Almost all of the major candidates leading the ACT Senate race have heeded a former police officer’s wish for legislative reform promoting easier access to mental health support for emergency service workers.
For then-Australian Federal Police officer Jason Taylor, life changed in an instant when he was attacked and choked from behind during an attempted arrest gone wrong in January 2020.
A PTSD and anxiety diagnosis and self-admission to hospital left him with no other option than to resign from the job he’d loved and held for 14 years.
“It was a very emotional decision, but once I came to the understanding that I’d never be able to do what I wanted to do again, it was an easy one. It gave me a huge sense of relief,” Mr Taylor told Region Media.
After experiencing a complex and unhelpful compensation system following his diagnosis, Mr Taylor began lobbying the Federal Government to implement presumptive mental health legislation for frontline workers under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.
“Right now, you’re required to prove to Comcare how your work has contributed to your mental health condition and that’s incredibly difficult when you think about something like PTSD because it’s never just one incident,” he explained.
“For example, you have to write a statement outlining all of the terrible things you’ve been involved with … and I can tell you in my career I’ve seen many things which, quite frankly, I wish I hadn’t.”
Mr Taylor noted it’s even more complex for a condition such as PTSD, where the ‘root cause’ is often unknown and not discovered until after therapy.
What’s frustrated Mr Taylor up until now is that his requests have been supported by not only the Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA) and the Territory Government but other ACT politicians, too.
“They all agree it has to change, but no one has done anything about it,” Mr Taylor lamented.
ACT Minister for Police and Emergency Service Mick Gentleman had even written to his Federal counterparts to lobby for the presumptive legislation to be introduced, he confirmed in a letter to Mr Taylor earlier this year.
Now every Senate candidate for the ACT has thrown their in-principle support behind his idea, too.
Incumbent Liberal Senator for the ACT Zed Seselja had previously met with Mr Taylor and said he was “moved” by his story.
“Personally, I’m very supportive of seeing legislation such as this that supports our dedicated first responders,” he said.
Mr Seselja said he understood Attorney-General Michaelia Cash had been working on creating a nationally consistent approach to compensation legislation.
The ACT Government confirmed that it was participating in these Commonwealth-led discussions last year but reiterated that AFP ACT officers would only be affected if federal legislation was amended.
A spokesperson for the ACT Greens said the party supported the principle that if police officers have PTSD “the presumption that it arose from work is reasonable” and subsequently supported amending the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act to make it easier for them to receive compensation.
“We understand that many workers have been frustrated by the Comcare system and support reforms to further support workers,” they said.
Independent Senate candidates David Pocock and Kim Rubenstein echoed these sentiments.
“If elected, I will support AFP members, as well as other emergency service workers, to actively advocate for changes to Comcare laws so that it can be presumed that PTSD or another psychological condition was caused by their employment,” Mr Pocock said.
Professor Rubenstein said she too would be supportive of such measures and having an independent in the Senate would mean ACT issues like this could be taken seriously at a federal level.
United Australia Party candidate James Savoulidis said he believed police officers deserved all the support they could be given.
“I am an advocate for our police force and will always actively seek support to make their jobs and their lives easier,” he said.
ACT Labor did not respond to Region Media‘s request for comment before the deadline.