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Motion: South Australian Police

 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (22:01): I rise tonight on behalf of the Greens to speak in support of this motion. The Greens believe that equitable access to mental health support within the workplace is an imperative that goes beyond the boundaries of occupation or organisation. Research has continually shown that working as a first responder is one of the few occupations where workers are repeatedly placed in high-stress and high-risk situations.


On a daily basis, police officers are subjected to traumatic calls, including child abuse, domestic violence, car crashes and homicides. Repeated exposure to these stressors and events has been associated with the development of mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, somatisation, post-traumatic stress and burnout.


The report from the WA Police Union, with combined data from the National Coronial Information System, found that 123 Australian police officers have died by suicide since the year 2000, with most of those deaths occurring after 2015. The report also found that since 2007, the rate of deaths by suicide has surpassed the rate of officers killed on duty.


The stigmatisation of mental health is a major factor that has prevented police officers from accessing the mental health care that they need following exposure to traumatic events. A 2018 Beyond Blue report found that employees in the police had substantially higher rates of psychological distress and probable PTSD, yet police officers who suffer from a mental illness are not treated with the same sympathy and respect as officers who are suffering from a physical illness.


Thirty-three per cent of report respondents felt shame about their mental health condition and 61 per cent said they would actively avoid telling people about their mental health condition. It is clear that a combination of not only police work but also organisational and managerial cultures in which policing is carried out is contributing to psychological harm.


The Answering the Call national survey, phase 2 of Beyond Blue's national mental health and wellbeing study of police and emergency services, also found that poor workplace practices and culture were just as debilitating as exposure to trauma.


Most respondents making workers compensation claims found the process to be unsupportive, stressful and reported that it had a negative impact on their recovery. Among employees with probable PTSD who did make a claim, 75 per cent felt it had negative impacts on their recovery, with only 8 per cent reporting positive impacts on that recovery. We have an obligation as legislators to ensure that all workplaces have appropriate systems in place to ensure that all South Australians, no matter who they work for, are given the needed protections and support to allow them to do their job safely.


There is an obvious need for extra support measures for police officers in dealing with mental ill-health, and the Greens look forward to this committee contributing to making better outcomes not only for all police officers but I note, with the amendments from the Hon. Frank Pangallo and SA-Best, those first responders more broadly. With that, I support the motion. The Greens will support the Hon. Frank Pangallo's amendments.

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