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Message from Ambulance Victoria’s Chair

Message from the Commissioner

I am alive today because I had the fortune to be cared for by Ambulance Victoria when I needed it most. It’s an experience I know I share with thousands of other Victorians, all of us owing our lives to the dedication and quality of care of Ambulance Victoria’s 7550 employees and first responders.

Members of our community hold the state’s ambulance service in high regard.

Today, and over hundreds of days throughout 2020 and 2021, Ambulance Victoria’s employees and first responders have faced significant personal risk doing the simple task of just going to work each day, tirelessly supporting the community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The commitment of Ambulance Victoria to address the systemic change needed to ensure all employees and first responders feel safe and valued also reinforces that this confidence is well placed.

The dedication to treat patients with dignity and respect must be matched with the everyday experiences of all employees and first responders. Yet, since commencing as the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner in June 2021, I have learned that for some people who dedicate themselves to caring for the Victorian community, their experiences at Ambulance Victoria have been marred by unlawful or harmful workplace conduct – discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying, victimisation and everyday incivility or disrespect.

For too many, the impacts have been profound and long-lasting. Those experiences, detailed in this report, make for difficult reading. It is essential reading, however, as every one of those stories deserves to be heard and the nature and scale of the problems need to be understood so that they can be addressed. Change must happen.

It is this recognition that things cannot continue as they are that led Ambulance Victoria Chair, Mr Ken Lay AO APM, supported by the organisation’s CEO, Professor Tony Walker ASM, to invite the Commission to conduct an Independent review into workplace equality in Ambulance Victoria. I congratulate them both for stepping up, for having the courage to request this review and for supporting its conduct and for opening themselves and the organisation up to external review by Victoria’s equal opportunity and human rights regulator. Their commitment at the outset of the review to implement the Commission’s recommendations shows genuineness and should give great cause for hope.

These are important and difficult issues to grapple with. And, of course, Ambulance Victoria is not alone in them. This report – the findings about the nature, extent, impact and drivers of discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying and victimisation – should be a wake-up call to all Board directors and CEOs. No matter the industry, no one is above the law.

I want to acknowledge and thank each and every person who came forward to the Commission during the review. This is your review – your experiences and views have shaped this report. Your bravery in coming forward reinforces the message you so often told us – you care so deeply for your work, patients and Ambulance Victoria as an organisation that you want to see change.

I have no doubt that your experiences and suggestions will shape the future of Ambulance Victoria for many years to come, one that I am hopeful will embody the principles of safety, respect, trust, equality, fairness and inclusion.

The work ahead of Ambulance Victoria will be hard and it won’t be finished tomorrow, but the Commission will be there walking alongside the organisation at each step.

The work will require visible leadership and a sustained commitment and resources. It will require a collective effort – by current and future governments, by today’s Board directors and those who may join in the future, by the CEO and the Executive Committee, by everyone in the workforce and the organisation’s key partners, including the Department of Health and the various unions and professional associations.

Everyone should be asking themselves: what am I doing to make sure my workplace is safe, equal and inclusive, to make sure that the people who care for Victorians or who enable that care are themselves cared for? What am I going to do to set the standard, not walk past it?

Ro Allen
Victorian Equal Opportunity and human Rights Commissioner