A fierce outcry from Ambulance Victoria paramedics and the broader public has prompted the Andrews Government to seek to toughen up laws regarding assaults on emergency service workers.
Ambulances across Victoria were scrawled with the message “it’s not OK to assault paramedics” after two women escaped prison despite being found guilty of assault on paramedic Paul Judd, in the Melbourne suburb of Reservoir, last year.
Chenaye Bentley was also attacked and Mr Judd, a 40-year veteran of Ambulance Victoria, is still off work.
Amanda Warren and Caris Underwood had been found guilty last year and sentenced to prison for assaulting Mr Judd, but were free on bail pending an appeal.
But on appeal, they escaped prison terms despite the state introducing mandatory sentences for people who assault emergency service workers.
There are special circumstances provisions in the law to avoid a mandatory sentence and those were applied to the pair who assaulted Mr Judd.
The State Government ordered urgent advice on how to tighten access to the special circumstances provisions.
Health Minister Jill Hennessy said the court’s decision was “frustrating”.
“We want accountability for those that are violent towards paramedics and it is absolutely essential that we continue as a community and as a government to work to try and reduce occupational violence,” Ms Hennessy said.
“Our Government does not want a sentencing regime that delivers these kinds of outcomes and that is why the Attorney has instructed the Department of Justice to provide advice for the purposes of changing the law.
“Change can’t come soon enough.
“The special reasons exemption that exists in the legislation has not produced the outcome that our Government wants.”
Paramedics frustrated, angry
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Mr Judd suffered four fractures in his foot and has had three operations, one which left him with a severe post-surgery infection.
He has also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“My view was that if you do the crime you pay the time, regardless of what that is,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“If people see that there’s no outcome and they don’t need to be afraid of having some sort of sentence, then there’s no repercussions and that’s not justice.”
Mr Walker said he was hopeful Mr Judd would one day be able to return to work.
Victorian paramedics are attacked on the job every 50 hours, Ambulance Victoria chief executive Tony Walker said.
“Attacking or assaulting a paramedic is unacceptable. It would never be acceptable in any other workplace and it is not acceptable in ours,” Mr Walker said.
“There’s a lot of anger and frustration amongst my workforce at the moment.”
Ambulances Employees Association assistant secretary Danny Hill said at least 100 ambulances had the message of anger written on it.
“It is just raw emotion that is being expressed at the moment,” Mr Hill said.
“This has devastated paramedics.
“Clearly the laws have let us down, and it’s positive that they are being fixed.
“It’s just a shame that the underlying legislation didn’t protect Paul and Chenaye.”
Regional paramedics have also written messages on their ambulances and said the problems were not restricted to the metropolitan area.
Steve Funberger, from Ambulance Victoria’s Northern Mallee District, said there had been times when he had ordered staff not to attend calls deemed too dangerous.
“Sometimes we know a location of interest that’s problematic … and we won’t attend if we think our staff are under threat,” he said.
“We have a large reliance on Mildura police.
“They’re invaluable to us, and if we’re under duress they respond to us in a quick manner.”