Thursday, March 24, 2011

Emergency advice

Last month, in response to the Christchurch earthquake, the government declared a national state of emergency (which, I note, is still in force 4 weeks later). I raised some questions about this, as it seemed to be another authoritarian over-reach which did little in practice to help. I also noted that I would OIA the government's advice on the matter, so that people could judge for themselves.

That advice has now been released. The publicly available documents consist of a background briefing [PDF] and an aide-memoire [PDF]. Two further documents containing legal advice were withheld. There is no discussion in the released advice of alternatives or whether a national rather than local state of emergency was necessary; they simply assume that one will be declared. For such a significant constitutional move, I would have expected some justification. None has been given.

As for the practical difference, the background briefing notes:

The key difference between a state of local emergency and a state of national emergency is that during a national emergency, the National Controller can direct the response to the emergency on a national basis. The response itself though would still be directly managed at the local and regional level.
The aide-memoire notes that this gives the National Controller the power to direct other Civil Defence regions to assist. Whether he actually has, and how, and what difference it has made would be the subject for another OIA.

Generally, when the government adopts a policy, the relevant documents go to some lengths to justify it. Here, they don't. The government deserves some slack because of the short response time, but again, for such a significant move, I would have expected a little bit more than this.