What is a "State of Emergency"?

In New South Wales, a state of emergency has been formally declared - and announced as the headline on at least 15 different news websites.

But what is a State of Emergency?

When declared by the government, this is a suite of special powers given to the Police Minister to override certain laws in emergency situations; these powers can then be delegated to certain officers in rescue/emergency organisations, such as the Rural Fire Service, SES, Police, ambulance and the like.

The most drastic of the powers include:

- that directions they give to government departments, agencies and bodies override almost all other laws during the emergency;

- the power to forcibly require people to evacuate where necessary for safety - including by reasonable force and entry on to private premises;

- the closure of any public or private areas as necessary, including roadways, national parks and transport routes;

- shutting down basic utilities (including power, gas, roads, water, etc.) in the area of emergency operations, and demolishing or removing buildings or walls damaged or rendered unsafe by the emergency;

- arrest and prosecution for not following the directions of rescue and emergency authorities, including around the above matters. Obstructing emergency authorities in these activities carries a penalty up to 50 penalty units ($5500) or 2 years jail.

Any state of emergency declaration lasts up to 30 days - but repeated declarations can be made if necessary. Generally a State of Emergency only lasts for the duration of the immediate emergency: bushfire emergencies are normally shorter other emergencies such as floods, terrorist situations or cyclones.


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