Victorian Crime Dystopia – Assaults on Paramedics

We have written frequently on The Unshackled about the problem of violent crime and a lack of justice in the state of Victoria. Temperature spikes have occurred during the past two Melbourne summers, but it is a social crisis the state is still dealing with.

Below is the first in a series of articles exploring a particular aspect of Victoria’s violent crime problem and the inadequate law and order response.

Paramedic Assaults

The Victorian Labor Andrews Government has had some outbreaks of commonsense where it has moved to strengthen law and order policies and legislation.

The Ambulance Employees Association workers, who campaigned for Daniel Andrews’ election as Premier, have had their members subjected to vicious physical assaults in recent years by those they are called out to treat.

Paramedics who provide life-saving services to those in most immediate need should not fear assault, requiring medical treatment themselves and in some cases needing time off work due to injury, some too emotionally scarred to return.

Mandatory Sentences Exemptions

In 2018, Amanda Warren, 33 and Caris Underwood, 22 were not jailed for a 2016 alcohol and cannabis-fuelled attack on paramedic Paul Judd, who was left with a broken foot.

Laws that passed the Victorian parliament in 2014 require anyone who intentionally injures an emergency worker to be imprisoned for at least six months.

But County Court Judge Barbara Cotterell ruled there were “special reasons” to spare the women from jail as they had difficult childhoods with drug, alcohol and mental-health problems.

There was community outrage that these women walked free. The Ambulance Employees Association members wrote on their ambulance windows ‘It’s not okay to assault paramedics.’ Daniel Andrews’ government leapt into action immediately.

The Justice Legislation Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2018 passed the Victorian parliament in September last year. It was aimed at forcing judges and magistrates to send people to jail for six months or more for assaulting police and paramedics.

Courts are required to give less consideration to an offender’s prospects of rehabilitation or previous good character. But the “special reasons” exemption was not completely removed.

Latest Paramedic Assault

State government policy and legislation have their limits. The judgement on a person’s guilt and and subsequent sentencing is made by the judiciary who, once appointed, have their positions for life.

James Haberfield, 22, returned to Melbourne in January this year after attending the Rainbow Serpent four-day music and arts festival, during which he consumed “a cocktail of drugs”.

While still affected, Haberfield walked inside a random house in Coburg, terrifying the occupants, who called an ambulance. The two paramedics who treated Haberfield managed to get him into the ambulance.

He then became aggressive, however, punching paramedic Monica Woods in the face and pinning her to the rear corner of the ambulance while wrapping his arms around and squeezing her. Woods and her partner both pressed the duress button before managing to escape when the police were called.

Latest Court Verdict

When James Haberfield was found guilty in the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court, however, Magistrate Simon Zebrowski did not impose the mandatory minimum six-month jail term. Instead, Haberfield was issued an 18-month community corrections order.

This was due to Zebrowski finding special circumstances to exempt Haberfield from the mandatory sentence. These were Haberfield’s age, pre-existing autism spectrum disorder and increased risk of suicide in custody.

Zebrowski believed that for the “mortified, dismayed and deeply ashamed” young man, if he received a custodial sentence, it “would have a disproportionate and catastrophic effect” on his future.

Monica Woods, meanwhile, hasn’t returned to work since the attack and suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Commenting on Haberfield avoiding jail, Woods told 3AW “I’m upset and disappointed our safety doesn’t really mean much to the courts system and the justice system. I think he has been treated like the victim here. I too have had catastrophic effects of all this on myself.”

Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Kerri Judd QC launched an appeal against the non-custodial sentence given to Haberfield. The appeal was supported by Premier Daniel Andrews and the Ambulance Employees Association which fears that if these mandatory sentences are not enforced as a deterrence, a paramedic could die.

Further Legislative Reform?

Despite the tightening of the special circumstances exemptions, the judiciary has clearly still been able to apply them in similar manner. The Andrews Government is clearly on the side of justice on this crime issue. Maybe they should rework this mandatory sentencing laws and the “special circumstances” provisions one more time?

Emergency workers should be among the most respected people in our society. They already deal, in their everyday work, with confronting and traumatic situations. It is their job to treat people when their health and even life are at severe risk.

They do not deserve the added burden of needing to worry about their own personal safety when helping others. The public agrees, the politicians agree, better protection can be achieved.

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