Extension of the Emergency Powers under the Management Act - What are the Pros and Cons?
The State Government has been criticised for its recent move to extend emergency powers across Western Australia. What does it mean and how will it affect you?
The McGowan Government has introduced legislation to the state’s parliament to extend the Emergency Management (EM) Act, through until January 2023.
What is the Emergency Management Act?
The EM Act has been in force throughout the pandemic. It is the legislation that has enabled the state government to introduce and enforce ‘directions’ such as those which restrict travel and movement, close borders, enforce lockdowns and other public health measures. In Western Australia, the EM Act is activated when a ‘State of Emergency’ is declared.
What seems to have confused many this time though, is that there appears to be no logical reason for the government to extend Emergency Management powers further – the Covid-19 pandemic is settling, most restrictions across the state have been wound back.
Furthermore, the rest of Australia is moving forward – away from reactive and over-reaching “emergency management” strategies – towards a future of ‘living with Covid-19’ and adapting and adjusting accordingly.
Premier McGowan has defended the move, saying it is designed to preserve the few remaining restrictions, such as limiting movements in and out of remote Aboriginal communities and requiring the isolation of people infected with Covid.
It’s not the first time that emergency powers have been extended in the past couple of years, although some believe that the latest extension is unnecessary, and view it as a “power grab” by the current leadership.
It has been met in Parliament with some controversy, particularly because the government has an alternative – it can make Covid-19 specific rules under the state’s Public Health Act.
How does the Emergency Management Act work?
The Western Australian Emergency Management Act gives ‘authorities’ specific powers to deal with an emergency situation.
Under the Act, an ‘emergency’ means the ‘occurrence or imminent occurrence of a hazard which is of such a nature, or magnitude that it requires a significant and coordinated response.’ Specifically, this means events such as a natural disaster, a terrorism threat, or a pandemic.
Under the Act, a public authority, such as the police or another government agency, is given a role and responsibilities under State EM, and is expected to comply with the relevant State EM Policy, that is the policy that has been developed to manage a particular situation.
However, as we have seen with Covid-19, right across Australia, while these policies are important to have at hand, they are not necessarily the ‘perfect text book’ response plan. As situations change and challenges arise (as occurred with Covid-19) authorities have made decisions that have at times, seemed harsh, and encroached on personal freedoms.
The Emergency Management 2005 Act and the Emergency Management Regulations 2006 Act are both managed by the State Emergency Management Committee (SEMC). Members are appointed by the Minister for Emergency Services from organisations that are deemed essential to managing the situation at hand.
Authorities are given broad powers under the EM Act
Every State in Australia has a version of an Emergency Management Act, and they are all quite similar in nature. These Acts are critical for managing catastrophes and disasters where the response needs to be swift and streamlined.
However, these pieces of legislation afford a small group of people in positions of authority broad powers to make critical decisions outside of the usual legislative process. That is, without the usual checks and balances and scrutiny that comes into play when laws are passed through Parliament. This may be necessary in a crisis, because law-making processes can be drawn out, however, it also means that such powers are potentially vulnerable to abuse.
For this reason, most Emergency Management Acts typically have a built-in ‘sunset clause’, otherwise known as an expiration date or deadline. This is to ensure the preservation of the democratic process. In Western Australia the EM Act is only ever in force for two-weeks at a time, but it can be extended an unlimited number of times.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence
If you have been charged by police it is important to seek advice from a specialist criminal lawyer who can help you to understand the charges, guide you through the court process, and inform you about the potential sentence you face if you are found guilty.
Contact the Andrew Williams Criminal Law Offices without delay on (08) 9278 2575.
PLEASE NOTE: The material in this blog post is for informational use only and should not be construed as legal advice. For answers to your questions regarding this or other topics, please contact a professional legal representative.