Any attack on Victoria’s emergency service workers will be treated the same as murder and rape by the courts under tough reforms to be imposed by the state government.
Cabinet agreed on Monday to have attacks on first responders and prison staff that resulted in injury classified as a category-one offence, which requires the court to impose a custodial sentence.
The Victorian government has been under significant pressure after two women were spared jail time despite being found guilty of a serious assault on paramedics.
Last week, a paramedic was admitted to hospital with back and facial injuries after being spat at and punched by a patient.
The previous Coalition government introduced mandatory jail time for attacks on emergency service workers, but the women were able to access special circumstances rules to avoid incarceration.
Premier Daniel Andrews met the Police Association and Ambulance Employees Association, which have been calling for people to be jailed for such attacks, regardless of circumstance.
Police Minister Lisa Neville said the changes would close those loopholes.
“This is about sending a very strong message – you will see a custodial sentence,” she said.
“You might claim you’ve been drunk or on drugs, [that] will not allow you out of serving time.”
Under a category-one offence, a custodial sentence is required, and not a community-based order.
Custodial sentences can include mental health centres.
Attackers deserve ‘full force of the law’
Ambulance union secretary Steve McGhie told ABC Radio Melbourne he believed putting attacks on emergency service workers in the same category as serious crimes was appropriate.
“They’re there to care for people, not there to be used as punching bags and footballs,” he said.
“And if someone takes it upon themselves that that’s what they think a paramedic is there for and they can punch them, spit at them, threaten them with knives, threaten them with guns … if they think that’s acceptable then I think the full force of the law should come down on them.
“I don’t think it will quite fix the problem but it’ll certainly go a long way to sending a strong message that when people do take that action of assaulting emergency service workers, and certainly frontline health workers, then there are serious ramifications from that,” he said.
How the legal change works for juvenile offenders is yet to be determined and the laws will be introduced in the coming weeks.
The opposition promised to introduce changes to tighten special circumstances when Parliament resumes on Tuesday.
The Andrews government is also considering how to tighten rules around special provisions when it comes to drug and alcohol-affected people.