I’ve been working on analysing recommendations from the list of disaster inquiries I’ve put together. At the moment I’ve come up with a list of keywords.
Here are the top 10 (note the analyser does it on a word root basis, so all plurals and forms are included):
In the lead up to this year’s federal election I’m going to be detailing and analysing the disaster and emergency management policies of the two major parties and the minor parties:
(links will appear above as I write each page)
I’ll continue updating these pages as more is announced in the lead up to the election. I’m going to focus on actual announcements and content of policy documents. Speculation on possible post-election policies is probably futile given the general non-partisan nature of disaster management. This post will be on the minor parties, which have some fairly hefty disaster management policies.
The Coalition’s disaster policies are a loose collection across a broad set of areas (and in that way not terribly different from the other parties). Where a source isn’t quoted the policy has been taken from the “Real solutions” document recently released. Some of these policies may be a bit outdated as they refer to 2010 election documents.
Expand the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine – As part of a focus on northern Australia the coalition has committed to a expanding the research institute for tropical diseases located at James Cook University. The work of this institute would include biosecurity, the development of vaccines and other therapies and training. A growing northern population is leading to more people being exposed to tropical diseases and climate change could lead to previously rare diseases becoming more frequent and moving further south. These factors suggest a greater focus on tropical diseases is not a bad thing (but don’t tell Tony Abbott this – he might pull the pin on the idea if he thinks it’s got something to do with climate change). Though this policy was originally announced at the 2010 election it has been updated with a $42 million commitment broken down into some sub-areas.
National Search Dog Framework – Last year the Coalition announced plans to create a National Search Dog Framework, which would develop formalised deployment arrangements and nationally consistent standards and training for search dog teams across the government and non-government sector. It’s not exactly clear where this thought bubble has come from, but it’s a rather specific one. I can’t find much information about ownership of search dogs in Australia, especially the split between the government and non-government sectors or how often the non-government sector is used in emergency operations. Nor do there appear to be specific recommendations in recent inquiries relating to SAR canines.
The press release does make allusions to it but a better action would be some sort of national framework to improve coordination of all specialist resources, both within and across jurisdictions. Again it’s unclear whether there is actually a formal need or if existing coordination frameworks under national and jurisdictional emergency plans are sufficient.
Early fire detection system – In 2010 the Coalition committed $10 million towards an early bushfire detection system. It refers to systems available in Europe and the US but gives no further information so its difficult to determine what it is and how it would enhance existing fire detection capabilities (which include aircraft, fire towers and the Sentinel satellite system). Ironically, despite referring to the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, none of the commission’s recommendations actually refer to a fire detection system (although there’s plenty on information sharing and warnings). The press release also says the Coalition would task the Attorney-General’s Department to ensure statistical and mapping data held by federal government agencies is distributed to state and local governments to enhance bushfire preparedness. If the Coalition is still committed to this policy, perhaps it could seek to do this through the soon to be established National Insurance Affordability Council
Biosecurity flying squad – In 2010 the Coalition committed $15 million to the establishment of a special bio-security response agency to provide urgent additional resources to a bio-security emergency. The agency would also have an audit and compliance function for quarantine facilities and processes suggesting that it would be established outside of AQIS and possibly even outside of DAFF. Bio-security has been the subject of a number of recent disaster inquiries in Australia including the only federal Royal Commission on disasters in the last 10 years. Improving response capacity and timeliness has been the subject of numerous recommendations from these inquiries.
AUSCORPS – In 2010 the Coalition proposed the establishment of AUSCORPS a scheme to encourage volunteering by university students. The scheme would provide a discount of up to $2000 a year on up to 1000 student’s HECS payments. It’s unclear that this would have a significant impact, it could just advantage existing volunteers without encouraging new people into the sector. There’s also somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000 emergency volunteers in Australia (depending on how you count) so even if all 1000 places were in the emergency services, and they were all new entrants, there would be less than a 1% increase in total volunteer numbers.
The Coalition will establish a new Standing Council on Law, Crime and Community Safety probably to replace existing the existing Standing Council on Police and Emergency Management and Standing Council on Law and Justice. This continues a trend started in the previous round of COAG reforms towards a smaller number of committees (prior to which there was a dedicated emergency management forum). It’s unclear whether this would extend to senior officers groups (like the National Emergency Management Committee and its sub-committees). Less time for emergency management on the COAG agenda could, depending on your opinion of federalism, delay crucial national emergency management reforms or reduce federal meddling in the state’s emergency management programs.
One action that has popped up in a variety of coalition policy documents is the building new dams. There is an inevitable tension between using dams for water supply, hydro-power and flood mitigation – e.g. to mitigate floods you want them empty and to supply water you want them full. Presumably the coalition isn’t proposing to try and achieve this with all dams it might construct, but would seek different aims for different areas.
Unfortunately most of the major inland rivers and many of the coastal ones in Australia already have dams, which have a variety of flood mitigation benefits. This would limit the flood mitigation benefit that could be gained from dam construction. Unless some of this activity is also directed at building flood detention basins in urban areas (which are essentially small dams and, in NSW at least, are regulated like them) there’s unlikely to be as much mitigation benefit. Funding for the construction of detention basins (which cost at least an order of magnitude less than a large dam) would also be able to spread further across more projects.
Coalition policy also refers to improved counter-terrorism and domestic security including a new defence white paper (past white papers have discussed the disaster response role of the ADF) but there’s little in the way of specifics.
The Coalition would spend $100 million on subsidising the expansion of mobile telecommunications in rural and regional areas with a focus on using at least some of the funding on areas prone to natural disasters.
Two new international and independent reports have been released on the health impacts of the Fukushima nuclear accident. They’ve found that there have been few health impacts on the workers in the plant and emergency responders. More importantly they’ve found that there are unlikely to be any attributable long term health impacts on the general population. As the Sydney Morning Herald article says: “This “perfect storm” hit a nuclear plant built to a 50-year-old design and no one died.”
Nevertheless, there’s been significant fallout (pun intended) in terms of the nuclear power industry in Japan and abroad. Japan has struggled to generate electricity over the last two years and public opinion on nuclear power has reached new lows. The psychological impacts cannot also be discounted for millions in the area and further afield. The report even found that many deaths were associated with the stress of the evacuation. In areas that weren’t highly exposed to radiation people may have been better off staying.
So here’s my question: is the fear of a nuclear accident a bigger risk than the risk of an accident itself?