Senate debates

Thursday, 27 February 2020


Education and Employment References Committee; Government Response to Report

4:23 pm

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

To say that I am disappointed with the government response is an understatement. But do you know what? I care about this, but what really matters is what our first responders think—those who are there for us in our time of need. I will tell you what they think, because I've actually spoken to them. They are appalled, they are angry, they are disappointed and they feel rejected that this government took over 12 months to respond to this report that meant so much to them—a response that they say has been cobbled together without any thought or any care about all the issues that were raised during this long inquiry.

I'm going to quote a first responder's take on the government's response. They said to me:

There is a lot of bunching 1st responders with the general public services … the Beyond Blue research states—

and we know this—

that first responders have a much higher rate of mental illness than the general public and their needs are very different … As a paramedic I feel that this government does not care that we attend sentinel events, such as the murder of Hannah and her children in Queensland … those first responders who attended that will have that haunt them forever and with only the right support will they be able to move on … I wouldn't be surprised if there is significant mental distress and injury from that case whether it is now or in the future when triggered by another event … The response reeks of last minute panic. Effectively the Government were lucky they were shamed into doing something about the bushfires, otherwise nothing would have happened.

That's just some of the quotes. I have many, many more.

This government has given no thought, no care and no concern for the anguish in the lives of these men and women who are there in our hours of need. We cannot imagine for one moment the things that our first responders see and do in their jobs every single day—the recent bushfires, the road crashes, the domestic violence calls that they arrive at every day—and yet this government has not listened at all to their cries for help, which were laid out in the committee report. The responses provided are pathetic. The comments of 'support in principle and noted' and their deferring the responsibility to the states are a complete cop-out. These measures were there before the inquiry and they were not working, hence the need for the inquiry.

In this short time this afternoon, I cannot respond to each of the recommendations and the responses that the government gave us; however, I will do that at a later time. In the meantime, can I say to all those first responders out there: I am sorry that you have been ignored by the Morrison government, and I'm sorry that your cries for help have not been taken seriously by this government but Labor will not abandon you, and this is not the last of this. We on this side of the chamber know that you need help and that you have reached out, and we will continue to fight for you. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

4:27 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I just want to roundly support the comments of Senator Urquhart. I think she needs to be given great recognition for her personal push to have this inquiry. I was privileged and devastated at the same time to be part of the inquiry and to hear the evidence that we received. There is a gaping hole in the support that is required by these remarkable Australians who are there to help our families.

I see members opposite perhaps not believing this, throwing their hands up in disbelief that there is some role for the federal government in this. This is Australia. Get on board. This is a country where all Australians matter. There shouldn't be a differentiation in service because you live in the north or the south. When people bleed out across this country and first responders get there, they don't care which government gives them support but they absolutely need it. That is a matter of public record. The efforts which Senator Urquhart has so eloquently given voice to, on behalf of Labor, are a really vital record of what this amazing group of people are doing around this country.

Once again, I wholeheartedly endorse everything said this afternoon by Senator Urquhart, and I think it is a great shame on this government. It's yet another example of this government absenting itself from a response to the real and pressing practical needs of Australians in a time of need. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.