and Territory are well established and implemented, with capabilities which have increased and improved considerably over time. This has been achieved through a move towards integrated whole-of-government, multi-agency management response systems which focus on community safety.
As risk assessment and hazard information improves and disaster mitigation is more widely practiced, States and Territories expect to further update, improve and integrate their preparedness and response capabilities and performance. States and Territories are also encouraging local governments to revise their preparedness and response arrangements in light of an improved understanding of disaster risks.
Role of the Australian Government
The Australian Government's involvement in disaster response occurs only when events are of national significance, or when a State or Territory requests its assistance. This usually occurs when State or Territory resources are insufficient or exhausted, or when specialist resources under Australian Government control, such as defence force personnel and equipment, are required.
The Australian Government also has responsibility for emergency management in Australia's non self-governing Territories through their respective Territorial administrations.
Requests for Australian Government assistance by the relevant State or Territory authority are channelled through the National Emergency Management Coordination Centre in Emergency Management Australia. The Attorney-General authorises the relevant government assistance from all agencies with the capability to provide resources or assistance. However, changes in Australian Government functions since the 1990s, particularly in public works, construction and hospital services has resulted in some government departments and agencies being unable to provide the full range of human resources and equipment required to supplement State and Territory disaster response capabilities.
Most requests for assistance to Emergency Management Australia involve engaging the Australian Defence Force which has a wide range of resources suited to disaster response. The involvement of the defence force is provided for under the policy guidelines for Defence Assistance to the Civil Community.
Australian Search and Rescue, the Australian Defence Force and State and Territory police services have varying responsibilities for land, maritime and aerial search and rescue operations. The urban search and rescue capabilities of the States and Territories to deal with a major structural collapse are being progressively enhanced with Emergency Management Australia assisting in the development of a national strategic approach. Protocols also are being developed for receiving international urban search and rescue assets in Australia and for deploying similar assets overseas.
When a disaster occurs, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet may convene the Australian Government Counter-Disaster Task Force which is the peak coordination and information sharing forum of Australian Government departments and agencies. The task force has been set up to deal with specific emergencies and natural disasters and with associated response and relief measures.
(Edited excerpts from: Natural Disasters in Australia: Reforming mitigation, relief and recovery. © Commonwealth of Australia 2004 - Read COAG Report.)