Police empowered to evacuate residents by force

Police empowered to evacuate residents by force

13 January 2011

published by www.theaustralian.com.au

Australia — Queensland Premier Anna Bligh yesterday said she was aware of an incident where police powers had been used to forcibly evacuate a resident from a home under immediate flood threat.

Ms Bligh said the powers were used “to protect the safety of one individual”, but a spokeswoman for Queensland police said she was not aware of any forced evacuations.

The police spokeswoman said residents across flood-ravaged Queensland were using common sense and self-evacuating where necessary. But she said police had powers to “compel an evacuation in certain circumstances”.

The tougher evacuation powers are one of the stark differences of the co-ordinated emergency response to this Queensland flood crisis compared with the Victorian bushfires of February 2009, which claimed 173 lives.

Victoria’s “stay or go policy” drew criticism in the Victorian bushfire royal commission hearings and even today Victorian police officers are unable to forcibly evacuate people from properties where they have a pecuniary interest, a spokeswoman for Victoria Police confirmed yesterday.

Heeding the lessons of Australia’s last large-scale catastrophic natural disaster, a spokesman for Centrelink yesterday said the government welfare agency was doing what it could to get disaster payments to eligible people as quickly as possible, even those without formal identification.

“If people can’t provide proof of identity or evidence immediately, they should still lodge their claim without delay and we’ll work with them to get the supporting documents together,” the spokesman said.

“If people have lost identifying documents, they should let Centrelink staff know.”

A new national Emergency Alert system was launched in December 2009 for voice and text messaging to be sent to landlines and mobile phones.

A spokeswoman for the Queensland Department of Community Safety said flood alerts had been sent across Chinchilla, the Lockyer Valley, Condamine and in Ipswich. But, she said, “At such short notice and with so much happening, we were unable to source the nature of two of the alerts.”

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