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National emergency and disaster response arrangements in Australia: a quick guide

28 April 2020

PDF version [428KB]

Karen Elphick
Law and Bills Digest Section

 

This is one of three Library publications that outline emergency and pandemic planning arrangements that were in place prior to 2020, and actual arrangements established in 2020 to coordinate the national response to COVID-19.

  1. National emergency and disaster response arrangements in Australia: a quick guide (this publication) explains the overarching decision-making framework designed to manage crisis events of all kinds.
  2. Australian pandemic response planning: a quick guide outlines the standing health emergency plans that were in place prior to the advent of COVID-19 in 2020, including the National Pandemic Influenza Plan.
  3. Australian COVID-19 response management arrangements: a quick guide explains the specific decision-making and advisory bodies involved in the national COVID-19 response, as at April 2020.

Table of Contents

Overview

Division of responsibilities between Australian and state and territory governments
Figure 1: Australian Government responsibilities
Figure 2: National whole-of-government crisis coordination arrangements  4

Structure of the AGCMF

Figure 3: Key whole-of-government committees
Council of Australian Governments
National Security Committee of Cabinet
Australian Government Crisis Committee
National Crisis Committee

Australian Government plans for the response phase

Lead minister for Australian Government response

Table 1: Designated lead minister and specific response arrangements

Domestic crisis response

Disaster response assistance for states and territories
Figure 4: Key decision makers during a domestic crisis
Figure 5: Standing ADF assistance arrangements

Crisis Coordination Centre

International crisis response 
Emergency physical assistance to overseas
Persons evacuated from overseas
Mass casualty incidents overseas involving Australians
Global Watch Office
Figure 6: Key decision makers during an international crisis

Overview

Each Australian state and territory has generic emergency and disaster response legislation which authorises officials to declare emergencies in a variety of circumstances and make orders to deal with an emergency. The Australian Government does not have specific legislative power to deal with emergencies and has not enacted equivalent generic legislation.

National coordination arrangements for emergencies are well established. The foundation of Australia’s current arrangements, the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience, has been in place since 2011. Whole-of-government arrangements have been developed that are designed to be applicable in any emergency or crisis. These arrangements are known as the Australian Government Crisis Management Framework (December 2017) (AGCMF). The AGCMF distinguishes between ‘Australian’ (referring to Commonwealth bodies and arrangements) and ‘national’ (referring to Commonwealth, state and territory bodies and arrangements).

The AGCMF is an overarching, decision-making framework designed to manage crises of all kinds, end-to-end, by passing through management phases of prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. A ‘crisis’ is any event that activates the AGCMF arrangements. Crises may include (but are not limited to) terrorist incidents, health pandemics, animal diseases, natural disasters and incidents affecting Australians and/or Australian interests overseas.

This Quick Guide explains these arrangements for the response phase, and identifies the various decision-making and advisory bodies.

Division of responsibilities between Australian and state and territory governments

Under Australia’s federal system, with different powers residing in state, territory and Australian governments, cooperative arrangements to deal with civil emergencies are not only desirable, but necessary, because no single government has the capacity or the authority to deal with all aspects of large emergencies. The state and territory governments have broader legislative and executive powers and the Australian Government has significantly more financial resources and capacity for coordination. The responsibilities of the Australian Government under AGCMF are set out in Figure 1.

States and territories are the first responders to any incident that occurs within their jurisdiction. According to the AGCMF:

States and territories have primary responsibility for the protection of life, property and the environment within the bounds of their jurisdiction. They control most functions essential for effective crisis prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. However, where crises involve actual or potential national consequences there may be a need for high level collaboration and coordination within and across all levels of government.

Figure 2 shows the relationship between state and territory coordination arrangements, agency- led coordination arrangements and whole-of-government coordination arrangements.

Figure 1: Australian Government responsibilities

SUPPORTING ROLE JOINT MANAGEMENT PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITY
Providing support to the states and/or territories where the need of a response overwhelms resources and Australian Government coordinated assistance has been requested. Working together with the states and/or territories to manage a crisis that has potential to affect, or has affected, more than one jurisdiction, the broader community or an Australian Government area of responsibility. Managing any crisis that is not the responsibility of a state or territory.
FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE
Providing financial assistance to state and territory governments and individuals affected by a major crisis.

Source: Australian Government Crisis Management Framework, version 2.2 December 2017, p. 9.

Figure 2: National whole-of-government crisis coordination arrangements

Figure 2 flow chart showing national whole-of-government crisis coordination arrangements

Source: Australian Government Crisis Management Framework, version 2.2, December 2017, p. 26.

Structure of the AGCMF

The AGCMF designates a series of key Australian and National cross-government committees. The relationship between the highest level committees is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Key whole-of-government committees

Figure 3 flowchart showing  key whole-of-government committees

Source: Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza, August 2019, p. 35.

Council of Australian Governments

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) is the peak intergovernmental forum in Australia. Its role is to manage matters of national significance or matters that need coordinated action by all Australian Governments. The members of COAG are the Prime Minister, state and territory First Ministers and the President of the Australian Local Government Association. COAG is chaired by the Prime Minister. The AGCMF is underpinned by a series of intergovernmental agreements made through COAG.

National Security Committee of Cabinet

The National Security Committee of Cabinet (NSC) is a committee of the Australian Government Cabinet. It considers major foreign policy and national security issues of strategic importance to Australia, border protection policy, national responses to developing foreign policy and security situations. Decisions of the NSC do not require the endorsement of the Cabinet.

Australian Government Crisis Committee

The Australian Government Crisis Committee (AGCC) is a committee of officials who will coordinate the response across the Australian Government. The AGCC Chair is the Deputy Secretary National Security, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), though for a communicable disease emergency the AGCC may have a Health co-chair. An Inter-departmental Emergency Task Force (IDETF) may be used as a coordination mechanism rather than the AGCC if a communicable disease incident threatens to significantly affect Australians or Australian interests overseas.

National Crisis Committee

The National Crisis Committee (NCC) is the key national cross-government officials committee. It will consolidate information and coordinate information exchange and advice to ministers. It will also coordinate ministerial decisions across the Australian Government, state and territory and local governments. The NCC membership includes Australian Government Crisis Committee standing members, state and territory agency representatives as appropriate to the event, and state and territory representatives from the departments of Premier and Cabinet (and equivalents).

Australian Government plans for the response phase

The Australian Government has standing national plans to facilitate provision of assistance. It has specific capabilities within its agencies to assist with response to a crisis, including Australian Defence Force (ADF) resources, access to satellite imagery, and assistance in brokering memoranda of understanding with foreign partners to obtain resources.

Lead minister for Australian Government response

The lead minister for the Australian Government on response and recovery will usually be the relevant portfolio minister. Designated lead ministers for specific incidents or crises are set out in Table 1. Table 1 also shows where an outline of specific response arrangements for the type of crisis is located in Annex A to the AGCMF.

Table 1: Designated lead minister and specific response arrangements

Lead Minister Incident or crisis AGCMF Annex
Minister for Foreign Affairs International crises Annex A.1
Minister for Home Affairs Domestic security-related incidents (excluding terrorist incidents) or any other domestic crises with no clear ministerial lead Annex A.2
Minister for Home Affairs Domestic terrorist incidents or maritime terrorist incidents within the Australian Maritime Domain Annex A.3 and Annex A.4
Minister for Home Affairs Domestic natural disasters Annex A.5
Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Domestic biosecurity crises Annex A.6
Minister for Health Domestic public health crises Annex A.7
Minister for the Environment and Energy Domestic energy supply crises Annex A.8
Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Incidents involving an offshore petroleum facility in Commonwealth waters Annex A.9
Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Transport incidents (maritime and aviation) within Australia, the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone, or the Australian Search and Rescue Region Annex A.10

Source: Australian Government Crisis Management Framework, version 2.2, December 2017, p. 12.

As the incident evolves, responsibility for leading the Australian Government response and/or recovery may transfer to a different minister, or two ministers may co-lead. Depending on the scale of the crisis, the Prime Minister may choose to act as the Australian Government spokesperson and the lead minister for different elements of the crisis will then be announced by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Domestic crisis response

Disaster response assistance for states and territories

The COMDISPLAN 2017: Australian Government Disaster Response Plan is the plan for the provision of Australian Government non-financial assistance to Australian states and territories in an emergency or disaster. COMDISPLAN can be activated for any disaster or emergency regardless of the cause. It explains how the Australian Government responds to requests for assistance from state and territory governments. Requests for assistance are coordinated through the Crisis Coordination Centre (CCC). The key decision makers are identified in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Key decision makers during a domestic crisis

Plan


Key decisions

Domestic

The Australian Government Disaster Response Plan (COMDISPLAN) is the mechanism that enables states and territories to request non-financial assistance from the Australian Government (for example, specific capabilities).

  • Director-General, Emergency Management Australia (EMA), Home Affairs activates and deactivates COMDISPLAN.
  • The Minister for Home Affairs approves requests for assistance under COMDISPLAN.
  • The CCC coordinates requests for assistance under COMDISPLAN.

Source: Australian Government Crisis Management Framework, version 2.2, December 2017, p. 15.

Emergency Defence Assistance to the Civil Community (DACC) is ADF support provided to the civil community where immediate action is necessary to: save human life or alleviate suffering; prevent widespread loss/damage to property; prevent extensive loss of animal life; or to prevent environmental damage. Emergency DACC may also be activated when state and/or territory resources are overwhelmed/not fit for purpose. Standing arrangements for the provision of ADF assistance are described in Figure 5. In some situations, non-emergency DACC may also be made available.

Figure 5: Standing ADF assistance arrangements

Defence Assistance to the Civil Community (DACC)
Category One Local emergency assistance
  • Immediate ADF assistance provided by local ADF commanders, from within their own resources, to local authorities.
  • The relevant local ADF commander approves category one requests.
  • Assistance shall not normally exceed 48 hours.
  • No cost recovery unless prior agreement.
Category Two Significant emergency assistance
  • ADF assistance beyond that provided under Category One, for a more extensive or continuing crisis response (this may include short term recovery efforts).
  • Requires COMDISPLAN to be activated and a request for assistance through Emergency Management Australia (EMA).
  • Minister for Defence or the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) approves requests for Defence support beyond local arrangements.
  • Duration depends on the nature and scope of the crisis, as well as available resources.
  • No cost recovery unless prior agreement.
Defence Force Aid to the Civil Authority (DFACA)
  • Enables call out of the ADF within Australian territories to protect Commonwealth interests against domestic violence, including from threats in Australia’s offshore area,   and in response to requests from states and territories.
  • Governed by the Defence Act 1903, Part IIIAAA, section 51A.
  • The Governor-General makes a call out order on the advice of the three authorising ministers (the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and the Minister for Defence).
  • In a sudden and extraordinary emergency, the Prime Minister acting alone, or the Minister for Defence and the Attorney-General acting together (when the Prime Minister is not available), can make an expedited call out order.

Source: Australian Government Crisis Management Framework, version 2.2, December 2017, p. 16.

Crisis Coordination Centre

For domestic crises, the Crisis Coordination Centre (CCC) coordinates the Australian Government’s response. The CCC is run by the Emergency Management Australia Division (EMA) within the Security and Resilience Group of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).

International crisis response

There are three key Australian Government assistance plans to deal with international crises. The plans themselves are prepared and maintained by EMA and published on the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) ‘Emergency Management’ website. For each plan the lead minister for the response is the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the lead responding Department is the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). In some circumstances, DFAT may delegate its roles and responsibilities to another agency. Key decision makers are identified in Figure 6 below.

Emergency physical assistance to overseas

The Australian Government Overseas Assistance Plan (AUSASSISTPLAN) (2018) details the process for the provision of emergency Australian Government-led physical assistance to overseas countries. Assistance is not provided unless assistance has been requested and/or accepted by the government of the disaster affected country.

Persons evacuated from overseas

The Australian Government Plan for the Reception of Australian Citizens and Approved Foreign Nationals Evacuated from Overseas (AUSRECEPLAN) (2017) outlines the processes for the safe repatriation of Australians, their immediate dependants and approved foreign nationals (evacuees) following a decision of the Australian Government to conduct an evacuation. AUSRECEPLAN may be activated for any DFAT-authorised evacuation including, but not limited to, an evacuation following a major disaster or an adverse security situation.

Mass casualty incidents overseas involving Australians

The Australian Government Response Plan for Overseas Mass Casualty Incidents (OSMASSCASPLAN) (2017) outlines the processes to assess and repatriate injured, infected or deceased Australians and other approved persons to an initial repatriation point within Australia, following an Australian Government-led evacuation from an overseas mass casualty incident. It includes provision for deploying Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) into the affected country for the purposes of treating and triaging casualties in preparation for repatriation.

Global Watch Office

For international crises, the DFAT Global Watch Office (DFAT GWO) coordinates the Australian Government’s response. It monitors and informs the Australian Government of emerging overseas hazards, coordinates information flows and whole-of-government situational awareness, and coordinates the Australian Government’s initial response. DFAT may stand up the 24/7 DFAT Crisis Centre (DFAT CC) to carry on coordination for more significant crises.

Figure 6: Key decision makers during an international crisis

Plan
Key decisions
International The Australian Government Overseas Disaster Assistance Plan (AUSASSISTPLAN) enables the Australian Government to provide emergency physical assistance to overseas countries.
  • The Minister for Foreign Affairs approves requests for activation under AUSASSISTPLAN.
  • DFAT leads and coordinates requests for assistance under AUSASSISTPLAN in close consultation with the CCC within EMA.
  • Director-General, EMA activates and deactivates AUSASSISTPLAN, at the request of DFAT.
The Australian Government Reception Plan (AUSRECEPLAN) outlines the arrangements for the reception into Australia of Australian citizens and permanent residents, and their immediate dependents, and approved foreign nationals evacuated from overseas.
  • Director-General, EMA activates and deactivates AUSRECEPLAN at the request of DFAT.
  • DFAT is responsible for coordinating the evacuation.
  • DHA is responsible for coordinating the reception.
The National Response Plan for Mass Casualty Incidents Involving Australians Overseas (OSMASSCASPLAN) provides an agreed framework for agencies in all Australian jurisdictions to assess, repatriate and provide care for Australians and other approved persons injured or killed overseas in mass casualty crises.
  • The Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Defence, the Minister for Health and the Minister for Home Affairs activate and deactivate OSMASSCASPLAN.
  • The CCC assists lead agencies coordinate and integrate activities under OSMASSCASPLAN.

Source: Australian Government Crisis Management Framework, version 2.2, December 2017, p. 15.

 

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