My kids come home from school with a Charter of Rights and Responsibilities that we have to sign, and they have to sign and their teacher has to sign. It guides their interactions and standards of behaviour. I initially thought, wow, this is over the top. But then I realised it was really out setting out expectations, so everyone knew where they stood. In disaster management we really don’t have these expectations set out. Nearly five years ago, i wrote about what do we call people affected by disasters, victims, citizens, punters etc, and mentioned the notion of rights. Sometime ago, at a terrific forum on shared responsibility run by Blythe Mclennan at RMIT, I made what was almost an off the cuff remark that we don’t have a rights based approach to disaster management. This has returned to me recently as I have been involved in workshops on catastrophic disasters.
One of the benefits of a two hour walk to work (apart from physical and mental health) is that I get time to think. This idea around rights helps to shape, where is the paddock, and what are the fences. Now, of course of you will say, but recovery is a personal journey, and each recovery is different. Absolutely, yes. But why do we have such different responses. One state thinks recovery is when you pay some grants, and offer a bit of counselling, another wants to run it like a military operation, one state says, not our problem, talk to local government etc. Its confusing as a practitioner. But as a citizen, well, it’s a bit unfair, because you are getting different levels of support. We saw this with the Bali Bombings, the first national disaster in the digital age, when people could communicate with each other, and realise the difference in support.
One of the ideas that has really prompted me is something that I read in the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Disaster Volume 2 (now there’s a fascinating read, cure for insomnia). It talks about the contingent liabilities of disaster recovery. I don’t know about you, but I had to reach for google. Basically it’s unfunded liabilities. Interesting the point that stood out to me was that in respect to recovery, the contingent liabilities are governed only by moral and policy decisions (I would also add political decisions in there, which are often not guided by morals or good policy, but the impending election). This summed it up. There no boundaries around recovery, and it is subject to decisions guided by the interests or knowledge of the policy maker.
We have, of course, the National Principles for Disaster Recovery. These are a fine set of guiding principles, which have been around since the late 80s (yes, people have been thinking about this stuff for longer than the last decade), when the Standing Committee of Income Support Administrators (how’s that for a name) , a national body, came up with the first principles. But, these are only guiding. We also saw how the Australian Emergency Management Manuals were used during the Bushfire Royal Commission to measure the psycho-social response (despite the manuals being over a decade old). The manuals hold no authority other than a moral authority of the collection of good practice (I have to say that, being the co-author of one of them).
And not to forget the many international rights frameworks (although our government seems to not so interested in them at the moment). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The UN Convention on the rights of the child. Issues of great merit, that people have taken the time, effort, blood, sweat and tears to frame. Recently we have seen a huge leap forward in Human Rights in Australia with the ending of discrimination about who could marry who (although not before putting many people through something awful and highly unnecessary). We also have the Sphere Standards on Minimum Humanitarian Response, which set out guiding standards.
We are increasingly using Hobfall et al principles for psychosocial support, Safety, Calming, Connection, Self Efficacy and Hope to guide our work. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk reduction also could provide more guidance.
Key service sectors have Charters of rights and responsibilities. The health care sector has the Australian Charter of Health Care Rights. Its scope is
The charter applies to all health settings anywhere in Australia, including public hospitals, private hospitals, general practice and other community environments. It allows patients, consumers, families, carers and service providers to have a common understanding of the rights of people receiving health care.
These focus on Access, Safety, Respect, Communication, Participation, Privacy and Comment.
So what if we had an “Australian Charter of Disaster Resilience Rights and Responsibilities”? Would it cover off similar territory?. Would it provide minimum standards? Should these issues be picked up and integrated in other charters? Adding responsibilities as well, then addresses one of the vexed questions about “community expectations”. There is a running theme in government circles that the “community expects us to do everything for them” (I am going to pick this up in another blog post later). This Charter could go some ways to addressing that, setting out responsibilities. “It’s an individuals responsibility to protect their assets”. “It’s a government’s responsibility not to put them in harms way by approving development in hazard prone lands”.
Enforcement of such a charter may be challenging.Would this be national, or state, or both? Some states have Inspector-General’s of Emergency Management, which could be charged with overseeing them. Or perhaps there could be an independent “Disaster Resilience Commissioner” in the same way there are Children’s Commissioners. Or perhaps the Human Rights Commissions could take on the role.
Given that I am attending the Diversity in Disaster Conference this week (which I am terribly excited about) which is addressing many groups that have been excluded from mainstream emergency management, maybe this merits more thought.
Of course, what would the prime minister of the UK think?
And, of course, can’t go past the master