The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 15:55 :06 ): I rise to speak on the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) (Blood Testing of Diseases) Amendment Bill 2015. This bill fulfils a 2014 state election promise made by the government when it committed to introducing legislation to require an offender who bites or spits at a police officer to undertake a blood test for infectious disease. I point out to the chamber that a similar bill was introduced in 2014; however, that bill lapsed due to the proroguing of parliament.
The previous bill was significantly less comprehensive than the one before us, in that it was only intended to apply to, and protect, police officers. The government reports that approximately 700 police officers are assaulted in the line of duty each year and up to half of them are bitten or spat upon. When considering that bill, the Liberal Party and the crossbench pushed for the application of the bill to be expanded to protect healthcare and other emergency services workers as well as police officers.
To this end, the opposition and the Hon. John Darley filed amendments to the previous bill. We believe that, regardless of their status, all emergency services personnel deserve protection, not just a select group that has the ear of the government. As I pointed out when I spoke on the previous bill, a volunteer cannot decide to no longer volunteer when they are providing a service to a member of the community during which they are assaulted.
The bill that comes before this chamber and the improvements that have been incorporated into it justify our strong stance on this issue. We are further justified in our stance because, last month, it was widely reported that attacks on ambulance officers in South Australia have jumped more than 70 per cent over the past three years.
The reports revealed that there have been 125 incidents in relation to paramedics in this financial year alone, which has prompted a new advertising campaign aimed at reducing aggressive behaviour towards healthcare workers. The violence not only confronts workers in the state’s emergency departments but also has an adverse impact on the safety of other patients.
It is difficult to comprehend why the government failed to accommodate paramedics and other emergency service workers in their previous bill. Nevertheless, despite this failing, they have had a ‘road to Damascus’ moment, and we are pleased that the government has accommodated the opposition’s amendments and expanded the bill’s application.
The bill amends the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Act 2007 to require an offender who bites or spits at a police officer or other emergency worker to undertake a blood test in order to test for infectious diseases. Currently, South Australia Police offers blood testing to any officer who has had contact with an offender’s bodily fluid. However, currently, there is no obligation for the offender to be tested, and this is what the bill seeks to amend. Blood testing of offenders will help identify any risk immediately, as it may take weeks for infection to show up as positive in an assaulted police officer or emergency services worker.
The threshold for whether an offender is tested is whether there is a reasonable suspicion that a police officer or other category of emergency worker has been assaulted or the offender has committed other specified offences of violence. Specified offences of violence include assault, causing harm, causing serious harm, an act likely to cause harm, endangering life, riot, affray and violent disorder.
I am extremely pleased that this bill lists amongst the prescribed emergency services providers St John Ambulance Australia, Country Fire Service, Metropolitan Fire Service and Surf Life Saving South Australia, to name a few. As I have indicated, it is critically important that we protect all those who continue to work tirelessly to protect us and make our community safe. All South Australians who make a contribution to the safety and welfare of their fellow citizens deserve to be protected.
In hindsight, the opposition’s amendments that were filed with respect to the 2014 bill showed great foresight and a greater appreciation of the dangers that the people in our emergency services face on a day-to-day basis. I am pleased to see that the government has finally acknowledged the need for the protections provided in the bill to be more comprehensive. I commend the bill to the chamber.See full session on Hansard