Dr WOODRUFF question to MINISTER for HEALTH, Ms COURTNEY
The evidence presented to the coronial inquiry into the death of an Ambulance Tasmania (AT) paramedic makes shocking reading. It details a workplace culture that is toxic and fails to protect workers. A long-term paramedic wept, describing how her complaint of a rape plan joke by other staff was shut down, with managers warning it would affect her career. She detailed 20 staff in late 2016 who openly discussed their suicide plans and three who are currently really struggling, alongside a lackadaisical approach to securing Ambulance Tasmania's drug stores.
Staff with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or mental illness were not supported and people have been managed out of the workforce if they were 'being difficult' or 'caused any extra work or grief for managers.'. Tasmanians would be shocked to hear our paramedics are not getting the highest quality workplace trauma support and have suffered under a sexist culture. We understand that some positive steps have been taken since 2016, but there is still no specialised pathway to handle sexual harassment complaints, leaving young female paramedics particularly vulnerable. We also understand there are no regular wellbeing assessments conducted by Ambulance Tasmania. Under-resourcing places strain on paramedics in what is already a stressful job and your Government continues to penny-pinch - for example, with travel allowances.
What will you do to correct this unsafe workplace? Why have you not instigated formal trauma support with mandated regular professional debrief support for paramedics? How can you guarantee you are providing safe career security and that you have stamped out this sexist culture?
Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Franklin for her question and concur with her in regard to the horror, shock and concern around the allegations we have heard through the coronial inquest and reported in the media.
Clearly I cannot go to the contents directly of the coronial inquest while it is underway, but I want to make abundantly clear that any allegation about inappropriate behaviour or misconduct is taken incredibly seriously. It is not acceptable in any workplace. Sexual harassment, threats of violence or sexual violence are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
I confirm I have spoken with the secretary of the department, who has assured me she has contacted all departmental staff to reiterate this message and to provide information on support available. This includes advice on existing actions and reporting procedures in place to deal with such situations as well as advice to anyone who feels that a matter is criminal in nature to report it police.
As to the historical allegations raised yesterday in the coroner's inquiry as reported in the media, I am advised they were raised with the secretary of the Department of Health earlier this week, and she immediately commenced an examination of the documentation from that time to identify the action undertaken at that time and what subsequent actions have been and may be needed to be taken in this case. Further, I can advise the Department of Health has referred the historical allegation to Tasmania Police.
The secretary of the department has assured me that she will undertake all appropriate steps and action necessary to ensure this matter is handled appropriately. I am advised that all managers will be required to undertake further refresher training in the coming months on the appropriate handling and investigation of sexual abuse and all harassment complaints, and the importance of having respect in the workplace. The secretary has advised me this includes escalation practices and pathways if a member of AT is unsatisfied with the escalation that occurs. All employees are able to access the department's employee assistance program (EAP) 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or they may speak with their manager or the human resources team for other support options available.
Madam Speaker, I take the wellbeing and the mental health wellbeing of AT staff seriously. This is why the Government has committed $6 million over four years for a proactive and preventative health and wellbeing program that supports both the physical and mental health of our emergency service personnel and provides intervention and support when necessary. The health and wellbeing program provides a mix of proactive and preventative measures that build the capacity to detect and respond early to health and wellbeing risks that impact the ability of our emergency service workers to perform at their optimal level. On 10 September 2019, MyPulse was launched, which is a central online hub for wellbeing and includes physical and mental health screens, e-learning modules and face-to-face wellbeing training. MyPulse is targeted at career frontline responders across AT and the Department of Police, Fire and Emergency Management (DPFEM), and offers a range of services that are scalable and are responsive to known risks associated with emergency first responder duties.
I have outlined the EAP program. Furthermore, Ambulance Tasmania will employ a health and wellbeing consultant who will oversee a peer support program. Madam Speaker, you recall that Tasmania was the first jurisdiction in Australia to legislate the presumptive previsions for workers suffering from PTSD.
I take these matters incredibly seriously, as does the secretary of the Department of Health. I assure the member and other members of this Chamber that we will continue to take steps and further action so that all our workplaces are safe and everyone is accountable for their actions, and that is underpinned by a culture of respect.