Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (10:33): This is a very straightforward bill. I propose to introduce a private member’s bill to amend the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Act 2007 to include the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) on the prescribed employment list under ’emergency service provider’ that can require an offender who spits or bites them to undertake a blood test.
In conjunction with this private member’s bill, I have requested that the government include the RFDS as ’emergency service provider’ on the prescribed employment list under the Criminal Law Consolidation (General) Regulations 2006. This inclusion will enable the court to consider a range of offences against the RFDS employees as an aggravated offence. So the house is fully aware, the prescribed employment list as it stands refers to paid or unpaid workers included in the acts or regulations, as follows:
- police officers;
- employment as an emergency service provider with the SACFS, SAMFS, SASES, SA Ambulance Service, St John Ambulance SA, Surf Life Saving SA, Volunteer Marine Rescue, employees in accident and emergency;
- employment as a medical practitioner in a hospital;
- employment as a nurse or midwife in a hospital;
- employment in the provision of assistance or services in a hospital to a medical practitioner, nurse or midwife acting in the course of his or her employment in the hospital; and
- employment as an officer or employee of the administrative unit of the Public Service that is responsible for assisting a minister in the administration of the Correctional Services Act 1982.
I am sure that we would all agree that it is a worthy list, but when it was put together the RFDS was, accidentally I am sure, omitted from the list. There is logic in including the RFDS in that category and there is also logic in having a category like that. All citizens, everybody, should be protected from offences against them, but there is good sound logic for some extra protection for people whose job it is, whether in a professional or volunteer capacity, to insert themselves actively in harm’s way.
By that, I do not mean recklessly. I do not mean in a foolish, uninformed way. A well-trained person with a clear focus on what he or she is doing who has taken on the responsibility to protect the community in some way—typically in an emergency responder sense, but there are other situations of course too—often has good reason to insert themselves into a more dangerous situation than another citizen would have to do, and so of course that person deserves some slightly higher protection.
The RFDS came to me. In fact, I would like to thank Courtney White from the RFDS in Marree for coming to me with this issue. It was not something I was aware of. This is how things are meant to work: constituents come to their local representative and say, ‘There’s an issue here. Can you help us? Can you fix this anomaly?’ Of course, I was very happy to do it, and I am very hopeful and optimistic that the government will support this private member’s bill and follow that support all the way through to changing the legislation and the regulations so that the RFDS has this protection.
It is also very timely that we are having this debate here in the chamber today, the day after we debated Gayle’s Law, and there are some very similar parallels. Gayle’s Law, of course, is slightly different. It is the product of an incredibly unfortunate incident that happened to a nurse working in the Far North of the state. Mrs Woodford’s family and other supporters have been very successful in working with the government and the opposition to get bipartisan support on that issue.
There is a link, in that people working in a first responder sense in remote places or in the CBD do deserve some extra protection. Gayle’s Law is about giving that protection through a second person always being required to be present and in support when a nurse is working outside business hours in a remote location, whereas this would apply to the city and to the country.
The RFDS is an absolutely outstanding organisation. I am sure that every member of parliament would agree with me that the RFDS is an extraordinary organisation without which many people would have suffered unnecessarily and many people would have died unnecessarily across Australia, not just South Australia. They are a truly outstanding organisation. They are based here in Adelaide. They are based in Port Augusta. They are based in Alice Springs and Broken Hill and in many, many other places. Their base at Port Augusta is one of the most important in the nation.
I believe that the people who work for the RFDS providing medical support, transport support and other types of support to the more remote parts of our state deserve this protection, but please remember that it is not only about the remote parts of the state. The RFDS occasionally transfer patients between hospitals that may not be considered particularly remote. They do a very broad range of work in South Australia. In fact, not too long ago they took over running the outback medical clinics, which is a tremendous system which has been run and supported by Liberal and Labor governments over many years and run and operated by different organisations, Frontier Services to name one; now the Royal Flying Doctor Service does this.
It is absolutely critical support whereby there are regular flights with doctors and nurses and other support workers going to remote locations on a predetermined schedule so that people with ailments that are not emergencies or do not require especially swift attention can plan to come in, whether it is to Innamincka, Marree, Mintabie, Marla or any other small outback community that has an airstrip. Not too long ago, I was at Yunta at the same time as the RFDS called in, and I could go on and on naming the communities.
This is a tremendous medical support. This is not emergency service work, but it is highly important and highly valued work. The people provide medical support. They also provide some mental health support, and that is starting to be rolled out and it is incredibly important. The RFDS has been supporting Australia since 1928. Their 2015-16 annual report, which is their most recent published annual report, shows that in that year they gave attention to 22,800 people across the nation, and a huge number were in South Australia.
The RFDS is a massively important organisation in our state, and the people who work in RFDS deserve exactly the same protection from our laws as the people who work in police, fire services, ambulance, surf lifesaving and in the whole range I mentioned before in that prescribed list, so I hope that the government will see fit to support this law. To me, it is very straightforward and very simple. There is the additional request to change the regulations as well, which would provide support to these people who at times put themselves in harm’s way for the good of the community.
At times, they have to deal with people who for a range of reasons may not be thinking clearly and who may not receive the care that is on offer in the way we would typically think is appropriate. That could be for a wide range of reasons: it could be because they are affected by drugs or alcohol; it could be because they have been in a motor vehicle accident and they have some form of shock and they are in a place or situation they are not familiar with, they are not comfortable with, they do not know what is going on and they are just not thinking clearly. It could happen for a whole range of reasons.
Regardless of the reason, the people who work for the Royal Flying Doctor Service deserve this protection, if it is needed, in exactly the same way as all other emergency service workers and other responders deserve as well. I commend the bill to the house. I genuinely and earnestly seek the government’s support to change this law and to change these regulations.