Last week the Labor Government, backed by the Greens, failed emergency service volunteers statewide by opposing an amendment to the Workers Compensation and Injury Management Bill 2023 which would have increased protections for volunteers who are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
While ambulance paramedics were extended protection from February 2022 and career firefighters from May 2023, volunteers who are on the frontline alongside paid staff cannot access the same support.
Shadow Minister for Emergency Services and Volunteering Martin Aldridge MLC said it was a pure act of betrayal by the WA Labor Government and the Greens to adequately protect Western Australia’s 20,000 plus volunteers who serve their communities selflessly.
“This amendment would have brought our emergency service volunteers in line with the same protection offered to paid ambulance officers and firefighters, but any hope that volunteers would be afforded the same support as their employed counterparts was shamelessly extinguished by Labor and Greens denying the change 19 votes to 10,” Mr Aldridge said.
“PTSD presumptive protection alleviates the burden on our first responders having to prove on the balance of probabilities that their injury was caused by their employment or volunteering.
“This process often delays claims for support and compensation and results in unfair re-traumatisation of employees and volunteers alike.”
The Minister for Emergency Services did not participate in the debate but provided advice that current mental health support programs offered by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) was adequate for emergency service volunteers.
Mr Aldridge said it was illogical to form a view that exposure to traumatic discriminates on the basis of whether someone is paid or volunteers their time doing the same job.
“In my experience having been a career and volunteer firefighter, volunteers are exposed to more trauma, have less support available to them, and also face the unimaginable reality of knowing the community members they assist,” he said.
“It’s an appalling fact that DFES spends just $1 million to employ six staff in their wellness program who are expected to support more than 26,000 frontline staff in Western Australia, especially in comparison to Police that have almost 43 staff supporting 7,350 officers. “DFES spends nine times more on media and corporate communications function and engages four times as many staff in this area than it does in its wellness team”
Mr Aldridge said the legislative amendment was supported by minor parties and independent members and was the only opportunity to achieve equity in cover.
“The debate, unfortunately, confirmed there was no ability to extend these protections to volunteers by regulation. This was the only opportunity to do so and with no rationale, the government chose to oppose this very necessary change and by doing so, have failed our emergency service volunteers,” he said.
“When we are having a national conversation about the impending risks of the declared El Nino event, the impact of climate change on emergency management and the decline of volunteering across all sectors, this decision does nothing to support the volunteers that we have now and into the future.”