1 Australian Strategic Policy Institute National Security Dinner West Tower Suite, Level 35, Sofitel Hotel 25 Collins Street, Melbourne 21 August 2008
2 Introduction Thank you Chris it s a great pleasure to be here for this national security dinner, and to offer my own welcome to guests from business, the law, academia and government. Few subjects could be more significant than ensuring the Australian community is safe and secure. This involves questions of how we manage our national security and protect local and national infrastructure. It also includes whether we are adequately prepared for national security issues in the broad sense of that term including acts of terrorism, natural disasters and other emergencies. On that point I note Tuesday s ASPI report on threats to Australian agriculture another reminder that an all-hazards response is critical in the modern threat environment.
3 Australia s Climatic Profile In planning for national security challenges it is necessary to assess probability of occurrence and potential impact if the event occurs. All the evidence suggests that climate change will result in more and more severe whether events. It will have particular impact on Australia. Dorothea MacKellar had it right when she described Australia as a willful, lavish land. It s undeniable that Australia is a land of bushfires, floods, storms, cyclones, and the occasional earthquake. Many Australians would recall some of these events: the 1967 Hobart fires 62 deaths and 1,400 buildings destroyed; the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires 75 deaths and nearly 2,500 houses incinerated;
4 the 1974 Brisbane floods 14 deaths, 56 houses washed away and 1,600 submerged; Cyclone Tracy deaths and 25,000 people left homeless; and in 2006, Cyclone Larry losses of property and agricultural production estimated at $1.5 billion. But through this misfortune we have learnt much. This includes better resourced emergency services, upgraded communications networks, and improved weather forecasting and tracking. Despite this, there is still far more to be done. ASPI s strategic insights released in May noted the importance of building up resilience. It stated that a resilient community has the capacity to withstand a
5 disaster and its consequences, return to its predisaster state quickly and learn from the disaster experience to achieve higher levels of functioning. The Rudd Government shares this analysis. It is critical that Australians are given the best available tools to deal with an increasingly dangerous environment, particularly in this era of climate change. Tonight I would like to discuss some of the important measures that the Government is pursuing to address these risks. Australian Emergency Management Arrangements Australia makes an enormous effort to keep its citizens and communities safe from disaster risks, including technological and social risks, natural hazard and terrorist threats.
6 We are justifiably proud of the magnificent work of career officers, volunteers and communities across the whole emergency services sector. What I want to do is capitalise on that insight, know-how and effort, and pull those together into a far more coordinated capability. What it boils down to is having a national approach and a common goal. When I chaired my first meeting of the Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management in March, all my State and Territory ministerial colleagues endorsed the draft Australian Emergency Management Arrangements. We re now able to adopt a much more coordinated national approach - across all jurisdictions to manage disaster response and recovery.
7 Other national initiatives The Council also tasked governments to advise on a new public information program to better prepare local communities for emergencies. It is important that the public has a thorough understanding of the assistance that Government can provide. It is equally as important for people to be aware of their own capabilities and responsibilities during an emergency. In combination this will enable a fast and effective response when the crisis emerges. Another fundamental area where action is needed is in the implementation of a nationally consistent emergency warning system. The Rudd Government is currently engaged in discussions with the states and territories to
8 work out what such a warning system should consist of. At the heart of the system will be an ability to utilise technology to give adequate warning to civilians within range of a disaster. This will enable them to take appropriate action to ensure their safety. Work on the system is progressing. But it s imperative that we achieve early agreement on definitive protocols the aim is to ensure that everyone is aware of the nature of the warnings wherever they may be in Australia. This will ensure better responses to emergencies. International Effort This Government takes the view that not only is it our responsibility to show leadership for
9 Australia, but also to take a lead as a good regional neighbour. By this I mean offering Australia s knowledge and expertise to those of our neighbours less prepared for emergencies. Globally, we are building relationships with international colleagues to share our expertise in Urban Search and Rescue. This was evidenced through Australia s offer of our Urban Search and Rescue teams to China following the recent Sichuan earthquake an offer we stand ready to make again if another similar event occurs. And in Indonesia recently, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd emphasised that Australia wants to play a leading role in helping establish a Regional Disaster Preparedness Centre working with expertise and to develop best practice response capability.
10 These initiatives are all part of the Rudd Government s reinvigoration of regional relationships and will form an important part of the stronger cooperation that we are seeking to build. Resilience I referred earlier to resilience. I agree with ASPI s view that a resilient community has the capacity to better withstand a disaster and its consequences. There is no denying that preparing early for a disaster can save many lives and enormous resources. Whilst preparing for disaster response is the main responsibility of emergency managers, it is clear that this need will be significantly reduced by avoiding the damage before it occurs.
11 If people are able to sustain themselves in the immediate aftermath of a crisis it takes pressure off emergency responders who are able to focus on addressing the immediate crisis. For this reason, I want to encourage an attitudinal change. Australians can not simply rely upon emergency services to do it all we must realise that regardless of who we are or where we live, we all have a role in disaster preparedness. How many people have a torch on hand let alone the capacity to sustain their family in the immediate aftermath of a power outage? These were all very relevant issues in the period following the Queensland and New South Wales floods of December and January past.
12 I believe such a change is necessary and achievable. Australians have a long, proud history of doing their bit to help others. At present, state and territory governments largely have the responsibility for managing domestic disaster risk, with the Australian Government continuing to provide national leadership and coordination. However, all of this government activity will be far more effective if we partner with the community. As Attorney-General, with responsibility for national emergency management, I am pleased to see the evolution of a new approach to risk assessment, with a shift in focus towards costeffective, evidence-based disaster mitigation. This has been an historic step from disaster response and reaction towards anticipation and preparedness.
13 This ultimately leads to a more resilient and self-reliant community. I see that approach being taken up enthusiastically by most emergency sectors within governments, and by many in the private sector. However, history shows us that shifting community attitudes won t be easy. Our policy approach is therefore to take the necessary steps to improve governance arrangements, boost participation and to strengthen capacity in local communities. Over the coming year I will be looking at the existing mitigation arrangements to see where improvements can be made to the framework of mitigation programs that currently exist. There is a case for greater coordination of programs. For instance an operations room and communications facility will serve in
14 responding to the threat of flood as it will in responding to fire. What we are aiming for is the most effective means of mitigation. Because effective mitigation has a two-fold effect. It helps avoid confusion when disaster strikes, and allow emergency services to allocate resources where they are most needed. There are working groups now within Government that cover all areas of the community, including the private sector, Non- Government Organisations, and groups that represent some of Australia s most vulnerable including those living in remote locations. They are committed to working together to achieve a greater level of awareness about disasters and their impact on society.
15 Building resilience is a partnership between governments and the community. The Rudd Government is doing this by: boosting volunteer recruitment and retention; developing more effective and robust communication systems to warn communities; and anticipating climate change impacts and factoring these into our strategies to deal with cyclones, floods and bushfires. The Government also recognises that disasters can disproportionately affect the disadvantaged and socially excluded in our society.
16 These include Indigenous communities, people with disabilities, and people from different cultural or linguistic backgrounds. The Commonwealth has strongly supported or developed a range of programs to meet this challenge. For example, $90,000 was provided to the Northern Territory Local Government Association to develop a program called Smart Sparx. This program is designed to educate indigenous children about the dangers of fire the goal is to lower the shocking 14% of burns in the Territory that are suffered by Indigenous children under the age of four. Additionally, in March this year I chaired a meeting of emergency management Ministers from all states and territories, which agreed to support the implementation of Keeping our mob safe.
17 This is a strategy for engaging indigenous communities in emergency management positions which simultaneously creates personal development and employment opportunities. Both projects are valuable initiatives and we will continue to look for further ways to protect vulnerable communities. I would like to publicly acknowledge the tremendous work of the Red Cross in assisting in this area. Flood Insurance In asking individuals within communities to go the extra mile in preparing themselves against disaster, the Government also expects a similar approach from private enterprise, particularly the insurance industry.
18 There can be nothing worse for a farmer or a family who have suffered through a natural disaster to then be told that their insurance is either not adequate, or worse, they re not covered. That s why the Government is intent on developing a stronger relationship with the insurance industry. We want insurance companies to be clearer in telling their clients just what their insurance covers especially in defining flood events. One recent example of positive action has been the strong representations to us by the insurance industry, expressing concern about the need for clarity in definitions around floodprone land. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has been defining just what is an inland flood, and they expect a national
19 awareness campaign will be implemented by the insurance industry to help property owners better understand their policy coverage. The Insurance Council of Australia has also developed a paper that identifies possible regulatory, community and industry initiatives how to adapt to the future where extreme weather events might become more prevalent. Its suggestions include: improved community understanding of weather related risks; more risk-appropriate land use planning, mitigation measures and building codes; and improved community disaster recovery and planning. These initiatives are being considered by the Australian Emergency Management Committee, comprising representatives from
20 the Australian Government, all state and territory governments, and the Australian Local Government Association. This Committee will determine which of the Insurance Council s initiatives should be acted upon. We can t leave it to public pressure and goodwill to get fair outcomes. Everyone is entitled to know precisely where they stand before crisis occurs. Conclusion Helping one another in times of crisis, and supporting the community are key elements of the Australian way of life. The Government wants to see more Australians, whatever their background, becoming more engaged with their communities.
21 The reality is that Governments have limited resources to protect our country and our people, so it s imperative we work together. That s why the Rudd Government is working closely with local communities across Australia to promote and encourage partnerships at the grassroots level. We re looking to strengthen both national partnerships for emergency management and a more hands-on approach for communities to develop self-reliance and resilience. All of these measures contribute to an allhazards philosophy, building greater selfreliance and community involvement in the preparedness of all citizens. They are also the first steps in developing a truly all hazards approach at the Governmental level (federal, state and local)
22 something that the ASPI report made sensible recommendations about. Again, it is critical to have a coordinated approach to disasters whether they are natural or caused by terrorists. I am committed to developing these mechanisms with my state and territory colleagues. I thank ASPI for widening the discussion about these issues, and I welcome input from the private sector on innovative ways to ensure that Australia is safe and secure. 68. The heart of the matter is the protection of how Australia goes about its business, of preparing our economy and our society to recover from crises man made or from
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