Wednesday, 9 December 2020
National Emergency Declaration Bill 2020, National Emergency Declaration (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2020; Second Reading
I thank all honourable members for their contributions to the debate. The National Emergency Declaration Bill 2020 will establish a legislative framework that enables the Governor-General, on the advice of the Prime Minister, to declare a national emergency. This bill will operate in conjunction with the National Emergency Declaration (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2020, which will consolidate and streamline enumerated emergency powers across the statute book to enable ministers and officials to act decisively in respect of a declared national emergency.
Together these bills will create a unified framework for the use of Commonwealth powers during emergencies of national significance. The framework will enable a national emergency declaration to be made, sending a clear, strong message to the Australian community of the severity and nature of the disaster and mobilising all levels of government in the response and recovery effort. Importantly, these bills will implement recommendation 5.1 of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements. The bills' framework will be applicable to emergencies that rise to the level of national significance, whether they be disasters caused by humans or natural disasters. The framework will be able to be employed in respect of emergencies occurring on land or sea, including in Australia's offshore area, or in Australian airspace, and emergencies that are limited to one jurisdiction or that span multiple jurisdictions. This all-hazards approach acknowledges the complexity, scale and significance of the emergency events Australia may face, some with increasing frequency.
The bill provides a power for the Prime Minister to request the declaration at the request of the relevant state or territory, or combination of states and territories. However, the bill also provides the Prime Minister the power to unilaterally request the declaration in limited circumstances. This will ensure that the Commonwealth can take swift action where a state or territory is incapacitated or overwhelmed by the emergency events. This also ensures affected states and territories can continue to focus their energy on operationalising their response and recovery efforts. A declaration may only be made for as long a period as the Prime Minister considers necessary for the purposes of emergency management and for a maximum of three months. The Governor-General may extend the duration of a national emergency declaration for up to three months if the Prime Minister is satisfied of effectively the same test as for the declaration of a national emergency. The Governor-General may also vary other aspects of a declaration—for example, if an emergency affects additional parts of Australia. The government amendments to the bill require that the Prime Minister be satisfied of effectively the same test as for the declaration of a national emergency before the Governor-General may vary the declaration. The bill will provide ministers and decision-makers abilities to suspend, vary or substitute red-tape requirements in laws that they administer where a national emergency declaration is in force. By temporarily removing or varying procedural requirements that may be a barrier to people in emergency-affected areas accessing payments, benefits or services, this power will ensure that individuals affected by a declared national emergency can get the support they need quickly.
The bill provides that requirements contained in certain acts or prescribed in regulations may not be suspended, varied or substituted during a national emergency. Government amendments to the bill extend this list to include statutory requirements contained in legislation establishing oversight agencies and parliamentary statutory committees. The bill provides that, where a national emergency declaration has been made, the Prime Minister may require an accountable authority of a Commonwealth entity to provide specified information to the Prime Minister for the purposes of preparing for, responding to, or recovering from an emergency to which the national emergency declaration relates. This may include information on stockpiles of medical or other supplies held by or available to the Commonwealth entity, assets or other resources held by or available to the Commonwealth entities or options or recommendations relating to actions that may be taken by the Commonwealth. In addition, the declaration framework consolidates and streamlines the various Commonwealth emergency powers across the statute book. This will enable ministers and officials to have a complete picture of the powers that they can use to assist with the response and recovery effort. The making of a national emergency declaration will enliven the ability for ministers and officials to use an alternative, streamlined test to respond to the declared national emergency. These alternative tests are provided for in the National Emergency Declaration (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2020. The bill requires that a review of the act be initiated within five years of its commencement. Government amendments will strengthen these review requirements by a requiring a review of the act immediately following its commencement for report by 30 June 2021 and introducing a requirement for each national emergency declaration made by the Governor-General to be reviewed within 12 months of the declaration being made.
In conclusion, the bills will ensure that the Australian community is aware of the significance, gravity and nature of a declared emergency event, and galvanise support across all levels of government towards the response and recovery effort. The National Emergency Declaration (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2020 will also provide greater visibility to decision-makers of the full range of powers available in a national emergency. As foreshadowed, the government intends to move amendments in the consideration-in-detail stage. I commend these bills to the House.