Chapter 3: National coordination arrangements
3.1 Australia’s national arrangements for coordinating disaster management are complicated — there is a plethora of frameworks, plans, bodies, committees and stakeholders, with significant variation and different degrees of implementation. National coordination, in relation to both operational and policy considerations, is necessary because disaster management is a shared responsibility in our federation. 
3.2 Effective national coordination will be a critical capability in managing natural disasters on a national scale or with national consequences. Arrangements need to be clear, robust and accountable.
3.3 Existing arrangements have grown organically over time to fill a void, and have largely served Australia well. The Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC), a not-for-profit company, has led on specific areas related to fire and emergency services. AFAC represents the Australian and New Zealand fire and emergency services sector, and is primarily comprised of state and territory government fire and emergency services agencies.
3.4 National arrangements for coordinating disaster management require an overhaul so that they are equipped to cope with increasing disaster risks. Australia’s natural disaster arrangements and decision-making need to be supported by informed, strategic leadership, timely policy advice to elected officials, and a robust and accountable national coordination mechanism.
3.5 The changes to Australia’s national arrangements for coordinating disaster management that are contemplated in this chapter are substantive and structural. It has therefore been necessary to set out the current arrangements in detail. It is also necessary to do so because much of the detail was not on the public record.
Effective national coordination
3.6 Australia’s national arrangements for coordinating disaster management are complicated. In addition to significant variation in the distribution of responsibilities across different natural hazards, the structures and forums for coordination vary considerably within, and across, the Australian, state and territory, and local governments at each phase of disaster management: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.
3.7 National coordination, in relation to both operational and policy considerations, is necessary because disaster management is a shared responsibility in our federation. Effective national coordination is a critical capability in managing natural disasters on a national scale or with national consequences.
3.8 In the context of national disaster management, strategic policy requires forward thinking to drive holistic improvement in the way Australia manages disaster risk across the four phases. The manner and extent to which disaster management is carried out has significant implications for Australians. As shown by the experiences of the 2019‑2020 bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, disasters can have impacts that extend beyond the immediate community, and can have social and economic implications over extended periods.
3.9 Strategic policy making to reduce and manage disaster risk is a role for senior leaders within government, and must be supported by advice from a broad range of sources within and outside government. Limiting advice to within government or, worse, within one area or ‘silo’, restricts the ability of all governments to consider and address broader national vulnerabilities and implications of disaster risk.
3.10 The operational aspects of disaster management are the ‘frontline’ in responding to the immediate impact of a disaster. These aspects are the most visible to the public and are primarily led by state and territory fire and emergency services – which are, in that context, often referred to as ‘combat’ agencies. These agencies make decisions about matters like when to evacuate, where to deploy firefighters and how to respond to a flood. These operational decisions directly affect people’s lives, property and livelihoods.
3.11 Operational considerations and strategic policy must be combined for effective coordination of disaster management, taking into account Australia’s finite resources. Disaster management involves a delicate balance between operational aspects of emergency response and long-term strategic policy. Both are needed to successfully mitigate and adapt to, prepare for, respond to and recover from natural disasters.
3.12 Governments should be accountable for their disaster management responsibilities. This requires clarity in the delineation of responsibilities for decision-making authority, functions, advice and information sharing. Accountability is a core component of effective governance, made up of four key elements – transparency, answerability, enforcement and responsiveness.
3.13 National coordination requires a holistic approach to natural disaster risks, while remaining clear and robust to allow effective and flexible coordination, particularly in times of crisis.
Existing arrangements for national coordination
National frameworks, strategies and plans
3.14 Australia has several frameworks and strategies that guide the national arrangements across all phases of natural disaster management. These can be broadly categorised as follows:
- national approaches to mitigating and adapting to disaster risk and improving resilience, now and into the future (National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework  (NDRRF), National Strategy for Disaster Resilience  and National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy )
- a national approach to enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and recovery (Australian Disaster Preparedness Framework )
- national approaches to promote interoperability between and within jurisdictions of equipment, data, information and more (for example, the National Framework to Improve Government Radio Communications Interoperability ), and
- national disaster recovery funding arrangements  providing financial support for disaster recovery of a certain scale (such as the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA)).
3.15 These national frameworks and strategies were developed by consensus – that is, each was only adopted with the endorsement of each of the Australian, state and territory governments. They are ‘national’ frameworks and strategies, rather than ‘Australian Government’ frameworks or strategies.
3.16 Each state and territory government has slightly different disaster governance and crisis management arrangements, which integrate and implement these national frameworks and strategies differently. Most state and territory governments have a ministerial level committee responsible for emergency management. These ministerial committees enable elected government officials to make strategic, and sometimes operational, decisions about the management of natural disaster risk.  They allow ministers to provide strategic policy oversight of measures to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from national emergencies.
3.17 These bodies are typically supported by a strategic policy and/or operational decision making committee, which, in most instances, is referred to as an ‘emergency management committee’.  These committees are often the principal bodies that allow state and territory governments to consider planning, investment and policy frameworks for natural disasters. Their membership often comprises all emergency chiefs, all government departments, and representatives, such as representatives of local government associations. These committees are also often responsible for the development and implementation of jurisdictions’ emergency management plans and/or frameworks.
National arrangements for crisis management
3.18 The Australian Government Crisis Management Framework  (AGCMF) is the overarching policy for coordinated, whole-of-government crisis management. It describes the standing arrangements for the Australian Government’s response to all crises, including natural disasters. 
3.19 Australia has national plans for response to, and recovery from, emergencies that support the AGCMF.  The AGCMF itself identifies a number of ‘relevant national plans and arrangements’ for domestic natural disasters, which are:
- National Catastrophic Disaster Plan (NATCATDISPLAN) 
- Australian Government Disaster Response Plan (COMDISPLAN) 
- Domestic Response Plan for Mass Casualty Incidents of National Consequence (AUSTRAUMAPLAN) 
- Australian Contingency Plan for Radioactive Space Re-entry Debris (AUSPREDPLAN) 
- Defence Assistance to the Civil Community (DACC Policy and Manual),  and
- the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA). 
3.20 We consider a number of these plans throughout our report and here focus on two of them — the NATCATDISPLAN and the COMDISPLAN.
3.21 The NATCATDISPLAN is the national coordination plan for the Australian, state and territory governments in response to catastrophic natural disasters. NATCATDISPLAN ‘functions as a contingency plan for the provision of coordinated support by the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments to a State(s)  where its Government and/or its capability to manage the response to and recovery from a catastrophic natural disaster has been significantly incapacitated’.  It was endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) on 12 July 2010.
3.22 The COMDISPLAN is ‘the plan for the provision of Australian Government non‑financial assistance to Australian states and territories in an emergency or disaster’.  COMDISPLAN has a long history of activation. In contrast, NATCATDISPLAN has never been activated. 
National policy forums
3.23 The Australian, state and territory governments develop, agree and communicate the overarching principles that guide operational plans and procedures through various policy forums.
3.24 COAG has been the forum for deliberation and decisions by the Prime Minister, State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers (first ministers) on national disaster policies and capabilities.  COAG endorsed most of the national frameworks described above.
3.25 On 13 March 2020, National Cabinet was formed,  and on 29 May 2020, the Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, announced that COAG will cease, and that the National Cabinet will be the centre of a new National Federation Reform Council. 
3.26 Previously, a number of intergovernmental councils supported the work of COAG, progressing COAG priorities and referrals of work, along with other issues of national significance.  The Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management (MCPEM) considered and made decisions about national disaster policies and capabilities, but typically escalated policy decisions with national implications to COAG. 
3.27 The Australia‑New Zealand Emergency Management Committee (ANZEMC) is the peak government committee responsible for emergency management.  It draws together senior officials from Australian, state and territory governments, together with New Zealand. ANZEMC formulates disaster policy for government consideration and decision by MCPEM and/or COAG. For example, at its meeting in April 2020, ANZEMC agreed to discuss the review of the DRFA and betterment provision, and to endorse implementation plans for the National Partnership Agreement on Disaster Risk Reduction, enabling work to commence on priority initiatives. 
Australian Government crisis response committees
3.28 Under the AGCMF, ‘whole-of-government’ crisis response to domestic crises is coordinated by two committees: the National Crisis Committee (NCC) and the Australian Government Crisis Committee (AGCC). The version of the AGCMF current during the 2019‑2020 bushfires stated that these were to provide situational awareness, advice and support, communications strategy and strategic coordination. 
3.29 The AGCMF specified the NCC as the appropriate forum for facilitating cooperation and coordination between the Australian Government and the relevant state and territory governments in response to domestic crises. 
3.30 The NCC was to be convened when the Australian Government and affected jurisdiction(s) agree it is necessary, having regard to:
- the scale and nature of crisis and its actual or potential impact
- whether the crisis affects multiple jurisdictions
- whether multiple incidents occur simultaneously
- whether there is a request for Australian Government capabilities and/or assistance (such as inter-jurisdictional coordination and/or request for jurisdictional capabilities/assistance which need to be prioritised)
- whether the crisis has both domestic and international components
- whether existing national coordination and collaboration arrangement structures are suitable, and
- the degree of involvement and leadership required by the Prime Minister and other relevant first ministers (eg a community expectation of national leadership). 
Figure 12: National Crisis Coordination Arrangements as set out in the AGCMF as in place during the 2019‑2020 bushfires and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic 
3.31 The NCC is chaired by the Deputy Secretary, National Security, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), or a delegate.  In the 2019‑2020 bushfire season, the NCC was convened twice (on 11 November 2019 and 10 January 2020). 
3.32 The AGCC is a mechanism to bring together only Australian Government officials to coordinate the Australian Government response to domestic crises, where the scope or resourcing of Australian Government activity requires the highest level of whole‑of-government coordination.  As such, it is not a national forum. It is convened and chaired by the Director-General, Emergency Management Australia (EMA) within the Department of Home Affairs. The Deputy Secretary, National Security, PM&C may decide to chair or co-chair the AGCC as appropriate. Over December 2019 and January 2020, in the midst of the bushfire season, the AGCC met 17 times. 
3.33 Operational forums, like the NCC, focus solely on operational issues with senior officials briefing ministers separately (see Figure 12). Operational forums can differ in membership and structure from policy forums like ANZEMC, which focus on policy matters and are not involved in operational decision making.
3.34 The National Co-ordination Mechanism (NCM) was established to support the National Cabinet as part of the Australian Government response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The NCM has coordinated engagement between Australian, state and territory governments, as well as industry, to support whole of government responses to domestic crises. The Australian Government described to us 30 different sectors with which it has engaged since the establishment of the NCM, including supermarkets, telecommunications, emergency management and education.  Committees associated with the NCM have included state cross-border commissioners to address issues with supply chain and resource availability. 
3.35 In October 2020, the AGCMF was replaced and updated. The new version (version 2.3) incorporates the NCM (see Figure 13 below), and provides the NCM as an example, noting that in ‘some cases it may be appropriate for the Prime Minister, or the minister leading the response to a crisis, to establish special purpose/temporary response mechanisms in parallel with existing response mechanisms’.  It also notes that the NCM ‘may be convened in place of an NCC in certain circumstances’. Those circumstances are not specified.
Figure 13: National Crisis Coordination Arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic. Note that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Cabinet was convened to support coordination between first ministers 
Australia’s disaster management organisation
3.36 EMA is Australia’s national disaster management organisation.  It leads the Australian Government’s efforts in disaster risk reduction, emergency preparedness, response and recovery. It is currently one of around 30 divisions within the Department of Home Affairs.
3.37 Among other matters, EMA is responsible for:
- managing the Crisis Coordination Centre (CCC), the Australian Government’s 24/7 crisis management information and whole-of-government coordination facility
- activating COMDISPLAN where an event or disaster is imminent, or has occurred, triggering, among other activities, coordination of tasking requests for non-financial assistance from the Australian Government 
- administering the Australian Government’s disaster recovery payments, including the DRFA
- conducting critical incident planning to better prepare the response to a critical incident with widespread consequences on Australia’s critical infrastructure
- developing and implementing the NDRRF, and
- administering funding for the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience (AIDR).
National recovery agencies
3.38 The Australian Government has established dedicated recovery agencies in response to specific disaster events: in particular, the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency in 2019, and the National Bushfire Recovery Agency (NBRA) in 2020.
3.39 The NBRA was established within the PM&C in response to the 2019‑2020 bushfires to lead and coordinate Australian Government support to affected communities. It facilitates delivery of recovery initiatives funded under the DFRA and the National Bushfire Recovery Fund. NBRA consults directly with communities to determine their priorities and to provide advice to the Australian Government on the administration of funding, implementation of programs, and the economic and social impacts of the 2019‑2020 bushfires.
A national body for fire and emergency services
3.40 The Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) is a not‑for‑profit company limited by guarantee, regulated by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. AFAC describes itself as filling ‘the national coordination requirement that is left by current constitutional arrangements that make fire and emergency management a jurisdictional responsibility with the additional advantage that New Zealand is an integral member’. 
3.41 AFAC was established by the fire and emergency services agencies and has existed for over 25 years as a national and trans-Tasman facilitator of common standards, doctrine and resource sharing. It functions as a peak body for its members — which are primarily state and territory fire and emergency service agencies. AFAC considers that this approach has contributed to ‘a highly efficient and collaborative structure’. 
3.42 EMA, Airservices Australia and Parks Australia, which are Australian Government agencies, are members of AFAC, and several other Australian Government agencies are affiliate members.  The AFAC Board members are heads or deputy heads of Australian and New Zealand fire and emergency services and land management agencies.  The Australian Government has no representation on AFAC’s Board.
3.43 An early constitution identified AFAC’s objects as including, among other things, to:
- provide a national forum for its members to consider matters of ‘mutual concern’ (including the management of fires and other emergencies)
- promulgate technical advice and inform, counsel and advise members in relation to effective fire and emergency management policies, and
- encourage coordination between members in matters of fire and emergency management research, education and training. 
3.44 AFAC’s current objects have evolved to include:
To coordinate and manage the acquisition and deployment of fire and emergency resources and logistical support on behalf of States and Territories in order to benefit the community. 
The Commissioner and Chief Officers Strategic Committee
3.45 The Commissioner and Chief Officers Strategic Committee (CCOSC) was established as a subcommittee of the AFAC Board in December 2013.  CCOSC membership ‘represents each Australian Commonwealth, State and Territory jurisdiction; New Zealand; Land Management Agencies; SES agencies; Air Services and AFAC’. The representatives that attend CCOSC from state and territory government agencies are generally the heads of fire and emergency service agencies. EMA is a standing member of CCOSC and the Director-General of EMA is the permanent co‑chair. AFAC emphasised to us that CCOSC is not an ‘intergovernmental’ body, and that ‘CCOSC members do not represent their governments but represent the organisations under their command’. 
3.46 We often heard or saw reference to ‘CCOSC decisions’, in the sense of decisions made by, or at meetings of, CCOSC. For example, the Arrangement for Interstate Assistance (AIA) states that CCOSC will make a ‘preliminary decision’ on the allocation of resources in response to a request for assistance.  The AIA sets out the guiding principles and framework underpinning interstate and New Zealand fire and emergency service resource sharing arrangements. During the course of our hearings, we heard from a number of current and former members of CCOSC on how this works in practice. While some referred, in terms, to CCOSC decisions  the material before us supports the conclusion that ‘the operative decisions are those of the individual members’  and any ‘CCOSC decision’ or vote on resource sharing is not binding on a jurisdiction. However, during the course of CCOSC meetings, members make agreements to share resources.  Mr Stuart Ellis AM, AFAC’s Chief Executive Officer, emphasised that CCOSC members have their own legal responsibilities imposed by their jurisdictional emergency management arrangements. 
3.47 In addition to three scheduled meetings a year, CCOSC can be convened for emergency meetings, at which CCOSC members discuss resource sharing requests and availability of resources. Emergency CCOSC meetings provide a forum for establishing national situational awareness and information sharing between jurisdictions. The role of CCOSC in Australian Government crisis management arrangements is footnoted in the AGCMF as ‘limited to information sharing on operational matters during significant events’. 
The National Resource Sharing Centre
3.48 The AFAC National Resource Sharing Centre (NRSC), established in 2016,  facilitates interstate and international sharing of resources.  In 2017, NRSC was repositioned to directly support CCOSC.  The NRSC gives effect to interstate and international resource sharing decisions discussed within CCOSC. It has been variously described to us as an ‘operational enabler’ of national capability for fire and emergency services, that ‘brokers’ the filling of resource requests from state and territory agencies, but does not itself direct the deployment of resources. 
3.49 The NRSC also maintains the AIA.  The Guiding Principles of the AIA were endorsed by Australian, state and territory governments at the MCPEM meeting in November 2019.  The AIA is supported by an Operating Plan, which sets out detailed arrangements for the deployment of resources.  AFAC is named as the ‘coordinating authority’ for international fire management resources sharing arrangements between Australia and the United States and Canada, to which EMA is a signatory. 
3.50 The NRSC’s role in facilitating interstate and international deployments includes administrative support. Depending on the requirements for a particular domestic deployment, that may include sending a NRSC representative to participate in the administration and management of the deployment.  The NRSC Operating Plan 2020-21 describes in detail the NRSC role in outbound and inbound international deployments, which includes tasks ranging from compiling the deployment plan, safety plan, fatigue management plan, and critical incident plan, to administrative tasks such as booking travel.  The plan also states, in relation to domestic deployments, that:
The NRSC coordinates the movement and tracking of resources as they deploy interstate and develops plans for subsequent rotations. The NRSC maintains national situational reporting on interstate deployments and through ongoing liaison, maintains an awareness of national capability and resource availability. The NRSC subsequently coordinates any required backfill of resources returning to home locations. 
The National Aerial Firefighting Centre
3.51 The National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC), established in 2003, coordinates the procurement of some aerial firefighting services on behalf of state and territory emergency services. A Resource Management Agreement  governs the relationship between AFAC and the state and territory governments with regard to NAFC. That agreement facilitates the sharing of aerial firefighting assets. Other aerial firefighting assets are also procured directly by state and territory governments.
Other AFAC business units and other national collaboration work
3.52 AFAC is the managing partner of the AIDR, which is responsible for developing, maintaining and sharing knowledge and learning to support national disaster resilience.  AIDR is funded by the Department of Home Affairs and is a consortium that includes the Australian Government, the Australian Red Cross and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre.
3.53 AFAC facilitates national collaboration between fire and emergency services through its ‘Collaboration Model’, which encompasses 34 working groups, technical groups and networks.  The groups may include representatives from members, affiliate members, and other organisations. Working groups (such as the Australian Inter‑Service Incident Management System Steering Group and the Warnings Group) are formally linked to the AFAC Council and have agreed work plans. Technical Groups (such as the Bushfire Standards Technical Group and the Hazardous Materials Technical Group) seek to explore and resolve technical or practical aspects of industry practice. Networks include the Emergency Management Professionalisation Panel. We discuss the work of some of these groups elsewhere in this report.
3.54 ‘National doctrine’, which is made up of positions and guidelines, are endorsed as the view of AFAC National Council.  National doctrine includes ‘capstone’ doctrine (such as the ‘Strategic Directions for Fire and Emergency Services in Australia and New Zealand’), fundamental doctrine (such as ‘Classifying Bushfire Fuels in Australia’), procedural doctrine (such as ‘Managing Fatigue in Emergency Response’) and technical doctrine (such as ‘Conduct Complex Prescribed Burn’). 
The effectiveness of existing national arrangements
Beneficial growth to fill a void
3.55 The functions performed by CCOSC, NRSC, NAFC, and more broadly, AFAC, have evolved and expanded over time. While this expansion has been beneficial to the national interest, the functions now extend significantly beyond their original intent.
3.56 In particular, CCOSC was created to provide ‘jurisdictional consideration and representation on behalf of AFAC Council to the Federal Government’.  It appears to have been created after ANZEMC rejected a proposal, originating from EMA, to establish a representative group of operational emergency management leaders at a national level.  At that time, there was no senior officers group for fire and emergency services. 
3.57 The current terms of reference now reflect CCOSC’s clear operational focus. Box 3.1 highlights the differences between the original and current terms of reference, reflecting the considerable evolution of CCOSC’s functions since inception.
3.58 State and territory governments have increasingly used interstate resource sharing to meet the demands of responding to natural disasters: 
- According to AFAC, the first known example of large-scale resource sharing was in 1994 for the fires in NSW.
- Further significant movements of resources interstate took place in 1999 (Sydney hailstorm), 2001 (NSW fires), 2002-2003 (Victorian Alpine fires), 2006‑2007 (Victorian Alpine fires) and 2009 (Victorian Black Saturday bushfires).
- The 2019‑2020 bushfire season resulted in the movement of thousands of interstate and hundreds of international firefighters in support of firefighting operations.
3.59 National resource sharing arrangements have evolved from being largely informal. Many resource movements used to take place with little in the way of underpinning documentation, and were based on personal relationships and, at best, bilateral understandings. There was no national picture, or a shared ‘common operating picture’.  The first version of the AIA was drafted in 2013, which documented arrangements for resources to be shared across Australia and New Zealand. 
3.60 The NRSC has been increasingly used to coordinate deployments nationally and internationally, as the scale and complexity of emergencies and disaster have grown across the globe. The NRSC coordinated outbound deployments to Canada in 2017, and the United States and Canada in 2018. It also coordinated resource sharing for Cyclone Debbie in 2017, the Queensland fires of 2018, and the Tasmanian fires of early 2019. However, AFAC has stated that 2019‑2020 was the first year that the NRSC became heavily involved in coordinating domestic resource sharing. 
3.61 The NRSC played an important and expanded role in relation to ‘strategic planning’ during the 2019‑2020 bushfires. In December 2019, the NRSC produced the ‘2019 Bushfire Strategic Planning Report’.  That report, based on input from each state and territory fire and emergency service,  provided an overview of the capacity of each jurisdiction and provided forward planning and situational awareness of what each state and territory fire and emergency service would make available. The NRSC then provided weekly situation reporting to CCOSC, which was intended to give a snapshot of the resource sharing across each state and territory. 
3.62 However, the strategic planning and situational awareness provided by the NRSC was limited to state and territory government resources, based only on NRSC deployments or high-level summary information provided by fire and emergency services. Resources can be, and were, shared between state and territory governments directly through bilateral agreements or cross-border arrangements made outside of the NRSC and CCOSC arrangements. Nevertheless, we heard from members of CCOSC that the NRSC assisted by providing an important national picture of the deployment of fire services resources and resourcing needs during the 2019‑2020 bushfires. 
Box 3.1 The evolving functions of CCOSC
CCOSC’s original terms of reference (October 2013) describe CCOSC’s key functions as to:
- ‘consider issues to be presented to ANZEMC and LCCS [Law, Crime and Community Safety] Council’ 
- ‘provide higher level consideration on issues related to the Federal Government and Federal Departments including specifically Attorney‑General’s Department  and Department of Defence’, and
- ‘progress national initiatives through jurisdictional support’. 
CCOSC has since revised its terms of reference to broaden its functions. The latest revision of the terms of reference (July 2019) lists the following as CCOSC’s key functions:
- ‘consider and influence operational issues to be presented to ANZEMC and MCPEM’
- ‘provide consideration on operational issues related to the Commonwealth Government and Commonwealth Departments’
- ‘develop, progress and oversee national fire and emergency services operational capability and capacity, including:
- governance of multi-jurisdictional events
- communications, and
- ‘coordinate national operational matters during significant events, through the CCOSC Emergency Operational Briefing process, and provide an operational reference group for multi-jurisdictional response requirements’
- ‘provide direction to the NRSC in relation to its function of facilitating the interstate and international sharing of resources, by AFAC member agencies, apart from cross-border operations‘, and
- ‘brief AFAC Council on national operational matters of significance’. 
3.63 The NRSC is supported by a small group of permanent employees, and a surge contingent from within AFAC and seconded from fire and emergency services during peak periods.  AFAC has stated that it is not currently staffed to undertake resource sharing on a national scale.  We heard from some state and territory governments and their agencies about the need for ongoing funding for the NRSC.  A similar concern was expressed in the NSW Inquiry into the 2019‑2020 bushfires, which recommended that the NSW Government work with other Australian, state and territory governments to provide long-term funding certainty to AFAC, including the NRSC and NAFC.  In July 2020, CCOSC members endorsed ‘maintaining the status quo of NRSC and to provide additional resources for a further 12-18 months to sustain the upcoming 2020-2021 season’, although ‘any further decisions on the future of the NRSC will be dependent on the outcomes of the Royal Commission’. 
3.64 NAFC, formerly a separate company, became a business unit of AFAC in 2018. AFAC describes NAFC as a ‘relatively small, facilitating unit’.  It has grown from two people (a decade ago) to five full time equivalent staff today.  Presently, NAFC does not have the resources to provide operation-enabling functions for extended periods. We heard that functions such as sourcing and contracting additional resources, dealing with offers of assistance, and supporting resource sharing efforts placed considerable pressure on NAFC’s internal capabilities and systems over the 2019‑2020 fire season. 
3.65 The Australian Government committed to providing NAFC with approximately $15 million per year during the period 2018 to 2021, with total funding amounting to $44.79 million over three years.  For the 2019‑2020 bushfire season the Australian Government provided NAFC with an additional $11 million in December 2019, and a further $20 million in January 2020, increasing its total contribution to $46 million for 2019‑2020. 
3.66 Following the 2019‑2020 bushfire season, CCOSC determined that the NRSC would also facilitate future sharing of aviation services.  NAFC would focus on its central procurement functions. 
3.67 Most state and territory government participants consider that CCOSC, NRSC and NAFC have worked well. Chief Officer, Tasmania Fire Service, Chris Arnol said:
AFAC played a key coordinating role through its National Resource Sharing Centre (NRSC) and the underpinning inter-jurisdictional agreements. 
3.68 CCOSC co-chair, Director-General of EMA, Mr Robert Cameron OAM, told us:
The CCOSC is an extremely valuable vehicle for assisting and creating a shared national operating picture. 
3.69 Other states and territories are similarly positive about the benefit of CCOSC as a forum for sharing situational awareness.
3.70 Each of CCOSC, NRSC and NAFC has evolved and expanded to respond to emerging needs in emergency management, responding to gaps and the evolution of emergency response in the face of significant natural disasters. They have done so incrementally, with the objective of enhancing emergency management across Australia, noting AFAC’s focus on a particular subset of disasters.
Tensions between interests
3.71 AFAC’s business units and initiatives, such as CCOSC, NRSC and NAFC, are designed to meet the needs and objectives of AFAC’s members, which are primarily the state and territory fire and emergency services. As explained by AFAC:
These AFAC business units and initiatives are industry driven with a strong degree of ownership by fire and emergency agencies. Membership of AFAC acts as a force multiplier for fire and emergency service agencies, giving them access to and influence over the creation of national doctrine, gaining insight and learning of best practice across AFAC agencies and allowing them to draw on resources from across Australia, New Zealand and beyond to support emergency management. 
3.72 However, the needs and objectives of AFAC’s members will not necessarily align with those of neighbouring states or territories, let alone those of the nation as a whole. Each head of a state and territory fire and emergency service has responsibilities and accountabilities under their jurisdiction’s emergency management framework. There is no requirement (nor would there be expected to be) for such leaders to be accountable to the public in other states or territories, or to the whole nation. For example, Commissioner Georgeina Whelan AM CSC, ACT Emergency Services Agency, said:
I represent the Emergency Services Agency of the ACT and I represent my jurisdiction and I’m going to fight to the death for the resources that my jurisdiction requires, and bid very hard to win those resources. And as a - as a good citizen and colleague, where I have resources that are available, I’m going to make CCOSC aware of what resources I am willing to make available to deploy interstate. But, ultimately, I’m not authorised to make decisions on whether one jurisdiction is more worthy of a resource than another…
It may be that CCOSC is an ideal organisation to provide situational awareness, make professional recommendation and advice, but certainly not making decisions about the national interest versus the jurisdiction, I would imagine. 
3.73 Similarly, Mr Stuart Ellis AM, the Chief Executive Officer of AFAC stated:
I would argue that introducing the concept of ‘in the national interest’ to fire and emergency resource movements is potentially misleading. The resources of state and territory (and New Zealand) fire and emergency services are paid for by the taxpayers of those jurisdictions, with the express purpose of meeting emergencies within that jurisdiction. They are largely made up of volunteers who will generally have a local focus. It is one thing to lend resources that are surplus to requirements to another jurisdiction in need. The idea however, that resources that are needed to combat an emergency in state ‘A’ could be coercively moved to state ‘B’ based on a conception of ‘national interest’ is at odds with the way those resources are composed and financed. 
3.74 The questions of national interest and national prioritisation raise two considerations. First, a body considering whether actions are in the national interest, or how to prioritise finite resources and capabilities when simultaneous demand exists, should have an appropriately transparent and accountable authorising environment. Second, that body should have available to it all relevant information to inform the question of the ‘national interest’.
3.75 CCOSC’s development over time has benefited emergency management significantly. However, we are concerned about the authorising environment in which CCOSC makes, or purports to make decisions, and the extent to which existing arrangements are appropriately adapted to making decisions that factor in the best interests of Australia as a whole.
3.76 We are not suggesting that the Australian Government (or another jurisdiction for that matter) should have the ability to command or requisition another state or territory government’s resources.
3.77 However, although AFAC has undertaken national coordination functions, it is a company and not a part of government, nor accountable to government, nor the nation. Further, although CCOSC has the benefit of information shared by the state and territory fire and emergency services and EMA, it does not have awareness of, direct access to, or support of, the entire suite of capabilities the Australian Government may be able to provide.
3.78 In 2019, EMA developed a Resource Prioritisation Guidance Note  that provided high‑level principles for prioritising resources between jurisdictions in complex circumstances.  It was intended to act as a guide for jurisdictions to inform decision making as to national prioritisation, and set out agreed prioritisation criteria and a priority order (starting with the protection of human life). The guidance note does not create authority, mandate action, or change or impact current jurisdictional, CCOSC or national disaster decision making. Rather, we heard that the guidance note clarified custom or practice around the guiding principles for sharing resources.  The guidance note was endorsed by officials nationally through ANZEMC and CCOSC in 2020. 
3.79 We are uncertain of the extent to which this guidance note is capable of influencing, let alone ensuring, the approach that state and territory fire and emergency services take to decision-making in the midst of a national disaster. Legal obligations, and operational need, will prevail over non-binding guidance.
3.80 This tension of interests between national outcomes and state or territory objectives will become more challenging to manage in the midst of compound disasters.  In catastrophic circumstances, when the finite national resources are insufficient, difficult and complex, decisions about resource sharing, including resources funded in whole or in part by the Australian Government, will require regard to whole‑of‑nation interests. In the extreme, it may involve making choices that prioritise the needs of one or more states or territories over another.
3.81 National coordination arrangements for natural disasters should facilitate decision‑making that takes into account the national interest.
AFAC’s contribution to policy development
3.82 AFAC’s role and collaborative approach has improved the capabilities of the emergency services sector, as well as its professionalisation and technical policy development. Some suggest that, without AFAC, and its forums and working groups, limited progress would have been made on a number of important national projects.
3.83 However, the pace of AFAC’s policy development work is impeded by the priority fire and emergency services must give to the operational demands of the disaster seasons. As stated by Mr Ellis, the CEO of AFAC:
Any significant national policy development is impacted by the fact that fire services are not able to focus on research and strategic initiatives during the summer season (approximately October to March) because of operational priorities. AFAC ceases all collaboration meeting activity during this period. There is, therefore, a limited window in which to consider and progress national initiatives of this nature that require research, consultation, national consideration and debate. 
3.84 This challenge in balancing continuous policy development against immediate response is reflected in the time needed to progress a number of policies, such as the Australian Warning System. This project has taken several years and is yet to be implemented, circling between research and a lack of consensus between CCOSC members. The challenges surrounding this project are canvassed in further detail in Chapter 13: Emergency information and warnings.
3.85 In light of the disaster outlook, we are concerned that national policy development will continue to be put ‘on hold’ as priorities shift to operations under these arrangements. Increasingly frequent and intense disasters, along with lengthening disaster seasons, are likely to place constant and increasing pressure on the workload of fire and emergency services to focus on preparing for, and delivering, immediate response and relief. As operational priorities extend with the lengthening of the severe weather season, the window of opportunity for policy development will further decrease.
3.86 There is a meaningful prospect that national policy development will be delayed or even stall, over the medium to long‑term. Australia’s disaster outlook requires continuous attention to reduce long‑term disaster risk, and improved disaster resilience. Emergency management policy work must actively support longer term preparation, resilience and recovery – its urgency is no less immediate than operational response. Investment in sound policy will be critical to comprehensive emergency management across all phases into future years.
3.87 National arrangements for disaster management should provide elevated and constant year-round focus on national policy development for disaster management, across all phases.
3.88 AFAC is a not-for-profit company representative of the fire and emergency services ‘industry’, whose members are primarily operationally driven, with expertise for emergency management. This limits its ability to consider holistically broader risks, in which the sector does not have expertise. To try and address this limitation, AFAC can, and does, draw on external advice (such as research), to gain additional insights.
3.89 In developing strategic advice for governments, government departments work together so that ministers are aware of different interests from a range of portfolios before making a decision with national or state-wide implications. Development of public policy related to disaster management delivers government commitments and programs, and to that end, is most appropriately led by those who are accountable to the public.
3.90 Development of public policy for disaster management that has national implications should be led by governments and their agencies so that the policy development processes can benefit from consideration of all aspects of natural disasters, and ensure appropriate accountability.
Authorised national response coordination arrangements
3.91 While the scope of AFAC and its initiatives has evolved over time and has been increasingly used for national coordination, Australian, state and territory governments have not reconciled this expansion with nationally-endorsed arrangements in which they participate.
3.92 This can be seen when comparing the activities of CCOSC with those of the NCC. Over the 2019‑2020 bushfire season, planned and emergency meetings of CCOSC were used by state and territory fire and emergency services for national situational awareness, and to discuss requests for interstate and international resources. CCOSC, a sub‑committee of the AFAC Board, met nine times, and we heard that there was ‘frequent and ongoing engagements at operational level’, that ministers were ‘well engaged’ and there was not ‘a particular need for a rolling series of National Crisis Committees to share information’.  We heard that there is significant overlap in the material that is discussed at both forums and that these information flows could be streamlined.  While there is an overlap of membership, there is no structural link between the NCC and CCOSC.  Australia’s existing national crisis response mechanism, the NCC, only met twice over the 2019‑2020 severe weather season.
3.93 A key difference between CCOSC and NCC is their authorising environments and representation. NCC is recognised in the AGCMF as being the appropriate crisis committee to facilitate cooperation and coordination between the Australian Government and the relevant states and territory government(s) in response to domestic crises. The AGCMF, then, and now, recognises CCOSC but states that ‘CCOSC’s role in Australian Government crisis management arrangements is limited to information sharing on operational matters during significant events’. 
3.94 CCOSC appeared to function in lieu of the NCC during the 2019‑2020 bushfires,  despite CCOSC not having the breadth of expertise the NCC has at its disposal to consider all aspects of risk and that CCOSC’s role had extended well beyond that contemplated in the AGCMF.
3.95 CCOSC members have endorsed a proposal to reposition CCOSC as a subcommittee of ANZEMC, rather than as a subcommittee of the AFAC Board.  We do not consider that this resolves the relevant tensions. There would be less difficulty with this proposal if CCOSC activities were simply aligned with ANZEMC’s policy remit. However, reporting to ANZEMC on response does little to address our concern that CCOSC appeared to have subsumed the role of the NCC. 
3.96 Some state and territory governments expressed concern to us about the use of NCC to ensure national situational awareness and national coordination. One state suggested that NCC is dominated by Australian Government agencies due to its historical function, which it asserts was to share information to support Australian Government coordination. 
3.97 NCC, as it is currently constructed, may not be appropriately conducive to the levels of national cooperation required to support coordination in the national interest in response to a national natural disaster. National coordination should be supported by arrangements that are nationally endorsed, and accountable. The NCC or a similar arrangement should be refreshed to that end.
Accountability and transparency
3.98 The changes to Australia’s national arrangements for coordinating disaster management that are contemplated in this chapter are substantive and structural. It has been therefore necessary to set out the current arrangements in detail.
3.99 It is also necessary to do so because much of the detail of the operation of those arrangements is not on the public record. Some information on the operations of AFAC, CCOSC and the NRSC is publicly available, such as in AFAC’s annual reports and strategic achievement reports. However, that information is relatively limited. The detail of the arrangements which we have had the benefit of considering is not ordinarily open to public scrutiny in the same way as it would be had the arrangements been conducted under the auspices of government.
3.100 Queries about the suitability of AFAC’s accountability and transparency are not new. For example, Mr Robert Cameron OAM expressed concerns to us, and to CCOSC, as to ‘whether the authorising environment for inter-jurisdictional resource sharing via the NRSC is appropriately created under the auspices of AFAC a non-profit company’.  Mr Paul Baxter, President of AFAC and Commissioner, Fire and Rescue NSW, and previously Chief Executive and National Commander, New Zealand Fire Service, told us that ‘there has been discussion in the past even that AFAC could be set up as a statutory body to allay some of the fears around accountability and transparency and we’re not adverse to that either’. 
3.101 CCOSC is a sub-committee of the AFAC Board and the NRSC is a functional capability managed by AFAC. Mr Ellis, CEO of AFAC, expressed the view that AFAC has ‘robust practical and legal accountability mechanisms’  and that AFAC’s status as a not-for-profit company was the most appropriate governance option, as it allows AFAC to perform its roles efficiently and collaboratively.  We acknowledge that AFAC’s governance mechanisms include obligations that apply by reason of AFAC’s status as a registered charity, and some limited obligations under AIDR and NAFC contractual arrangements, including reporting against deliverables. AFAC has also reported on its achievements against the Strategic Directions for Fire and Emergency Services in Australia and New Zealand 2017-2021 to ministers with responsibility for law, policing and emergency services. 
3.102 However, AFAC (and its business units including the NRSC and NAFC) is not subject to the same accountability and oversight as public sector bodies. For example, while AFAC’s member agencies may be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny, freedom of information legislation and performance audit, AFAC is not. 
3.103 We heard a variety of views about the accountability for CCOSC decisions. Most members of CCOSC identified the accountability of members to individual jurisdictions,  and others indicating that accountability was not clear.  CCOSC does not formally report to any intergovernmental committees or councils.
3.104 In circumstances where decisions about the sharing of resources are discussed and made at CCOSC meetings (even if not made ‘by’ CCOSC as such), and where it is anticipated that difficult decisions about prioritisation of resources between jurisdictions will be made at CCOSC meetings, we agree with CCOSC’s co-chair Mr Cameron, Director-General EMA that such decisions should be made ‘under the clear auspices of governments’. 
3.105 AFAC informed us that the NRSC, as a functional capability managed by AFAC,  has no powers of direction regarding the deployment of resources.  While its staff report to the AFAC CEO, AFAC states that the performance of the NRSC is ‘accountable to CCOSC’.  AFAC suggested that one option to provide assurance for NRSC and NAFC would be to strengthen governance arrangements that apply to the NRSC and NAFC through Australian Government funding agreements.  In our view, that option does not adequately provide for the operational nature and significance of the NRSC’s evolving functions.
3.106 We heard concerns from AFAC and some state and territory government agencies about clearly capturing the functions of NRSC and NAFC within the auspices of government. AFAC suggests that the NRSC has been a significant success, and any move could compromise the principle of subsidiarity and a strong sense of industry ownership and responsibility.  Similarly, Fire and Rescue NSW has argued that NRSC and NAFC ‘are the right bodies to continue this work as they have the confidence of the sector across the states and internationally’.  Fire and Rescue NSW emphasised that the ‘the functions of NRSC and NAFC have been built by the sector with a high level of trust and commitment from the agencies’. 
3.107 The NSW Independent Inquiry into the 2019‑2020 bushfires expressed similar concerns, suggesting:
The Inquiry is concerned that changes to this overarching structure would lead to greater bureaucratisation of AFAC functions, which in turn could have a negative impact on existing flexibility and responsiveness. The Inquiry notes that NAFC and NRSC functions are largely operationally focussed, and that moving away from the current model may be perceived as contrary to the widely accepted principle that combat agencies are best placed to determine operational requirements. 
3.108 We disagree. These are critical functions, the performance of which has national implications for the future. Ensuring that these functions are undertaken by government would mean that NRSC and NAFC would be subject to appropriate transparency, accountability and responsiveness mechanisms.
3.109 Discussions and decisions that facilitate consideration of national policies and the sharing of government resources in natural disasters should fall within the clear auspices of governments.
3.110 The functions performed by NRSC and NAFC should be subject to public sector accountability and oversight, to provide greater public confidence.
Clear, robust and accountable national arrangements
Australia’s future challenge
3.111 We recognise that disaster management in Australia has benefited from the collective efforts of Australian, state and territory government agencies working together, including those aspects conducted through AFAC.
3.112 The 2019‑2020 bushfire season tested national coordination arrangements significantly. As described in the Australian Institute For Disaster Resilience’s Major Incidents Report for the 2019‑2020 bushfire season:
Across Australia in 2019–20, responses by front-line emergency operation and disaster recovery services, provided by state and territory agencies, was one of the most significant of modern history. Independent but concurrent natural hazard impacts and their compounding effects, followed quickly by the arrival of a pandemic and its sustained influence on Australia’s community and economy, required new levels of cooperation nationally and drew on a very broad range of services and capabilities from Australian Government agencies, including the Australian Defence Force (ADF). 
3.113 However, the 2019‑2020 severe weather season provided only a glimpse of the types of events that Australia is likely to face in the future, and the level of national coordination that will be required. National arrangements need to be equipped to support Australia’s future needs.
3.114 Better national coordination is required to enable significant reduction in disaster risks and impacts in the future. Australia is facing increasingly frequent and intense natural disasters, a significant number of which are likely to be compounding. Governments will need to prepare for more large-scale, multijurisdictional crises. Clear, robust and accountable arrangements for national coordination will greatly assist with addressing these future challenges.
3.115 Broadly, the key elements by which Australia’s natural disaster arrangements need to be supported will involve an all-hazards approach to the following:
- strategic leadership, involving collective decision-making by Australian, state and territory government ministers
- strategic advice to ministers from Australian, state and territory government senior officials, and
- a clear, robust, and accountable national coordination mechanism that consolidates policy and operational inputs nationally, led by the Australian Government.
- Figure 14 depicts, at a high level, our view of the way improved national arrangements could work.
Figure 14: Simplified diagram of indicative high-level arrangements
Strategic leadership and advice
3.116 Natural disasters can have profound national impacts – at times, those impacts may exceed community expectations. For example, we heard several times that the scale of the 2019‑2020 bushfires was ‘unprecedented’.  While not necessarily a natural disaster, COVID-19 has resulted in global and domestic fatalities and disruptions on an unanticipated scale.
3.117 Strategic decisions require a broad view of long-term consequences, including unintended consequences, and must account for risks in a complex and sometimes ambiguous environment. These decisions require an appreciation of factors far beyond the operational focus that is required to combat or contain an immediate disaster. For example, the health impacts of future natural disasters may require a national response.  We examine the national arrangements for the health impacts of natural disasters in Chapter 15: Health.
3.118 We can envisage strategic decisions that would need to be made before, during and after a disaster that would have national implications. Without limiting the circumstances that might require strategic national decisions, these decisions could concern:
- strategic plans that describe the way that Australia will prepare for, respond to, and recover from a national level disaster, including economic and social aspects
- national priorities, including the use and allocation of finite resources
- whether to proceed with rapid mobilisation of Australian Government resources to support state and territory jurisdictions
- a shared communication strategy to promote social cohesion, and
- whether to activate financial assistance.
3.119 These types of strategic decisions need to be made by Australian, state and territory government ministers, who are accountable to Australian citizens. This is consistent with principles of accountability embedded within Australia’s Constitutional arrangements. As noted by the 1976 Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration:
It is through ministers that the whole of the administration—departments, statutory bodies and agencies of one kind and another—is responsible to the Parliament and thus, ultimately, to the people. 
3.120 Further, the Prime Minister and first ministers, in particular, are responsible for their governments and, therefore, leadership in a national crisis. This leadership is a reflection of the priority that governments place on the protection of the community and emergency response.  As explained by Mr Peter Jennings PSM, Executive Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute:
…we have something here which is deserving of, you know, the highest level of national priority. And at the end of the day in our system, that means the Prime Minister will naturally want to be shaping and leading how this structure should operate. 
3.121 Ministers can, and for practical reasons must, delegate some decisions to senior officials. For example, ministers cannot, and should not, be making day-to-day operational decisions about the use of fire and emergency services, let alone tactical decisions on the fire ground itself. This would be inconsistent with both the principles of subsidiarity and operational independence, and significantly reduce the flexibility of combat agencies to respond effectively to disasters. As explained by AFAC:
…the idea that a body of politicians, however senior, should be making decisions about operational response would appear heterodox to the majority of professional emergency managers. Operational decisions may need to be made in a timeframe of minutes and against a breadth and depth of technical experience that political leaders do not have. 
3.122 For ministers to gain an appreciation of broader risks, they also need to be informed by all relevant portfolios within government so that ministers are aware of, and can take into account, the full range of considerations impacting on the discharge of their portfolio responsibilities and ministerial accountabilities.
National Cabinet as a model
3.123 An intergovernmental process like the National Cabinet provides a potential model for a strategic forum for disasters with national implications. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability of the National Cabinet to receive expert advice collectively and directly has proven to be particularly valuable.  The direct provision of advice by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC)  and the COVID-19 National Co-ordinating Commission (subsequently named the National COVID‑19 Commission Advisory Board)  to the National Cabinet has demonstrated how advisory groups can bring together relevant expertise to support ministerial decision making by governments on issues of national importance.
3.124 For example, while the AHPPC has an ongoing role in advising the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council,  during the COVID-19 pandemic, the AHPPC has also provided advice directly to first ministers at the same time. Professor Brendan Murphy, Secretary of the Australian Government Department of Health and formerly Chief Medical Officer and chair of the AHPPC during the early stages of the pandemic, described this arrangement as having ‘removed five layers of bureaucracy,’ and as having been an ‘incredibly powerful and responsive mechanism’ in dealing with a national crisis such as COVID‑19. 
3.125 Having advisory groups report directly to the National Cabinet when required has ensured collective decision making and that the same advice is delivered to all jurisdictions at the same time. In responding to the COVID‑19 pandemic first ministers have been able to apply this national advice in their own jurisdictional context, and provide a tailored response appropriate to their local needs. 
3.126 Mr Michael Pezzullo AO, Secretary of the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, illustrated how such arrangements might work, using the National Cabinet as a model in the context of a future national natural disaster:
…the National Cabinet, would make a number of binding decisions because of the way the National Cabinet is working. Constitutionally they are pooling their sovereignty. And so, in effect, nine sovereign governments would say: okay, we’ve heard about the risk, we’ve heard about the preparedness side, we’ve heard about the concurrency side. We’ve taken advice from our experts, the chiefs of the fire and emergency services about pooled resources. 
3.127 An advisory group responsible for strategic policy and operational advice on disaster management, would be a valuable addition to national arrangements for disaster management. Such a group could consolidate advice across Australian, state and territory government agencies, and other appropriate experts, about disaster management for ministers. This would provide ministers with a clearer understanding of the short, medium and long-term impacts of decisions, and their flow-on implications to other areas of policy, such as education, health, community development and essential services, to name but a few.
3.128 An advisory body should be a standing group that enables development of strategic policy across all phases of disaster management. It should not be limited to operating in times of crisis or disaster.
3.129 However, the Australian Government cautioned against exact replication of the National Cabinet model for national natural disasters:
This function should be tasked to a subordinate body of responsible Ministers in each jurisdiction either reporting to the National Cabinet or the National Federation Reform Council. 
3.130 We are not suggesting an exact replication. While the AHPPC provides a useful model, emergency management raises a broader range of issues. The role of the AHPPC is focused on health protection matters and national priorities.  In contrast, a new advisory body would have a holistic approach to all disasters and disaster risk, and, in response to a disaster, would draw on a wide range of expertise relevant to that specific type of disaster — whether floods, bushfires or hailstorms, for example, and with an eye to compounding events, such as cyber-attacks.
3.131 In light of this holistic approach, dictating a set structure for each type of hazard is inflexible and would not provide the means to consolidate policy and operational advice across governments. Similar to AHPPC, senior representatives from each state and territory governments, and the Australian Government, could draw on advice from a range of sources, particularly from bodies like CCOSC, as and when required.
3.132 State and territory governments told us that they were cautious or concerned about ministers making operational decisions for which officials from state and territory fire and emergency services have responsibility under legislation.  This is not our proposal, nor would it be effective. We agree with the position put by Mr Philip Gaetjens, Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet:
National Cabinet could focus on supplementing rather than supplanting jurisdictions’ operational-level coordination mechanisms. I emphasise here the importance of subsidiarity - a policy construct under which roles are delegated to the lowest level of government possible, in order for the response on the ground to best meet the needs of the community. 
3.133 In ordinary circumstances, intergovernmental processes could provide that a subordinate group of responsible ministers lead, monitor and track progress of the development of this strategic policy work. Where necessary, complex challenges that inhibit progress on strategic national policies could be escalated to the Prime Minister and first ministers for consideration.
3.134 We emphasise the importance of intergovernmental processes that provide national level senior leaders with the ability to direct strategic policy initiatives with purpose and urgency. Some national frameworks and strategies have taken years to gain national endorsement. For example, the NDRRF was finalised in 2018, but only endorsed by first ministers in 2020.  In other instances, we have been unable to determine a framework or strategy’s implementation status. We discuss this issue further in the context of accountability and assurance in Chapter 24: Assurance and accountability.
3.135 To respond to a crisis, the Prime Minister and first ministers should have the ability to request advice directly from an advisory body. We consider that the Prime Minister’s and first ministers’ authority is critical for strategic decision‑making concerning disasters that have national implications. These disasters require significant collaboration across senior leaders within, across and outside governments.
3.136 Ministers might not always be able to agree on particular issues. Where consensus is not possible, national deliberation and progress should still be pursued – an absence of consensus should not condemn progress for a majority for want of agreement.  These factors should be considered as part of reviewing intergovernmental processes. The functions of the new advisory body should align with the relevant ministerial forum so that there is clear authority for the advisory body to collate efforts across governments. Existing ministerial forums and intergovernmental committees such as the MCPEM, under which ANZEMC sits, are under review, and would not be appropriate for the proposed intergovernmental process. The review will provide recommendations to National Cabinet before the end of 2020.
3.137 The structure and processes of ANZEMC are not appropriate for the new advisory body.
Recommendation 3.1 Forum for ministers
Australian, state and territory governments should restructure and reinvigorate ministerial forums with a view to enabling timely and informed strategic decision‑making in respect of:
- long-term policy improvement in relation to natural disasters
- national preparations for, and adaptation to, natural disasters, and
- response to, and recovery from, natural disasters of national scale or consequence
including, where appropriate, through the National Cabinet or equivalent intergovernmental leaders’ body.
Recommendation 3.2 Establishment of an authoritative disaster advisory body
Australian, state and territory governments should establish an authoritative advisory body to consolidate advice on strategic policy and relevant operational considerations for ministers in relation to natural disasters.
An enhanced national coordination mechanism
3.138 Improving national coordination in the face of natural disasters requires enhanced inputs across disaster resilience and all phases of disaster management. Improving Australia’s approach is important to manage short, medium and long-term impacts that arise from disasters.
3.139 While state and territory governments should continue to have primary responsibility for responding to natural disasters, in light of the future risks that Australia is facing, state and territory governments will not be able to manage the short, medium and long-term impacts alone. Greater support and assistance is required from the Australian Government, especially for disasters that are of such scale or complexity that they have implications, and need to be led, at the national-level.
National resilience and risk reduction functions
3.140 Improving disaster resilience and risk reduction is required to lessen the long-term impacts of increasingly frequent and intense natural disasters. Resilience requires sustained focus supported by strategic policy insights.
3.141 In February 2011, COAG agreed to a National Strategy for Disaster Resilience, which states:
Building upon our existing emergency planning arrangements, we need to focus more on action-based resilience planning to strengthen local capacity and capability, with greater emphasis on community engagement and a better understanding of the diversity, needs, strengths and vulnerabilities within communities. 
3.142 In 2018, the NDRRF was released, which built on the work of the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience:
[The NDRRF] is designed to leverage the great work and progress made across all sectors since the release of the NSDR in 2011 to better understand and reduce disaster risks, improve resilience and bolster the capability and capacity of communities to withstand natural hazards. 
3.143 Over the last decade, a series of national partnership agreements has been agreed between the Australian, state and territory governments that involve significant funding commitments to improve disaster resilience and risk reduction. The most recent agreement from 2020 resulted in Australian, state and territory governments committing $261 million over five years to implement risk reduction initiatives. 
3.144 Evaluating Australia’s success against frameworks like the NDRRF is important so that governments, businesses and individuals have confidence that Australia continues to reduce disaster risk. This is especially so in light of our alarming disaster outlook. This is discussed in further detail in Chapter 24: Assurance and accountability.
3.145 We are concerned about the extent to which broader work across governments relating to disaster risk is integrated. For example, the National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy, which is led by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, does not appear to be integrated with the NDRRF. We would expect a direct and articulated relationship, across government frameworks and strategies, in light of the link between natural hazards and climate risk.
3.146 Mr Gaetjens, Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, told us, in relation to improving resilience, that: 
- Building resilience by reducing disaster risk involves long timescales, short-and long-term trade-offs, and high levels of uncertainty.
- No single agency, portfolio or level of government controls all the levers to reduce risk.
- Different actors are exposed to different levels of risk, and have different capabilities to minimize or manage their risk exposure.
- The cost of de-risking retrospectively, or in response to a deteriorating risk outlook, is likely to be higher than the costs of actions to manage risk - particularly when it comes to land-use planning in the built environment. 
3.147 Mr Mark Crossweller AFSM, a former Director-General of EMA, who was intimately involved in the development of the NDRRF, agreed. He emphasised the need to work cooperatively with the private sector throughout implementation of the NDRRF.  He also stated:
So I think, given the systemic and strategic nature of the problem, the key to this is a governance framing that allows that ongoing dialogue and, you know, sensible willing accountabilities and responsibilities. 
3.148 The main focus of the AGCMF is ‘near term crisis preparedness, immediate crisis response and early crisis recovery arrangements. Long term disaster risk reduction and resilience building activities are not covered in detail’ in the AGCMF.  We see value in the Australian Government maintaining a standing function dedicated to championing ‘resilience’ at the national level, as suggested by Mr Gaetjens.  The responsible entity could educate and work collaboratively with partners to embed resilience considerations across the Australian community, including across the Australian, state and territory governments, private sector, non-government organisations and the community. This will support Australia to take a whole-of-nation approach to the reduction of disaster risk.
3.149 The Australian Government should establish a standing disaster resilience function to provide continued focus on reducing long-term disaster risk and harmonising approaches across Australia to achieve risk reduction. A narrow focus on response and recovery would condemn Australia to a continuation of the existing cycle.
National preparedness and response functions
3.150 We see an enhanced role for EMA in the future. EMA has been central to coordinating the Australian Government’s activities during a crisis.  It is responsible for providing situational awareness to the Australian Government and facilitating Australian Government assistance to state and territory governments. We heard that, over the 2019‑2020 bushfire season, Mr Cameron, Director-General of EMA, briefed the Prime Minister directly,  the CCC facilitated two meetings of the NCC, but many more of the AGCC, and the Director‑General worked closely with state and territory fire and emergency services as co-chair of CCOSC meetings. 
3.151 We anticipate that future disasters will require a greater effort on behalf of the Australian, state and territory governments to achieve effective national coordination. While state and territory governments should retain control of their resources, the Australian Government should coordinate nationally for these types of large scale, multijurisdictional disasters, and can play an important leadership role.
3.152 National coordination activities that the Australian Government could undertake include:
- receiving information and advice from governments, non-government entities and the private sector
- providing national situational awareness for all governments, which should involve NCC, or a similar forum, and, where appropriate, CCOSC and other relevant advisors, such as the Bureau of Meteorology, and
- engaging with sectors that ordinarily do not connect but need to connect to respond effectively to a disaster.
These activities are important so that the Australian Government can ensure that a cohesive whole-of-nation perspective is provided to Australian, state and territory government ministers. For example, we heard that the Bureau of Meteorology briefed National Cabinet on natural disaster risks across the country. 
3.153 In response to large scale and multi-jurisdictional disasters, the Australian Government could adopt an approach to national coordination informed by the experience of the NCM.
3.154 EMA already undertakes some of these situational awareness and coordination activities. However, in order to meet the future needs for national situational awareness and coordination, we would suggest that EMA’s role needs to be expanded and enhanced.
3.155 The Australian Government should maintain a standing function to provide national situational awareness and coordination for all governments, based on inputs from relevant sectors.
3.156 Efficiencies would be gained by the Australian Government undertaking the functions of the NRSC. Among other functions, NRSC facilitates interstate and international movements of fire and emergency service resources, including some aerial firefighting assets. States and territories would benefit from an Australian Government agency that has national situational awareness providing this coordination function, as well as enhancements to that function as discussed in Chapter 6: National emergency response capability. In addition, the Australian Government is well positioned to coordinate and integrate a greater range of resources beyond just fire and emergency service resources. For example, the Australian Government could use this mechanism to facilitate movement of other types of resources, such as health equipment. We discuss improvements to national health arrangements in natural disasters in Chapter 15: Health.
3.157 The Australian Government could also be responsible for the procurement functions of NAFC. We see benefits around ensuring clear lines of accountability regarding the significant funding that the Australian Government contributes to NAFC relative to AFAC member contributions. We discuss the need for an enhanced national aerial firefighting capability further in Chapter 8: National aerial firefighting capabilities and arrangements.
3.158 Mr Ellis, CEO of AFAC, raised concerns that the Australian Government conducting the functions of NRSC and NAFC would not best serve ‘fire and emergency services’ and ‘national objectives’:
… there is likely to be a reduced, or no sense of ownership, reduced shared responsibility and reduced collegiality that in turn is likely to reduce trust and confidence in sister agencies. The benefit of the AFAC structure is that it allows the parties to agree on how to move resources to the areas of greatest need. It allows the States and Territories to make decisions about their own resources and, if there are insufficient resources available, for the States and Territories to allocate resources to the agreed highest priority areas and when need be, adjust plans to operate with those resources available. This is crucial because fire and emergency services are a State and Territory responsibility, funded by States and Territories and not a Commonwealth responsibility. On that basis the decision about how to allocate resources should be made by the States and Territories themselves. AFAC’s role (carried out by its functional bodies) is to facilitate and support those discussions. 
3.159 These concerns were echoed by some state and territory governments, which did not support a transition of functions exercised by the NRSC and NAFC to an appropriately funded and supported government entity.  They emphasised that NAFC and NRSC are currently working well. 
3.160 We disagree with the suggestion that conferring NRSC and NAFC’s functions on the Australian Government would result in no sense of ownership, or diminish state and territory government control of their resources. To be clear, consistent with the views of state and territory governments, we do not dispute that state and territory governments should retain control and decision‑making power over their resources. The Australian Government would only facilitate interstate and international deployments after the Australian, state and territory governments make decisions about their own resources.
3.161 Some state and territory governments also raised concerns that the Australian Government does not have the expertise necessary to conduct NRSC and NAFC functions. As stated by NSW:
The NRSC and NAFC are operated by fire service professionals who have the necessary fire management experience and operational knowledge to effectively and responsibly coordinate the provision of assets between jurisdictions. NSW has observed that NAFC and NRSC use effective processes structures and governance arrangements and operate well. 
3.162 We agree with state and territory governments that the Australian Government would need to develop further capabilities to perform this coordination function. Noting EMA and other Australian Government agencies already undertake complex coordination, we do not see this as a barrier to implementation. With appropriate support, the Australian Government could quickly develop capability. Additionally, state and territory governments could second experts on a temporary basis to the Australian Government, in the same way that they presently second personnel to the NRSC. This would also address a concern expressed by Queensland about the need to ensure that any transition does not disrupt activities. 
3.163 Importantly, even if the suggested role was undertaken by the Australian Government, close consultation with state and territory governments would continue to be necessary, to manage relationships and ‘broker’ resource sharing effectively. We consider that relationship management would be key to the success of implementing a broader coordination function.
3.164 The Australian Government should assume, and make, standing arrangements for, the coordination and procurement functions of NAFC and NRSC.
3.165 We stress that we continue to see an important role for AFAC in the future. AFAC has undertaken impressive work to date. It has identified improvements to emergency management arrangements and followed through with those improvements for the benefit of Australia.
3.166 While some functions, in light of their national implications, are best served through public sector accountability, AFAC should continue to remain as a peak body for its members. There is a plethora of projects for which AFAC can continue to lead, particularly progressing and harmonising national doctrine. We heard many positive comments about AFAC from officials within governments, as well as from outside of government, in this regard, and commend its work in this area.
3.167 AFAC should continue to contribute to doctrine development and best practice across the fire and emergency services sector.
3.168 The role of the Australian Government would also involve continuous improvement and preparedness of national arrangements so that all governments are ready when a disaster strikes. National preparedness and response are intimately linked — at the heart of effective response is preparedness. Australia needs to prepare for national disasters so that it can coordinate effectively in response to those disasters. We agree with the assessment of Mr Pezzullo, Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs:
Your responses are going to be better honed with deeper preparation, training and exercising. I don’t want to be glib about this but it’s no different from sport or any other endeavour in life. The more preparation you do, the more planning and training you do, the better off you are on the day, although obviously you need to adjust on the day. 
3.169 We anticipate that, as Australia faces more frequent, intense disasters that are large-scale and/or multi-jurisdictional, state and territory governments are likely to require greater assistance from the Australian Government in response to a disaster. Key to those responses are the NATCATDISPLAN and the COMDISPLAN, the national disaster plans that detail the mechanics for providing Australian Government non-financial assistance to state and territory governments. Both plans are the responsibility of EMA within the Department of Home Affairs. We consider NATCATDISPLAN further in Chapter 5: Declaration of national emergency.
3.170 We heard of uncertainty about the thresholds for requesting assistance under the COMDISPLAN. Some state governments considered that a request under COMDISPLAN required that it exhaust all other available resources. Others considered that a request could be made when exhaustion was possible, or likely. During the 2019‑2020 bushfire season, this uncertainty had implications that potentially delayed requests or resulted in a request for the deployment of the Australian Defence Force not being made. We consider COMDISPLAN further in Chapter 8Chapter 7: Role of the Australian Defence Force.
3.171 We are concerned that, should these thresholds remain unclear, state and territory governments might not leverage, or might not use, available Australian Government resources in a timely way. While the 2019‑2020 bushfires saw assistance from the Australian Defence Force, the Australian Government has a range of other resources available, such as health equipment, which could be necessary in future.
3.172 Mr Pezzulo, Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, has stated that EMA did not adopt a strict interpretation of COMDISPLAN over the 2019‑2020 bushfires, as it would have been impractical in the midst of a disaster:
... we had to throw the rule book out and start to anticipate requests including - and I think Counsel took some witnesses through the exact letter of the doctrine that you have to have exhausted all other possibilities. When something’s burning or when you’re the subject of a global pandemic or when you’re the subject of another catastrophe, human or natural, the last thing you should rely on is a rigid rule book that has lost all contact with the enemy. 
3.173 However, it is apparent that some states and territories were cautious of this approach. We also note and welcomed indications from the Australian Government that it will work with state and territory governments to update the COMDISPLAN to take into account the establishment of the National Cabinet and the NCM. 
Recommendation 3.3 Revise COMDISPLAN
The Australian Government should revise the COMDISPLAN thresholds to provide that a request for Australian Government assistance, including Defence assistance, is able to be made by a state or territory government when:
- it has exhausted, or is ‘likely to exhaust’, all government, community and commercial resources
- it cannot mobilise its own resources (or community and commercial resources) in time, or
- the Australian Government has a capability that the state or territory does not have.
3.174 We agree that national coordination arrangements should be tried and tested before events, so that arrangements are robust and clearly understood by all involved. The challenges around the use of the NATCATDISPLAN and COMDISPLAN could have been identified by strategic scenario testing by the Australian and state and territory governments working together at a national level. Strategic scenario testing, as opposed to an operational focus, allows an evaluation of current policy settings, and whether they facilitate effective intergovernmental inputs and decision-making. Stress testing is an important part of the accountability and assurance process - lessons need to be identified and learnt to enable continuous improvement and best practice in Australia’s approach to disaster management. We discuss this further in Chapter 24: Assurance and accountability.
3.175 In designing these scenarios, it is important that scenarios ‘stress test’ current settings – that is, place people and arrangements in circumstances that test the limits of the arrangements. While not directly relevant to natural disasters, this type of scenario planning has been carried out across other areas of government. For example, Professor Murphy, Secretary of the Australian Government Department of Health, referred to the Department of Health having done ‘a range of desktop modellings and some real life modellings’ in relation to use of a declaration power under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth). 
3.176 The Australian Government should maintain a function that designs and leads strategic scenario testing for natural disasters of national scale or consequence. Scenario testing should involve state and territory governments, as appropriate.
National recovery functions
3.177 We see an enhanced role for the NBRA. The NBRA provides a compelling illustration of the value of national coordination, and of the positive effects of bringing together stakeholders across jurisdictions, sectors and levels of government, and providing strategic direction.
3.178 State, territory and local governments have told us that the NBRA enhances national coordination, empowers communities to pursue their recovery priorities, and facilitates information-sharing.  The activities of NBRA have also built shared situational awareness; enabled jurisdictions and sectors to work together; and influenced decisions to ensure that funding is targeted and effective. The NBRA has demonstrated how a national coordinating body can improve communication and sharing of expertise between jurisdictions.
3.179 While expressing praise for the NBRA’s work, some local governments noted that the rapid stand-up of NBRA in January 2020 and the immediate aftermath of crisis caused confusion and uncertainty.  During the initial stages of its operation, NBRA experienced teething issues as it sought to develop an understanding of its environment, while coordinating the immediate need for assistance.  Local and state governments said that, on occasions, this hampered their ability to engage effectively. 
3.180 Establishment of national coordination of recovery on a standing basis would address many of these concerns and allow for institutional knowledge and relationships between all levels of government, civil society and the private sector to develop and mature. Such a body would not relieve local authorities of their essential role in supporting their communities; but it would support and assist them while ensuring that the Australian Government was able to maintain a nation-wide view of, and provide considered and targeted support for, recovery.
3.181 Establishing a standing national function would also provide the opportunity to plan for national recovery efforts in advance of a disaster. The value of a national, coordinated approach to recovery has been widely recognised, including by state and territory governments.
3.182 National recovery functions should remain on a standing basis and should be expanded to apply to all-hazards, not just bushfires.
Designing and delivering national coordination
3.183 There are a number of different ways that these functions could be designed and delivered. Our approach has been to focus on functions first.  We have considered existing structures and the implications that changes could have.
3.184 Preparedness and response are intimately linked, so it is important that one function informs the other. We understand that EMA currently performs some, but not all of the functions we have proposed as standing functions under response and preparedness.
3.185 We heard that resilience should sit with an expanded, standing recovery function. Both require policy insights and coordination, but more importantly recovery experiences inform resilience initiatives. Damage that needs recovery after one disaster should inform resilience measures (including ‘betterment’) ahead of the next.  We address the value of disaster impact assessments in informing all phases of emergency management in Chapter 4: Supporting better decisions.
3.186 We have also heard a suggestion that resilience and recovery could be undertaken separately from crisis management. Dr Robert Glasser, former United Nations Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, and now a member of the board of the Queensland Reconstruction Authority, suggested that if resilience and recovery are placed with emergency response, the latter will always trump the former. 
3.187 Some states advised that they do not support the establishment of a separate resilience and recovery agency.  Tasmania and the ACT queried why such an agency should have responsibility for resilience and recovery, but not other aspects of emergency management.  WA expressed concern that the agency would not have the flexibility to support community-led recovery.  Several states noted concerns that such an agency could lead to confusion and duplication or disrupt existing relationships.  Finally, Queensland told us that, while supportive of a standing body in principle, it did not support that body having a remit to deal directly with affected people , and Tasmania told us that any such body should not deal directly with local governments. 
3.188 We acknowledge the views of those state governments and suggest that close connections between all disaster management work is necessary – each will be informed by the other. Each is clearly connected and represents a different point, and sometimes simultaneous points, of a cycle. Attempting to put all functions of disaster management in a single agency could lead to seismic shifts in government responsibilities, due to the cross-cutting and multi‑factorial nature of the work.  For example, while Geoscience Australia and the Bureau of Meteorology make significant contributions to informing disaster management, we would not suggest that they should be merged into a single entity within an enhanced EMA.
3.189 Irrespective of the extent to which functions are integrated, the enhanced EMA and NBRA should have clear authority and greater prominence so that these agencies can corral a national perspective across the plethora of frameworks and bodies. The relevant structural arrangements need not be the same for each, but rather should take into account their functions, intersections across government and accountabilities. Each could be continued as units within an Australian Government department, but with greater authority and recognition. Equally, a stand-alone agency might be considered, particularly for NBRA.  An agency would have the benefit of underpinning legislation that provides clear functions and objectives, and ensures public accountability. We heard that establishing a stand-alone agency would reduce bureaucratic overheads, improve learnings over time, and provide a quicker response to disasters. 
3.190 Some of the reservations we heard from state and territory governments might be addressed by separating crisis management and strategic policy, but bringing them together within the same portfolio. Crisis management could be performed by a stand-alone agency, whereas strategic policy could be performed by the government department responsible for the agency. This would establish a strong connection between the two functions, but also ensure necessary separation to supported dedicated focus.
3.191 Importantly, these mechanisms need to be able to be applied across different risks and impacts, not just natural disasters. While our terms of reference are limited to natural disasters, we appreciate that governments will need to consider a range of complex hazards in the future. As Mr Jennings, Executive Director, Australian Strategic Policy Institute remarked:
…we’re likely to continue to have to deal with a range of factors, some of them climate-related, but now also I think health-related, supply chain-related, cyber‑related and so all of these things really do suggest that, ... there is I think time for a bit of new machinery of government to support an emerging and serious level of threats to Australia. 
3.192 The considerations we have outlined for structure are not exhaustive – agility is required to mobilise national coordination in response to the impacts that we have not imagined.
3.193 The form of these arrangements will be a matter for the Australian Government. In our view the form should, however, include the following:
- clear lines of authority, including:
- the ability for senior officials leading national coordination functions to escalate directly to the responsible minister, when appropriate, and
- the ability to coordinate and articulate a holistic perspective on behalf of the Australian Government on natural disasters
- accountability and transparency, so that the public can understand the entities’ functions and progress against longer‑term national objectives, and
- appropriate resourcing, so that entities have sufficient capacity and capability to discharge their responsibilities.
Recommendation 3.4 Integrating disaster management of the Australian Government
Australian Government agencies should work together across all phases of disaster management.
Recommendation 3.5 Establishing a standing resilience and recovery entity
The Australian Government should establish a standing entity that will enhance national natural disaster resilience and recovery, focused on long-term disaster risk reduction.
Recommendation 3.6 Enhanced national preparedness and response entity
The Australian Government should enhance national preparedness for, and response to, natural disasters, building on the responsibilities of Emergency Management Australia, to include facilitating resource sharing decisions of governments and stress testing national disaster plans.
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