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National Emergency Declaration Bill passes ahead of summer

Media Release

Australian will be in a stronger position to respond to major emergencies as a result of new laws to declare national emergencies.

The National Emergency Declaration Bill makes the process for declaring a national emergency clear.

"This means that national resources can be more rapidly deployed in order to help Australians affected by emergency situations, including natural disaster," the Attorney-General said.

Under these new laws, a declaration can be made in circumstances where an emergency has arisen that has caused, is causing, or is likely to cause, nationally significant harm to:

  • the life or health of an individual, or group of individuals, animals or plants;
  • the environment;
  • property, including infrastructure, or;
  • disruption to an essential service.

Once declared, it will allow for key actions at the Commonwealth level to assist in the emergency situation, including:

  • streamlining the exercise of existing Commonwealth emergency powers to ensure a quicker response;
  • empowering Ministers to suspend, vary or substitute 'red tape' procedural requirements where doing so would benefit the community, such as to assist people in disaster-affected areas to access disaster payments or other services;
  • enabling the Prime Minister to require Commonwealth entities to report on stockpiles, resources and response options;
  • creating a new power in the Telecommunications Act 1997 requiring telecommunications providers to give the Commonwealth, States and Territories such help as is reasonably necessary, such as sending emergency alerts.

"When an emergency situation arises, rapid response is critical not just from state and territory governments which are on the front-line of emergency response but from all levels of government," the Attorney-General, said.

"These new laws will mean the Commonwealth is better able to respond with a national emergency declaration, wherever the situation is arising, and state/territory governments can focus on delivering immediate assistance."

The Bills implement a key recommendation (5.1) from the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, which was released on 30 October 2020.

The Royal Commission's report highlighted a range of benefits that would be achieved through the establishment of a framework for declaring national emergencies, including communicating to Australia and the international community the severity of a disaster early, acting as a marshalling call for the early provision of Australian Government assistance and facilitating coordination with state and territory emergency management.

Under the new laws, the Governor-General can declare a national emergency on the advice of the Prime Minister, for emergencies that are causing nationally significant harm.

The Bill provides for states and territories to request, or be consulted on, the declaration of a national emergency unless there are exceptional circumstances which necessitate the Commonwealth making a unilateral declaration.

"This will allow for quick action to be taken at a national level to deal with rapidly-developing emergencies, particularly in situations where a state or territory is incapacitated or overwhelmed by events," the Attorney-General said.

Emergency declarations will be limited to a maximum of three-months, with extensions possible if the initial justification for the declaration continues to exist. A declaration can also be varied if further emergencies arise, allowing the Commonwealth to actively respond to disasters as they evolve.