Legislative Council Wednesday 15 March 2017
Ms FORREST (Murchison ) - Mr President, I feel we are between a rock and a hard place. I do not support mandatory sentencing. When we had the bill regarding the police, offences against police officers of a similar nature to what we are dealing with now, I supported the amendments put forward by the member for Launceston. It removed the mandatory sentencing component, and that was on the advice of the Law Society and a range of other people who hold very strong views on this. The member for Hobart read their communications and I am not going to go back over that.
We need to stop interfering in the judicial process, as a parliament. The Government is supporting the police to start with and then want to bring in others and said there may be others not included.
Sitting suspended from 1 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
Resumed from above.
Ms FORREST (Murchison ) - Mr President, during the lunchbreak the Leader informed me the paramedics wish to brief us and they are not available until tomorrow, so I have been magnanimous in my approach.
On the request of the Leader I move -
That the debate stand adjourned.
It will be dealt with at a later time.
Mr DEAN (Windermere) - Having Tas ambulance here this morning I wonder what further information needs to -
Dr Goodwin - This is a separate organisation, the Paramedics Association.
Mr DEAN - Tas ambulance was here in support of them, weren't they, providing that information? I suppose a further briefing is necessary.
Dr Goodwin - They have requested it so we would like to accommodate them.
Mr DEAN - I wonder why the request has been so late. We are well into the bill now, in the second reading. I wonder why this has not been done previously. It upsets the momentum of business.
Resumed from 15 March 2017
Ms FORREST (Murchison ) - Mr President, we needed to have further information, particularly around the medical orderlies.
With regard to this legislation, I have made it clear I do not support mandatory sentencing. We have some mandatory penalties in some of our road safety laws, but where we are dealing with mandatory sentencing in this framework, we are taking away the role of our judiciary.
I read an article the other day saying nurses in the accident and emergency department or Department of Emergency Medicine are more at risk than police officers of being assaulted in the line of duty.
As I said during the previous debate on that legislation relating to police officers, police are armed, they are trained, they are often wearing armour and they have the skills and often - not always - the backup to assist them in these circumstances. Nurses do not.
That was one of the reasons I opposed mandatory sentencing for assaulting police officers. The court should still have the role and responsibility for determining an appropriate sentence. I absolutely agree we need to raise the upper level of the penalties. That is what I would like to see with this legislation and the police-related legislation. Because we already have one category now in, we are being told it is just a matter of adding more - where does it stop? We will very soon hear there is a real need for teachers to be protected. Teachers do get assaulted in primary schools as well as high schools. Child protection workers, service station attendants. Where does it stop? We need to allow the courts to have the role and responsibility of determining appropriate sentences, but we need to send a message that these are serious crimes and the penalties should be in a much higher range of penalties.
To say this is just adding another few workers to this mandatory sentencing provision is true. That is what it is but when you are fundamentally opposed to mandatory sentencing, we have this conundrum.
During my election campaign, I was subject to some interesting criticisms by my opponent through a media release with almost identical language to a media release issued by the member for Braddon, Mrs Rylah. It was also written in the same font and format as her media release that came out in February, which I found quite fascinating.
I was also accused in some of these media commentaries and media releases by the election opponent - and he is entitled to do whatever he likes, but it would be nice if he was truthful; unfortunately that was not the case - who claimed that I supported criminals over police officers. What an appalling thing to say. I contacted him and asked, 'Did you write that media release?' 'Yes,' he said. Really? We had always got on really well; he is a reasonable man, so I found that quite interesting that he would say these things. 'Did you read my speech in the Parliament related to police officers?' He said, 'No, can you read it?' I said, 'It is in Hansard, it is there forever' - that is the scary thing about Hansard. I said, 'If you had read that, you would have seen what you said in your media release is completely wrong.' I said, 'I am just surprised you would use the language you have used.' Later he admitted that perhaps he had had a bit of help with his media release and had not written it himself. I said, 'Okay, you said you wrote it yourself, but you haven't. You have had some help.' 'Yes.' It is unfortunate the way that played out.
To suggest that I support criminals over police officers is absolute nonsense. If I hear a word in the public arena from any political opponent or otherwise that I am not supporting this legislation, that I support criminals over nurses, over paramedics, over all those other people, then that will also be fundamentally wrong.
I am a nurse; I am a midwife - I still am - and I have been at the forefront of some of this sort of behaviour. When I was a student nurse some years ago, we used to have those most dreadful cot sides on beds, a metal rail with some bars. I was attending to an elderly man who would have made the member for Mersey look large. He was quite a small man, quite muscular though, and he was uraemic and so his mental capacity was somewhat limiting his self-control ...
Mr PRESIDENT - I hope that was the only similarity.
Ms FORREST - Yes.
Ms FORREST - He is probably no longer with us, that poor unfortunate man. He was requesting something of me and because of his condition he was whispering in quite a hoarse voice, and I had to lean to listen to him. I leaned to try to understand what he wanted me to do for him. As I leaned forward, he grabbed a hold of my uniform and pulled me over the rail into the bed. I was bigger than he was. You can imagine the bruising I had all up my torso as a result of it. I could not get to the bell to get help. It was at the end of the ward away from any help. I was calling out but no-one could hear me. I was in that situation. It was not his fault. He was not responsible for his actions. He did not mean to hurt me, but he did. I was trying to help and understand what he wanted. I could have had a more serious injury. He could have done all manner of injury to me. He could have done other stuff once he had me in the bed in terms of damage to my body. That would constitute a serious injury. I did not make a formal complaint. As a fairly junior student nurse it was a bit frightening. I did not want to see him in trouble because it was not his fault.
In not supporting this legislation, which I do not because of the mandatory sentencing aspect of it, to say I do not support nurses, midwives or our paramedics is absolutely wrong. I do. I want to see harsher penalties. I want to see the courts being given a greater flexibility in the extent of the penalties they can impose. I do not want them limited in having to charge that man, if he was still with us, with an offence that he had no responsibility for.
That is a personal example. I did not suffer a serious injury. It was bruising and I was very sore for a couple of days and I was quite frightened. I do not think I suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.
Mr Valentine - You did not give up the profession?
Ms FORREST - No. I did not give up the profession. I took on a few bigger ones after that. It is quite frightening at times. When you are in the maternity ward, you have a woman who deliver a baby; the baby is not responding well; you have to resuscitate the baby - often fathers at that time get very concerned. Rightly so. They can often act aggressively out of fear for the life of their baby. The mothers are usually too relieved the baby is out to worry too much about trying to fight. The fathers often do. I understand that extreme anxiety. They act irrationally out of fear. A lot of men come to a birth without any real understanding of what a baby looks like when it is first born. A lot of babies look like they are dead to the untrained eye. They say they are so blue, but the blue is good. White is not so good; blue is good. All these things come into play.
We need to allow the courts the discretion in all things. I do not believe we should have done it with police officers. I voted against on that basis. We heard today in our briefing from Nick O'Brien, and I thank him for telling his story. It must be very difficult for him to relay his story every time he does it. He told us he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and one can understand why. Telling his story again and again must re-traumatise him to some extent. I thank him for being willing to do that. What he said in the briefing today outlined a number of failures in our systems. Failures to have an appropriate backup at times. Failures to have appropriate supportive personel in the hospital when he arrived with a patient who was not cooperative. This man was an alcoholic who had a head injury. So, was he thinking rationally? Probably not. Where there mitigating circumstances? I do not know. I do not know the full circumstances, but to say he has to end up in prison as a result is not necessarily the right thing. He did get a low penalty in the view of many. I tend to agree it was a low penalty.
Mr Dean - He went to jail, didn't he? Isn't that what we were told?
Ms FORREST - It was suspended, was it not?
Mr Dean - He went to jail.
Ms FORREST - It was suspended.
Mr Dean - Not all suspended.
Mr Valentine - Only three months of the six months.
Ms FORREST - Sorry, he did, so there you go. It works, does it not? But you could have charged him with a much higher monetary penalty. But, as Nick himself said, he probably would not have been able to pay it. It ends up with the Monetary Penalties Enforcement Service. The courts need to have a greater range of options in the levels of sentencing, not of the mandatory nature, in my view.
I asked him during the public education campaign, 'Keep Your Hands Off Our Ambos', whether he believed it had made a difference. He said that it had made a difference. Public education is what is really important - letting people know it is not okay to touch our ambos, our nurses or other health professionals who are seeking to help you, regardless of whether you are upset, frightened, angry or whatever. We need to send that really strong message.
He made the point that the amount of airplay seems to be winding down. Maybe that is contributing to another rise. I think we cannot keep running the same ad as people switch off. You have to look at new ways of engaging with the public and making it really clear that this is not okay.
To me, it seems hard to believe that anyone would attack a paramedic. When you call an ambulance to pick up someone who is suffering a health emergency, you want them to help that person and potentially save their life. It makes no sense to assault paramedics when they arrive. Clearly people are behaving irrationally at that point. If they do the wrong thing, the full force of the law should prevail, but the law needs to allow the judiciary to have their role within that.
By all means, raise the penalty, but do not provide the mandatory component. As the member for Windermere pointed out, that man ended up in prison without mandatory sentencing. I thought he got off the whole lot - sorry, I apologise for that.
I support all our frontline workers. Having been one actively myself for 30 years, I understand the challenges. I have lots of friends in the ambulance service, and the other services included here. If this bill is supported, of course the medical orderlies should be included. They have to attend a code black. I do not imagine many people in this Chamber would have attended a code black. It is pretty scary. You have no choice if you are up for it. It is a bit like attending a cardiac arrest. If you are on the team and the bell goes, you are up - that is it, you have to go. Even if you are in the toilet, you have to finish really quickly and go. That has happened to me at times - the bells ring when you are having a quiet moment.
The bells that ring here for us are like the cardiac arrest bells we used to have in the hospital. Every time they rang for the first few times I was in this place I had to think, 'No, it is not a cardiac arrest, it is okay'.
It is sensible that they should be included in this legislation. I would certainly be happy to include legislation that raises the penalties significantly, to give the court a greater range of options to indicate the seriousness with which we take these offences. They deserve to be in here.
There is also an argument that teachers are likely to be assaulted too, in their line of duty. They should also have higher penalties imposed against the perpetrators when they are assaulted, but not mandatory sentencing.
I want to make it really clear that this is not against increasing penalties for a serious assault against our frontline workers. I absolutely support that but I do not support mandatory sentencing. Unfortunately, I am put in a really difficult position where I will vote against this bill because I fundamentally disagree with adding, even the police, to a mandatory sentencing provision.