The report from the Senate Inquiry into the Mental Health of First Responders was tabled in the Federal Parliament on the 14 February.
United Voice Qld made submissions on behalf of members and provided as a research piece undertaken by Griffith University as supporting evidence. The research specifically explored how this issue affects United Voice members employed in the Ambulance Sector.
The National Council of Ambulance Unions (NCAU) also made a well-supported and evidence based submission which also represented our members.
The report as tabled in the Senate is lengthy and full of all too common stories of the day-to-day stressors that first responders face while delivering emergency services in Australia. While the report offers many key points to explore, the following recommendations were made by the committee which may or may not yet be endorsed in any federal legislation moving forward.
For noting, recommendation 8 is lifted word-for-word from the NCAU submission and is probably the most robust recommendation listed in terms of effecting real change for ambulance members. While the rest of the recommendations are positive steps forward in terms of exploring this issue, and provide consistent support regardless of which service or jurisdiction a person works in, the introduction of presumptive legislation would be a tangible outcome for many affected by mental health issues during the life of their career in emergency services.
2.95 The committee recommends that the government work with state and territory governments to collect comprehensive data on the occurrence of mental health injuries and suicide in first responders.
2.96 The committee recommends that the federal government work with state and territory governments to collect data on the cause of death for first responders who die while employed or die within 10 years of leaving their service.
3.60 The committee recommends that federal, state and territory governments work together to increase oversight of privately owned first responder organisations.
3.96 The committee recommends that a Commonwealth-led process involving federal, state and territory governments be initiated to design and implement a national action plan on first responder mental health.
3.99 The committee recommends that compulsory first responder mental health awareness training, including safety plans, be implemented in every first responder organisation across Australia.
3.101 The committee recommends that compulsory management training focusing on mental health, such as that developed by the Black Dog Institute, be introduced in every first responder organisation across Australia.
3.103 The committee recommends that mental health support services be extended to all first responder volunteers.
4.80 The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government establish a national stakeholder working group, reporting to the COAG Council of Attorneys General, to assess the benefits of a coordinated, national approach to presumptive legislation covering PTSD and other psychological injuries in first responder and emergency service agencies. This initiative must take into consideration and work alongside legislation already introduced or being developed in state jurisdictions, thereby harmonising the relevant compensation laws across all Australian jurisdictions.
4.81 The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government, in collaboration with the states and territories, initiate a review into the use of independent medical examiners (IME) in workers' compensation.
4.82 The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government establish a national register of health professionals who specialise in first responder mental health.
5.25 The committee recommends that a consistent approach to referrals to rehabilitation counsellors be developed across states and territories, requiring referrals to be made by general practitioners not associated with employers or insurers.
5.27 The committee recommends that early intervention mental health support services be made available to all employees of first responder organisations with the aim of preventing, or reducing the severity of mental health conditions.
5.44 The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government make funding available for research into the prevalence of mental health conditions in retired first responders.
5.45 The committee recommends that ongoing and adequate mental health support services be extended to all first responders who are no longer employees of first responder organisations around the country.
The Union office will continue to work with State Council Representatives and Delegates around the state to look at which parts of this report will be used to assist with progressing the Union’s strategy in regards contributing to the ongoing work being done in this area.