Senate debates

Thursday, 13 February 2020


Education and Employment References Committee; Government Response to Report

3:52 pm

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of document No. 5 on page 15 of today's Notice Paper, which is a letter from the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Cash, to the President of the Senate in response to an order of 4 December 2019 in relation to the Education and Employment References Committee report entitled The people behind 000: mental health of our first responders. I will give a bit of context to this inquiry.

In December 2017 an intensive care paramedic came to my office and talked to me about the rate of suicides, amongst paramedics particularly, that she had become aware of. In fact, a close friend of hers had committed suicide. He was a paramedic in Hobart. She was very concerned about the impact of the role that paramedics undertake and the intense pressure they were under and that the incidence of mental health problems was growing. She wondered how we could get a Senate inquiry going. We did that and, I'm glad to say, all the benches around the Senate supported the motion to get that inquiry underway.

The inquiry travelled around every state in the country. We heard some pretty gruelling evidence from paramedics, firefighters and police—as it was about first responders, we limited the inquiry to those three professions. It was harrowing listening to the experiences and stories of people who were doing their difficult job every day. The report was tabled in February 2019—just 12 months ago. The report contained 14 recommendations, a number of which talked about the federal government working with state and territory governments to collectively put together responses around those recommendations.

We had not received anything from the government response to the report, so on the last day of sitting last year an order for the production of documents was passed to provide a response or an explanation as to why we had not received a response to the committee's report from the government. We did that so we could at least try and work out what the government supported and what it did not. I must say that the committee report was supported by the government. There were some additional comments from the government senators on the committee, but the report had consensus agreement.

That motion was successful in the Senate on 4 December. I have just received a letter from the minister, the Hon. Christian Porter. That's been passed to me through the President, and it is what's here today. It says:

The government is still considering and consulting with stakeholders on the report's recommendations. Therefore, the government is not in a position to table a response to this report at this time.

That letter gives me no comfort in any shape or form. It doesn't give a time line about when the government might consider a response to the report. It says nothing. It just says, 'We're talking to stakeholders.'

I'm really concerned about that because, given the events over the summer with the recent fires and the floods that are now happening, we rely on our emergency services—our firefighters, our SES, our ambulances and our police—who are out there at the front of these natural disasters and other things that are occurring around this country. I fear that we will be facing a lot more mental health problems in 000 responders not only because of the nature of their work but also because of the cumulative nature of the problems that they are seeing out there every day when trying to assist people. They're in the middle of this. They're at the forefront of fighting the fires. They're in the middle of the disasters, and they're trying to deal with that. In some instances, they are dealing with that and worrying about their families that are in the middle of this as well. I don't think it's too much to ask that this government take this report seriously, try and save some lives, at least give them some support and put forward a response so that we can actually start to do some work coming out of this inquiry. The last thing I want to see is this report sitting on a shelf catching dust, as many of them do, when we've got people's lives at stake—the people we call on when we're most in need and most vulnerable. We should be providing them with the support that they need, and I call on the government to provide that response as a matter of urgency. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.