Status of Resilience in Australia (Guest Blog)

By Richard Williams

Communities that develop a high level of resilience are better able to withstand a crisis event and have an enhanced ability to recover from residual impacts. Communities that possess resilience characteristics can also arrive on the other side of a crisis in a stronger position than pre-event. For example:

  • a community with well rehearsed emergency plans
  • superior fire mitigation processes in the cooler months
  • appropriate building controls, suitable to local hazards and risks
  • widely adopted personal and business financial mitigation measures (e.g. insurance suitable to the risks)

is likely to suffer less during an extreme fire event and is likely to be able to recover quickly; financially, physically and as a community.’

(Insurance Council of Australia 2008, Improving Community Resilience to Extreme Weather Events)

The National Emergency Management Committee of the Council of Australian Governments provides oversight of the development of a national resilience strategy. At a Commonwealth level, the coordination resides in the Department of the Attorney-General.

It is clear in Australia that there is an understanding of ‘resilience’ driven by both internal factors, ongoing challenges of natural disasters and external factors such as the acknowledgement of delivering on the commitments underlining such conventions as the Hyogo framework. At a political level what does this mean?

The Commonwealth, states and territories continue to meet to work out an agenda; unfortunately it’s largely compromised by respective views of responsibility. The Commonwealth is seen as the source of funding to underpin resilience but ownership of the tactical and operational elements are clearly a non-Commonwealth responsibility. The Australian Constitution made no provision for the Commonwealth in the area of emergency management and the country has paid the price since by the fractured nature of responsibility. While the Commonwealth owns the responsibility for national defence to counter external threats, the greater risk to Australia is delivered by natural disasters. Australians are more likely to lose their lives and property from home-based disasters than they are from external threat.

Resilience and the embracing of this as a national priority may see the current parochialism overtaken by the acknowledgement that resilience needs to be a nationally coordinated activity. This may be hastened by changing the current approach of a top down and imposed process into one that is driven from the grassroots. Local communities, business groups and other vested interests could largely shape the national framework for resilience. It’s a case of bringing together these divergent entities to shape what a national resilience strategy should look like. Dependence on a bureaucratic solution that is battling with entrenched ‘turf’ issues is not going to provide a solution any time soon.

What are your thoughts on how leadership in the area of community resilience could be driven by grassroots leadership?


About: Richard Williams is formerly the Director of Strategic Policy for Emergency Services in Queensland, Australia. In this role he was instrumental in reviewing disaster legislation and regulations and developing the disaster framework of response for the government. He also represented the state on a range of national bodies, assisting the Council of Australian Governments in the implementation of its landmark report Natural Disasters in Australia: Reforming mitigation, relief and recovery arrangements (August 2002). Richard’s interests lie in the application of disaster resilience at all levels of government and society, particularly the application of the Hyogo Framework for Action and its implementation. Evidence shows that addressing disaster resilience provides many dividends and incorporating it into strategic and operational planning can save lives, protect property and accelerate recovery and economic growth.

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