Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Switzerland, Liechtenstein


31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent

Plenary : Strengthening Disaster Laws

Statement by: Australian Ambassador, Mr Peter Woollcott

30 November 2011

As Delivered

Mr Chair,

You have asked us to focus our comments on issues and achievements with regards to legal preparedness, disaster risk reduction at the community level and regulatory issues within the broader context of international disaster response laws. Australia is a strong supporter of international disaster response laws – in the Asia-Pacific region and globally. Our support is for the principle of coherent, systemic and timely humanitarian assistance and for the practical dividends that a clear, flexible and comprehensive approach will offer.

Australia welcomes the progress to date on development and implementation of international disaster response laws guidelines – noting that we were a strong advocatefor their consideration and ultimate unanimous adoption at the 30th ICRC Conference.

We thank the International Federation of the Red Cross and the National Societies for their extensive research on domestic legal preparedness and the development of normative frameworks. We also think it is important to note many countries have to date made progress in implementing domestic laws and regulations. In this regard, I would like to acknowledge the impressive progress made by Indonesia – a near neighbour and friend of Australia, to establish far-reaching domestic legislation and to put practical national and sub-national measures around their laws. Within the Pacific, Samoa and Tonga have also made strong progress in developing nationally-led frameworks that are appropriate for these countries. Australia will continue to work with Asia-Pacific partners to assist them to self-manage disasters, including developing appropriate disaster response laws.

Pilot Model Act

Australia welcomes the work of the International Federation of the Red Cross and the National Societies on developing a Model Act. We understand that this process captures previous practice and successes for consideration by states as one option for strengthening their disaster laws. The participatory approach adopted by the Federation has drawn broad support from states and we thank the Federation for seeking our own views on the Act.

Australia acknowledges that it is important for states and National Societies to develop their own frameworks to best meet their disaster management responsibilities. We commend consideration of the Model Act, or an appropriate adaptation there of, to support governments to deliver their disaster management priorities. We urge only that these measures be adopted quickly – lives are at stake and economic progress, too often, is being lost.

We see value in consideration of the Model Act as it will drive reflection on the response activities and procedures necessary to have these occur in a timely manner – outside of a crisis. It is our own hard-won experience informed by decades of responding to disasters within Australia, that if you are seeking to make systemic or regulatory changes at the time of the crisis, you will find little joy. The consideration of options – often requiring hard choices - is much better undertaken at non-crisis times when all stakeholders can be consulted and a comprehensive solution can be reached.

Lessons from the Shelter Cluster


In closing, I note that the Federation has undertaken a large body of work to compile lessons from its role as convenor of the global shelter cluster. The lessons identified – both positive and those less so - provide a basis for more effective practice. It will be important that the United Nations, National Societies and governments learn from these experiences and that we adapt our approaches.

Australia will continue to work with the Federation to strengthen international disaster response laws to reduce regulatory barriers, to speed up life-saving assistance and to support national disaster management priorities.

Thank you, Mr Chair

Geneva 30 November 2011