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Emergency declaration powers to be rushed through parliament

New federal government powers to declare a state of national emergency are expected to be rushed through parliament before Christmas. The move is one of 80 key recommendations made by the National Natural Disaster Arr­angements Royal Commission following the catastrophic black summer fires.Five people were killed in the fires which razed at least 300 homes…

New federal government powers to declare a state of national emergency are expected to be rushed through parliament before Christmas.

The move is one of 80 key recommendations made by the National Natural Disaster Arr­angements Royal Commission following the catastrophic black summer fires.

Five people were killed in the fires which razed at least 300 homes and more than 1.5 million ha of land in Victoria.

Under the proposed powers, the Governor-general would sign off on the emergency declaration if trigger points agreed in the legislation were reached following a disaster.

This would enact the defence force and appropriate agencies for a rapid response, depending on the event.

Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said the draft legislation was being finalised by Attorney-General Christian Porter.

“There will be discussions with the opposition about trying to expedite that legislation in the last two sitting weeks,” Mr Littleproud said.

“We hope to achieve that but we respect their right to obviously review that legislation.”

Mr Littleproud said the government would not take over the operational management of disasters, adding that was the remit of the states.

“But where there is needed to be a surge of resources then the Australian government will come in with its agencies,” he said.

National Cabinet on Friday discussed the Royal Commission report which was handed down in late October.

Leaders agreed the federal government would lead a group of emergency service ministers to achieve the recommendations – 14 are the responsibility of the government, 41 for the states and territories, 23 are joint responsibility, and two related to industry.

However, a push for a sovereign aerial firefighting capability was only noted by the government.

Mr Littleproud said this was because state and territory fire commissioners were the ones that determined the aircraft that came into the country.

“They are the experts,” he said.

“We will ask them to endorse what the royal commission has placed in this report around the specific aircraft that they have outlined.”

Scott Morrison said there were very good practical operating arrangements between the states and territories, and the Commonwealth, when it came to physically dealing with national disasters.

“The last things we want to do as premiers, chiefs and prime minister is interrupt operational arrangements that are working well in how people move between jurisdictions and how equipment is shared,” the prime minister said.

A national framework for hazard reduction will be formed and the Commonwealth will urge insurers to provide “clear consumer guidance” on actions to reduce natural hazard risk that will lower insurance premiums.

The Insurance Council of Australia in May estimated there was more than $18 million of insured losses from the Victorian bushfires.

A national disaster recovery agency will also be established by July 2021 to bring together the current flood, drought and bushfire agencies.

Ten scientific agencies will also be brought together under the banner of Resilience Australia provide information for emergency services nationwide.

Data sharing will be improved and drills to test national disaster plans will also be considered.

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