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Roles of Federal and State Government in Critical National Infrastructure Protection

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 1818 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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What roles do federal and state government play in critical national infrastructure protection? Critically evaluate using appropriate concepts, models and frameworks from the unit and real-world examples to support your argument.

The division of roles and responsibilities between Australia’s numerous State- and Federal-level emergency management agencies is well established, with the respective framework each conforms to being as old as the agencies themselves.  This relationship – as long-standing as it is – is not without its quirks and shortcomings. Due to each state operating their own individual frameworks, legislative structures and other unique measures; Federal bodies such as EMA (Emergency Management Australia) can often be restricted in how it responds to disasters. In order to effectively assess whether or not this relationship needs to be reworked or this dynamic rethought, one must understand the existing framework of emergency response in Australia, and critically evaluate and contrast this with potential alternatives. A thorough understanding of this dynamic is crucial in assessing Australia’s critical infrastructure and the measures taken to protect its functioning in the event of disaster.

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On the Federal level, Australia’s emergency management is chiefly administered by EMA (Emergency Management Australia), an organisation that consists of the Security Coordination Branch, Crisis Coordination Branch, Crisis Support Branch and the Natural Disaster Recovery Program Branch. It oversees the responses to natural and non-natural disasters in Australia, providing valuable insight on responses to “biological, extraterrestrial, human-induced and technological emergencies” (Abrahams, 2001). Furthermore, the organisation provides facets for support, training, financial stimulus and to each state and territory’s respective emergency service branches. However, due to the somewhat restrictive framework that separates the state and federal jurisdictions of emergency management and response, its input is limited in several areas of emergency and disaster response. Most notably, due to a complete absence of Federal emergency response legislation, there is no effective precedent for any federal bodies to restructure, hand down rulings or take a more tangible role in the state and territories’ emergency operations.

Each Australian State and Territory operates its individual Emergency Management framework; with unique Disaster Act legislation providing important structure and an SES (State Emergency Service) operating in a tangible, “boots-on-the-ground” (Hodges, 1995) capacity. This level of emergency management mostly concerns itself with Meteorological and Geological risk categories and utilises facets such as community integration in order to maintain an effective and active response network. Conceptually, Australia currently operates on an Integrative or “All Agencies” basis, including the involvement of government agencies such as the Department of Communities, Bureau of Meteorology, local councils, emergency services such as police, fire, ambulance and SES, as well as NGOs and other invested parties. These can include community groups including local church and religious organisations and school parent and citizen committees, volunteer service organisations and media groups, particularly local radio and news outlets. This loose ‘grassroots’ structure, while particularly community-driven and operated, “doesn’t integrate well” (Mclennan et al, 2012) with the Federal model and its more conventional approach to emergency response and infrastructural preservation. This lack of cohesion acts as a detriment to the system’s implementation. 

The current framework within which Federal and State Emergency Management Organisations operate offers several issues and flaws, each of which lend themselves to critical assessment. From a logistical perspective, one could argue that having such a fragmented framework – particularly in a context where organisation and cooperation are crucial – is impractical when dealing with the numerous facets of disaster recovery and response. The unification of logistical resources available to each state and federal agency in provides several benefits. In the face of a large-scale, potentially even inter-state disaster consolidation of assets and resources can make all the difference. Thus, it doesn’t make any sense why such an arrangement isn’t the permanent state of affairs. Whilst it might be easier to manage within individual states and territories, it is by no means the most efficient way to manage the available resources. Furthermore, a divide or “discord between agencies when it comes to communication is ineffective at addressing these larger issues” (Hamilton et al, 2010), furthermore exemplifies the need for a more uniform response network. The EMA and other federal bodies have access to the largest range of resources and the widest purview, yet paradoxically has the least active presence in the disaster response landscape. Potential access to military resources, federal-tier research and development, and overall superior response capabilities would be far more suited to being used by all aspects of a disaster management network, as opposed to in a merely advisory or “limited support capacity”. (EMA, 2015)

There are numerous valid points in favour of the current status quo’s effectiveness, particularly when it comes to the maintenance of independence between the State- and Federal-level agencies. This can be seen most notably in state disaster specialisation. When it comes to disaster response and their unique hazards and respective environments, certain individual states have an edge over others. For example, Queensland is arguably “better equipped to deal with floods as they occur more often in the north” (Singh-Peterson et al, 2015), whereas South Australia and Victoria are “better equipped to deal with fires” (Goode et al, 2016). that are more prominent in their respective rural areas. This independence allows each state to more effectively respond to their unique needs and infrastructure and is an important factor to maintain in any potential restructure. The argument could also be made that the division of labour between the numerous states and territories prevents the risks associated with overloading a centralised responsive body. Whilst these assertions do highlight the positives within the current system, these could also be implemented amongst a more holistic and effective overhaul. 

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The frameworks with which state- and federal-operated agencies respond to emergencies are of utmost importance when considering the protection of critical infrastructure in Australia. This division of responsibilities is inexorably tied to a series of outcomes borne from disasters and influences that threaten said infrastructure, hence the emphasis on emergency management and response. When examining the responses of agencies to threats to critical infrastructure, the current division of jurisdiction presents several issues to resolve. Whilst the independence of each state allows them to cater to their own infrastructural needs, it limits the amount of resources that can be dedicated to each incident. One potential solution could be of a large federal-level body like EMA having a more uniform presence, with each state body being transitioned into a more localised branch of the larger presence. This would allow a ‘franchise’-esque structure; fostering the individual specialisation that is so effective with the state-level agencies responding to their unique crises. This outcome would allow parties involved to bypass the communication and resource management issues plaguing the current system. While such change is an ambitious approach, and such an outcome could only be achieved over an extended period of time, it stands to reason that critical and large-scale changes need to be made in order to effectively implement it. However, the scale of disasters and incidents that “drastically effect infrastructure” have inflated as time goes on – and responses must adapt to be proportionate to such threats.

The dynamic between federal and state agencies in the protection of Australia’s critical infrastructure has several questionable characteristics that leave it prime for assessment. The somewhat restrictive allocation and distribution of resources and lack of effective communication channels limit the effectiveness of such a framework, particularly as the severity of threats to critical infrastructure escalate. Whilst it is no small statement to assert that an overhaul is required, it is certainly feasible to maintain the strengths of the current system yet also seek to improve upon the areas that require revision. In conclusion, a comprehensive restructure could allow a more cohesive and uniform system of responsibility and strengthen Australia’s emergency management framework and infrastructural protection.


  • Abrahams J (2001) Disaster management in Australia: The national emergency management system. Emergency Medicine Australasia, 13(2), 165-173.
  • Hamilton A and Toh K (2010) A review of emergency organisations: the need for a theoretical framework. International Journal of Emergency Management, 7(2), 111.
  • Singh-Peterson L, Salmon P and Baldwin C et al. (2015) Deconstructing the concept of shared responsibility for disaster resilience: a Sunshine Coast case study, Australia.
  • Mclennan B and Handmer J (2012) Reframing responsibility-sharing for bushfire risk management in Australia after Black Saturday. Environmental Hazards, 11(1).
  • Hodges A (1995) Emergency Management Australia under the Spotlight. Australian Journal of Emergency Management, 10(1), 1-3.
  • EMA (2015) Harnessing innovation, fostering collaboration: The young emergency planners workshop. Australian Journal of Emergency Management, 30(4), 59-60.
  • Goode N, Salmon P and Spencer C et al. (2016) Defining disaster resilience: comparisons from key stakeholders involved in emergency management in Victoria, Australia. Disasters, 41(1), 171-193.
  • Lahey K (2011) Defence force helps Queensland on road to recovery. Australian Journal of Emergency Management, 26(3), 14-19.


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