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Coordination not just cooperation in disaster management.

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Robert McClelland MP Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Federal Member for Barton

5 June 2007


It is a primary responsibly of government to prepare for threats to our national and regional security. This includes human security threats such as pandemics and natural disasters.

In recent years there has been improvement in cooperation between relevant disaster management agencies. But there is still a long way to go in respect to coordination.

Coordination is essential to have effective preparation and command and control of a disaster response. Australia is best placed to establish a centre for excellence to plan for and respond to complex emergencies in our region.

The human security threats that we will inevitably face in the future can also potentially have dramatic economic consequences for Australia.

An avian influenza pandemic could infect 40 percent of the world’s 6 billion people and about 40 million would die in a period as short as six months.

It has been estimated that the total cost to the US in the first year alone of such a pandemic would be in the order of $71 to $166 billion. This includes the cost of medical care and the cost of likely lost work days. A comparable estimate for Australia assumes that it would cost us somewhere in the order of $5 to $12 billion.

In respect to mass natural disasters like tsunamis we know from tragic experience that in addition to the devastating human costs, the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami is estimated to have caused US$10 billion in damage to infrastructure, housing and property.

However Australia and the region’s ability to deal with both disease pandemics and natural disasters currently suffers from a deficiency in coordination.

Experience suggests that without effective planning and coordination we will experience a range of problems from information black holes to misallocation of vital relief supplies and services.

We should pick up the lessons of the 2004 tsunami and heed the warnings of a possible bird flu pandemic by better coordinating the region’s preparations and response capacity.

Not to do so endangers lives and threatens our future economic prosperity.

* Mr McClelland today addressed the Australian Homeland Security Research Centre in Canberra on the needs of disaster and disease management and response in Australia and our region.

Contact: Tom Cameron 0417 147 932