Published: 13 August 2019

Legislative Council Thursday 8 August 2019

Ms  FORREST (Murchison ) - Mr President, I support the bill but want to comment on its provisions and the nature of the step-down provision. 

I absolutely accept and acknowledge policing is unique.  Police sign an oath that requires them to act.  It has been said many times they run toward the problem or violence while most other people are running away.  I am constantly amazed and pleasantly surprised at the speed and the skill with which they do that.

You only have to look at police across the world, not only in Tasmania but in the more unfortunate circumstances of terrorism.  There was a recent event where police arrived within a minute of a shooting in the United States. 

They potentially saved a great number of lives, running into a situation where someone had an assault weapon and was shooting.  It must be enormously frightening.

Policing is unique in that respect and some of the situations police face are unique and not many of us in our work roles would ever be threatened with a gun or a crossbow.  It does not mean it does not happen, but it is certainly not be expected.  There are times in my role as a midwife when some partners can be aggressive and very threatening, not so much with a gun but certainly with physical violence.  Thankfully, most of them punched the wall rather than punch the staff.  It is quite frightening because you have the mother and baby you have to look after and often a fairly strong male person out of control.  Waiting for security or police to come from quite a distance, because generally there are not any in a private hospital, can be very frightening.

Often, in those circumstances they do it out of fear, not as a  deliberate action, but the police still have to come for all those events.  The police officer's role is unique and the risks of having a physical injury as a result of violence are much more pronounced for a police officer than in most other professions.  Ambulance officers come a close second in their role, particularly when they are going to situations where people have been injured in a brawl or as a result of a public disorder event.

I note the member for Windermere talked about this and it was particularly brought home to us in the screening of Dark Blue.  I encourage all members who have not seen this film to make sure they do.  It is confronting, but it shows how psychological or mental injury is a very real thing for people facing this sort of scene or experience all the time.  The member for Windermere read the email we received from the President of the Police Association, Colin Riley, where he says 'the fragility of our wellbeing plays on my mind constantly'.  That hypervigilance must very taxing in itself; the rest of us do not have to deal with that - we do not need to be hypervigilant.

Police are hypervigilant as a part of their work.  I can absolutely see the difference for police; however, the risk for psychological or mental injury is pronounced with ambulance officers and other first responders.  They see the bodies torn apart.  They see the pain and anguish of loved ones, as we saw in Dark Blue.  The mother who saw her child under the train, who had to be restrained to avoid her going too close.  The ambulance officers who get that child out - seeing those repeated events.

I remember, many years ago now, an ambulance was called to a serious car crash.  The ambulance responded; they picked up the victims and brought them into the casualty department.  It was not until the person in the crash was identified as the ambulance officer's son that he realised he had picked up his own son.  Can you imagine that?  I cannot.  I cannot imagine how awful that would be.

The risk of psychological injury is very real.  It happens in many professions where you are dealing with life and death.

It happens as a midwife, when there is a dead baby or a dead mother.  Totally unexpected, in this day and age - a dead mother - but it happens.  Very rarely, thankfully, but it still happens.  A dead baby happens more often.  It is really tragic, and really hard for the staff involved in the care of that mother and baby, and the father.  That is where fathers can get really upset and do not know how to deal with their emotions.

I strongly believe this needs to be extended - not now; I am not suggesting now - but I suggest it needs to be looked at.  A friend of mine who is a lawyer who works in this space has spoken to me time and time again about the step-down provisions and their inappropriateness and unfairness.  If you are going to extend it to police, which I support doing for all the reasons we have mentioned, I believe we need to extend it to others.

One thing I learnt in the briefing today and which I was not aware of, is that the step-down provisions do not reset.  Someone may have a workplace injury that requires the step-down provisions to kick in because of the extent of their injury, and then they end up, thankfully, being rehabilitated and able to return to work.  This is particularly the case with psychological injury.  It may be that you have recovered and you have been able to deal with the very real challenges.  Then you go back to work and a year or two later you witness a similar event, or something that triggers you, and you are completely disabled again and unable to work.

You are back down on the step-down provision where you left.  That is just fundamentally wrong.  It is fundamentally wrong here, which will be removed, and it is fundamentally wrong for any other worker who suffers in that way.

If this is about workers compensation rehabilitation, let us focus on that.  I did not realise that, unless my lawyer friend missed telling me.  I was too busy thinking about the other stuff.  I do not know.  It just seems so fundamentally wrong.

I really hope that the Government looks at that.  It removed the step-down provisions for other workers in these sorts of circumstances.  Maybe that would remove it.  I just found that staggering.

I know this does not apply to many police officers at the moment.  There are about eight or nine.  I say 'only' - that is eight or nine people whose lives have been completely disrupted, whose families have suffered, and they will not be supported in this.

I understand the reasons for that, and retrospective legislation always comes with a number of challenges and risks.  We should always scrutinise thoroughly anything retrospective.  I absolutely understand that.

It would be really nice to think that maybe, in some way, people in these circumstances could be assisted.  I know the Police Association does a lot of work to assist its officers.  Members of the Police Association actually bank some of their leave to enable their fellow officers to be able to access that should they need to.  That is a really benevolent and good thing to do, but ultimately, if people are off for such a long period, that is a very long period if they are a young person when they are injured.

While it is great to have that in place, I do not think it covers everything. 

That is the majority of what I wanted to say.  I agree this is long overdue.  It has taken 12 years, Colin Riley said, for the work to progress, but finally we are here.  It cannot stop here.

I hope the Leader addresses her mind to that when she replies - what the Government's plans are for that.  It is fundamentally wrong, unfair and inequitable.  The police have a different role, and I acknowledge that, but it makes it inequitable.  You could have two workers working alongside each other - a police officer and an ambulance officer or a rescue officer - who both attend the same scene.  Both suffer an injury that results in their being put onto to the step-down provisions.  One person will get 100 per cent of their pay and the other person will not.  How can that be fair?

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