Australia is facing its greatest emergency in the last 100 or so years but on this blog there is no running commentary on the legal issues involved in the response. That is true and there are several reasons for this:
- This blog, Australian Emergency Law has always focussed on the ‘traditional’ natural disasters – fire, flood, storm, accidents – and the response by the red/blue light emergency services – the SESs, fire and ambulance services. Whilst the current COVID-19 emergency has many things in common with those emergencies and does trigger some of the same legislation (a public health emergency can also be an emergency for the purposes of emergency management legislation), public health, and public health law, is its own area of speciality. I do not claim to be an expert in public health law.
- The sheer pace of events makes regular blogging by one part time person impossible. The pace of events in December/January was hard enough, I simply cannot keep up with hourly changes in response and arrangements.
- In the past I have had the privilege of blogging with the objectivity of distance. I have commented on disasters as an observer. Like everyone else, today I am a participant and that brings its own demands that sit higher than writing a blog.
- The law is fairly irrelevant. If the government health advice is stay 1.5m apart its more important to do that, than worry about whether that is advice or enforceable. Commentary on the law can wait until after the event is over.
- There should be one source of truth. If you want to know how edicts and limitations apply to you, go to the Department of Health website in your state or territory or health.gov.au for the answer.
- Having said all that, I am willing to consider questions about the COVID-19 response and implications for the emergency services, the normal subject of this blog.
If you had the time I’d be interested in a piece that answers the question “Am I really a volunteer?” (under current law). I understand that governments can change virtually anything, but what is the current situation with existing legislation? This would vary by state and by agency, but for example, is a member of the (pick one state) say Victoria in the (pick one agency) say Fire CFA obliged to attend training and callouts. What if they are worried (possibly unreasonably) about the risks to themselves? Are they obliged to train and/or attend callouts, what are the consequences? What options do (presumably State) governments have with a cautious volunteer workforce? Obviously if you are a member of the defence force (federal), police(state) you are compelled but where does the compulsion end?
Alex, unless you can point to some direction that’s come out I cannot see that anything has changed the status of volunteers with the SES/CFA etc. You are volunteers, what you volunteer to do is up to you save that if you don’t meet the agencies requirements they can, as in the normal course, move to terminate your volunteer status. More importantly the agencies should be rethinking their training nights – do they need to meet face to face? Some training must require you to be within 1.5m of each other, but numbers attending could be restricted to meet the floor space ratio (2m2 per person) etc. The fact that volunteers may not turn out in a pandemic or fire or flood is always a risk when you rely on a volunteer workforce.