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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8561

Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) (3:39 PM) —Mr Deputy President, I seek leave to make a short statement.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Leave is granted for two minutes.

Senator LUDWIG —The Commonwealth government has worked with the states and territories to bolster their preparedness for the bushfire season. The states and territories have the primary responsibility for dealing with natural disasters and the Commonwealth stands ready to assist. This is consistent with the historical and constitutional responsibilities of state governments. Operationally, state and territory emergency service organisations have good local links and a good understanding of local needs and conditions. The Australian Government Disaster Response Plan outlines the provision of assistance to states and territories in responding to natural disasters. Assistance is granted on the request of the affected jurisdiction, which is appropriate and operationally effective given that the jurisdiction has the primary responsibility and the operational assets for dealing with the disaster.

On Friday, 20 November, the Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management endorsed the National Catastrophic Natural Disaster Plan, which describes national coordination arrangements for supporting states and territories and the Australian government in responding to and recovering from catastrophic natural disasters in Australia. This plan is important to help govern responses to those catastrophic disasters which overwhelm the ability of a state or territory to respond. While the states and territories hold primary responsibility for the protection of life and property, the Australian government, as I have indicated, stands ready to assist if requested.

The Attorney-General’s Department, through Emergency Management Australia, was actively monitoring and reporting on bushfire conditions throughout Australia from 28 January 2009. On Saturday, 7 February 2009, EMA was made aware of the fires in Victoria that impacted townships and resulted in fatalities. The Director General of EMA immediately briefed the Prime Minister. The Australian Government Disaster Response Plan was activated and EMA deployed liaison officers to Victoria to provide assistance and to facilitate Australian government assistance. On 9 February 2009, EMA tasked defence to supply an aircraft capable of aerial imagery to search the affected areas to enable the identification of all residents affected by the fires. This request was completed by 16 February 2009.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Milne’s) be agreed to.