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Message from Ambulance Victoria’s CEO

Message from Ambulance Victoria’s CEO

A female Paramedic asked for flexible work arrangements so she could care for her small children. She was blocked, belittled and feared retribution from her managers. It damaged her trust in the system and she felt unsafe to come to work. Her mental health and reputation suffered as she was labelled ‘difficult’.

This Paramedic’s story was one of the experiences that was shared personally with me. It was learning from her experience, and many others, that I felt the enormity of the issues and challenges we face. This experience reveals a system that did not sufficiently respect her or listen and act on her needs and concerns. It then victimised her for trying to speak up. The stories of Ambulance Victoria staff and volunteers that have been shared with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission over the last year – experiences of discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying and victimisation – are deeply confronting.

The breadth and depth of entrenched behaviours and power imbalances are impacting our people.

Behaviours that do not align to the values of our organisation.

Behaviours that do not align to the expectation of the community we are so proud to provide emergency care for.

As the Commission rightly highlights, some such instances are not merely hurtful or harmful. These behaviours are unlawful.

This report is hard to read, but we must hear, feel and acknowledge the wrongs as the foundation for meaningful change. To those who have shared your experience – either with the Commission or directly with me – I thank you for your bravery. To those people, past and present, who have been subjected to behaviours and actions that are not consistent with our values, I unreservedly apologise.

I believe fundamentally that people come to work to do their best in the very important and critical role that Ambulance Victoria has in the community. There are many people in Ambulance Victoria who act appropriately, call out and respond to unlawful behaviour. This is the workplace culture we want every staff member and first responder to be part of. Sadly instead, incivility and disrespect have been shown to be so ingrained in our culture that people can’t recognise how their individual behaviours contribute to an acceptance that this is ‘just how we do things at Ambulance Victoria’. This is not acceptable.

There is no place in Ambulance Victoria for people who engage in or protect harmful or unlawful conduct. The actions of perpetrators – no matter their level of clinical or corporate experience – will not be tolerated. Their actions have harmed individuals. This must change, and from this point forward it will. The level of change required is extensive. It will take dedicated focus and time to undo a culture that has become pervasive over many decades.

As the CEO of this organisation, I accept all recommendations in this report. My leadership team and I commit to implementing the reforms to work towards rebuilding a workplace based on safety, equality, respect and trust.

Over the past six years, as part of a significant era of reform, we’ve invested heavily in improving the physical and mental health, wellbeing and safety of our people and building a gender-balanced workforce. We clearly have more work to do. We must create an environment where everyone feels safe and supported to show up respectfully; speak up safely if they experience hurtful, harmful or unlawful behaviours; and stand up supportively if we see this happening to each other. It’s in our collective DNA to care and prevent harm for our patients. We need to do the same for each other.

We are mindful of the unprecedented pressure the COVID-19 response has had on the workforce. This is no reason to tolerate harmful behaviour. It does mean that it is more important than ever for our people to look after each other. I want to thank Ambulance Victoria Chair Ken Lay AO APM for his leadership and insights, working together to call for and fully support this Review. I acknowledge the Commission for their extensive and critical work over the last 12 months in bringing a vital external lens to these challenges.

It will be important for each of us to reflect deeply on what people have told us and have meaningful and ongoing conversations so we can together shape our future. Our immediate priority is supporting our people and strengthening the systems that will change their experience. This includes the establishment of a dedicated Workplace Equality and Organisational Reform Division, a restorative engagement scheme to support acknowledgment of harm and initiatives to immediately improve harm prevention and overhauling our complaints system.

We look forward to the second volume of the Commission’s work next year that will focus on enablers for our transformation. Our people have demonstrated an enormous capacity to deliver reform, which gives me confidence that with this work as a foundation, we will together achieve this change. It is invaluable to have the Commission’s guidance to help us work toward a workplace that’s equal, fair and inclusive for all our people, in all of their diversity.

Professor Tony Walker ASM
Chief Executive Officer
Ambulance Victoria