On the 27th November, the Disasters Act 1982 (NT) was repealed and replaced with the Emergency Management Act 2013 (NT). The new Act is similar to legislation in the other states providing for emergency management at local, regional and territory wide levels.
The Act provides for an Emergency Controller, a Recovery Coordinator and an Emergency Committee at Territory, regional and local level.
Territory, Regional and Local Controllers, Coordinators and Committees
The Commissioner of Police is given the role of Territory Emergency Controller (abbreviated in the Act to ‘Territory Controller’). The Territory Controller is to, inter alia, ‘control and direct emergency operations in the Territory’ subject to the direction of the Territory Emergency Management Council.
The Regional Controller is a police officer appointed to that position by the Territory Controller. A Regional Controller is to ‘supervise emergency operations in the region’. It is worth noting that the Territory Controller is to ‘control and direct’ whereas the Region Controller is to ‘supervise’. Exactly what ‘supervision’ requires is not explained. The Region controller is subject to the direction of the Territory Controller.
A Local Controller need only be appointed if the Territory controller ‘considers it necessary to do so’. Where there is a police station in the locality, the local controller is the officer in charge of that station; if there is no police station the local controller may be anyone who is resident in that locality or a police officer. A Local Controller is to ‘supervise emergency operations in the locality’ subject to direction from the Regional Controller.
The Chief Executive of the Department of the Chief Minister is the Territory Recovery Coordinator. He or she may appoint a Regional Recovery Coordinator who may, in turn, appoint a Local Recovery Coordinator. The Regional Recovery Coordinator is appointed for ‘for a region that has been affected by an event’ so it is a post hoc appointment, that is an appointment made after the event rather than a standing appointment where a person has the position in anticipation of an event. The same is true for the position of Local Recovery Coordinator. The Territory Recovery Coordinator is subject to direction from the Council; the Regional Recovery Coordinator is subject to direction from the Territory Coordinator and the Local Coordinator is subject to direction from the Regional Coordinator.
The Emergency Controllers and Recovery Coordinators are supported by relevant Committees. At territory level there is the Territory Emergency Management Council made up of the Territory Controller, the Territory Recovery Coordinator, the Director of the Northern Territory Emergency Service (NTES) and 3 other members appointed by the Minister. A Regional Emergency Committee consists of the Regional Controller, each Local Controller within the region and 12 other members. Those 12 are nominated by the Director of the NTES, the Chief Fire Officer, the Bushfires Council, the Department of the Chief Minister, the Power and Water Corporation, the government departments responsible for health, community welfare services, infrastructure, roads and transport and education, each local council within the region and a representative of non government welfare agencies.
A Local Emergency Committee consists of the Local Controller, a member of the NTES appointed by the Emergency Management Council, and any other person that the Committee ‘considers necessary or desirable to appoint’. A local committee could be just two people.
Where a Regional or Local Recovery Coordinator is appointed, a Regional or Local Recovery Coordination Committee is also to be established.
Territory, Regional and Local Emergency Plans
The Director of the Northern Territory Emergency Service (NTES) is required to prepare the Territory Emergency Plan which is to be approved, or formally made, by the Territory Emergency Management Council. The Council consists of the Territory Controller (ie the Commissioner of Police), the Territory Recovery Coordinator, the Director of the NTES and 3 other members appointed by the Minister.
The Territory Controller is responsible for preparing, and approving, regional emergency management plans. Regional plans must be prepared in consultation with the Regional Controller and the Director of the NTES.
When directed to do so by the Territory Emergency Management Council, the Territory Controller is to prepare local emergency plans. Local plans must be prepared in consultation with the Local Controller and the Director of the NTES.
The territory, regional and local emergency plans must be reviewed at least once every 12 months.
The Northern Territory Emergency Service
The Northern Territory Emergency Service (NTES) continues to operate under this Act. The NTES consists of the Director, the Commissioner of Police, the employed staff and the volunteer members of the Service.
The NTES is:
“(a) to conduct rescue operations, emergency operations and recovery operations, whether or not a state of disaster, state of emergency or emergency situation exists;
(b) to advise, assist, educate and train members of the public and organisations, including Agencies and volunteer organisations, in emergency planning and operations;
(c) to develop and install communications and operational facilities that may be required by the NTES for emergency planning and emergency operations and recovery operations;
(d) any other functions conferred on it by the Council or by this or any other Act.”
State of Emergency or Disaster
The Act provides for a graded system of declarations; there may be an emergency situation, a state of emergency or a state of disaster.
The Minister, on the advice of the Council, may declare that an emergency situation exists if he or she is satisfied that an ‘event’ has occurred or is likely to occur and emergency powers are required ‘for effective emergency and recovery operations in response to the event’. A tropical cyclone watch, issued by the Commonwealth’s Bureau of Meteorology, creates ‘an emergency situation’ without the need for a ministerial declaration.
The Minister may declare a state of emergency if there is an emergency (that is ‘an event that requires a significant coordinated response using the combined resources of the Territory and non government entities within the Territory’) and that emergency powers ‘are necessary in the area for effective emergency and recovery operations in response to the emergency’.
The Administrator (the equivalent of the Governor in the Australian states) may declare a state of disaster if there is a disaster (that is ‘an event that requires a significant coordinated response using the combined resources of the Territory, non government entities within the Territory and resources from outside the Territory’ (emphasis added)) and that emergency powers ‘are necessary in the area for effective emergency and recovery operations in response to the disaster.’
A state of emergency remains in force for 3 days; a state of disaster for 7 days though each can be cancelled earlier, or extended, if required.
During an emergency situation
“an authorised officer may do any of the following to carry out emergency operations or recovery operations or to ensure adequate protection of life or property:
(a) direct a person to evacuate from, and remain outside, a specified place in the affected area;
(b) remove or direct another person to remove a person who does not comply with a direction under paragraph (a) from the place;
(c) direct the owner of anything in or near the affected area to remove or secure the thing;
(d) remove or secure, or direct another person to remove or secure, anything in or near the affected area if the owner of the thing:
(i) does not comply with a direction to remove or secure the thing under paragraph (c); or
(ii) cannot be found within a reasonable time to give the owner a direction under paragraph (c);
(e) direct the owner or occupier of property in or near the affected area to place the property under the control of the authorised officer.” (Section 23).
During a state of emergency or a state of disaster an authorised officer has all the powers listed above but may also
“(a) direct a person to assist in tasks to save life or property in immediate danger in the affected area;
(b) direct the owner or person in charge of a place of business, worship or entertainment in the affected area to close the place to the public for a specified period;
(c) using reasonable force if necessary, enter a place in the affected area;
(d) close a place open to or used by the public, including a road.” (Section 24).
Authorised officers are:
• the Territory Controller;
• the Territory Recovery Coordinator;
• the Director of the NTES;
• Within their region, the Regional Controller;
• Within their region, the Regional Recovery Coordinator ;
• Within their locality, the Local Controller;
• Within their locality, the Local Recovery Coordinator;
• a police officer;
• any person appointed by the authorised officers listed, above. (Section 98).
It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with the directions of an authorised officer (s 101); to impersonate an authorised officer (s 102); to obstruct an authorise officer (s 103) or to give misleading information to an authorised officer (s 104)..
Members of the Council, the various Committees, authorised officers and members of the NTES are not liable for acts done in good faith in the performance of their duties under the Act. If there is any liability (eg if there is any negligence) then it is the Territory that would be liable, if anyone (s 113).
A person cannot be dismissed from their employment, or lose benefits such as long service leave, sick leave or recreational leave, if they are absent from work in order to ‘conduct or assist in the conduct of functions under this Act during an emergency situation, a state of emergency or a state of disaster’ (s 114).
16 December 2013.