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Tuesday, 8 December 2020
Page: 7135


Senator REYNOLDS (Western AustraliaMinister for Defence) (20:34): I would like to very sincerely thank all senators who've contributed to the debate on this important bill, the Defence Legislation Amendment (Enhancement of Defence Force Response to Emergencies) Bill 2020, both here in the chamber this evening and during the committee phase. I commend this bill to the chamber and I seek leave to have my comments incorporated in the Hansard.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows—

I would like to thank all Senators who contributed to the debate on this important Bill.

Substance of Bill

This Bill makes changes to Defence legislation that will enhance the Commonwealth's ability to prepare for, and respond to, natural disasters and emergencies of national scale.

Schedule 1 amends the Defence Act 1903 to streamline the process by which advice is provided to the Governor-General regarding a call out of the Reserves, including for the purposes of responding to natural disasters or emergencies.

Streamlining this process allows the Minister for Defence, after consultation with the Prime Minister, to advise the Governor-General on the need for a call out of the Reserves, in all circumstances and not just for reasons of urgency.

The changes provide the Chief of the Defence Force the ability to determine the nature and period of Reserve service provided under a Reserve call out order.

This will deliver the ADF the flexibility required to integrate the Reservist effort in a manner that best supports the broader Defence response and individual members' circumstances.

These changes will improve consistency in the treatment of Reserve members who are providing assistance during a disaster or emergency, regardless of whether they have volunteered their service or have been called out to serve.

The changes will also enable more flexible service options for Reservists while allowing alignment with the nature and requirements of a specific Reserve call out order.

Schedule 2 will amend the Defence Act 1903 to provide immunities to those Defence personnel supporting disaster preparedness, recovery and response efforts.

The immunity will apply where the Minister is satisfied that:

a. the nature or scale of the natural disaster or other emergency warrants the provision of ADF capabilities and makes it necessary, for the benefit of the nation, for the Commonwealth, through use of the ADF's special capabilities or available resources, to provide the assistance; and/or

b. the assistance is necessary for the protection of Commonwealth agencies, Commonwealth personnel or Commonwealth property.

This will see our Defence personnel being provided with immunity from civil and criminal liability when they are performing their required emergency response duties in good faith, similar to immunities provided to state and territory emergency services personnel.

Schedule 3 will make amendments to the Military Superannuation and Benefits Act 1991, the Australian Defence Force Superannuation Act 2015, and the Australian Defence Force Cover Act 2015.

These amendments will ensure Reserve members who provide continuous full time service under a Reserve call out order will receive commensurate superannuation and related benefits to those Reservists who provide the same service on a voluntary basis.

This Bill originates from Defence's experience in providing assistance to the civil community in response to natural disasters from Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST 2019-2020.

The Bill accords with the recommendations of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST

The primary responsibility to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies rests with the States and Territories.

Disaster relief is not the ADF's primary role - the ADF is not an auxiliary emergency service.

However, the ADF has for many decades provided assistance to State and Territory authorities in their response to major natural disasters.

Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST 2019-2020 was the Australian Defence Force's most significant civil assistance operation in our history.

Over 8,000 ADF personnel served on Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST 2019-20.

At its peak, 6,500 ADF members provided support as part of emergency relief, response and recovery operations. This included 3,000 Reserve members.

In addition, eight nations provided direct assistance to the ADF.

This included members of the:

New Zealand Defence Force,

the Papua New Guinea Defence Force,

Republic of Fiji Military Forces,

Indonesian National Armed Forces,

United States Air Force,

Singapore Armed Forces,

Japan Self-Defense Force, and

The Royal Canadian Air Force.

On behalf of all Australians, I thank those friends and the military personnel who provided support in our nation's time of need.

At the conclusion of Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST, Defence's capabilities were called on to assist the Australian community.

To date, over 9,000 personnel have been deployed on Operation COVID-19 ASSIST, with over 3,500 personnel deployed at its peak.

On behalf of the Australian people, I extend my thanks to the men and women of Defence and our friends from other nations who helped Australians in our times of need.

Lessons learned

Defence reviewed the lessons from the 2019-2020 bushfires and set about putting in place the necessary improvements.

These include:

Rewriting the Defence Assistance to the Civil Community Manual and Policy, and

Adjusting the ADF's command and control model.

Royal Commission Recommendations

This Bill also implements recommendation 7.3 of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

The Royal Commission recommended that the Government afford appropriate legal protections from civil and criminal liability to ADF members when undertaking activities under an authorisation to prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters.

Defence has undertaken non-legislative activities to address the remaining recommendations.

Senate Committee Inquiry

The Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee has conducted an inquiry into this Bill.

The Committee recommended that the Bill be passed without delay, with amendments to the Explanatory Memorandum to clarify the intention and operation of the Bill.

These amendments:

a. Clarify that the Bill does not alter, expand or otherwise change the Government's existing legal authorities to deploy the ADF;

b. Clarify that the operative provisions of the Bill, including the proposed immunities, relate to Defence Assistance to the Civil Community tasks and do not authorise the use of force (beyond self-defence);

c. Provides examples of 'other emergencies' referred to in the immunity provision; and

d. Clarifies that the requirement for a direction from the Minister is intended to provide a check on the proposed immunity and does not grant a new authority to the Minister to direct the deployment of Defence personnel.

I thank the members of the Committee for their comprehensive and diligent work in its inquiry into the Bill.

The Government accepts the Committee's recommendation in full.

The Explanatory Memorandum has been amended to clarify the intention and operation of the Bill in line with the Committee's recommendations.

Summary

The amendments in this Bill make three important, practical and fair changes:

1. provide greater flexibility in implementing a call out of the Reserves,

2. enable greater consistency in the treatment of our Reserves

3. and ensure that our Defence personnel have appropriate legal protections when serving our nation in good faith.

I commend this Bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.