You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
People who attack paramedics would automatically be jailed under tough new laws to be debated by Parliament.
A new bill proposes a mandatory minimum sentence of six months' jail for assaults on all first responders, including paramedics and prison officers.
Last year, St John paramedics suffered 2556 incidents of abuse including cases of verbal abuse, being beaten, knocked unconscious, having limbs broken, bottles thrown at them and being groped while on the job.
The timing of New Zealand First MP Darroch Ball's private member's bill, which was plucked from the ballot last week, comes as the Australian state of Victoria overhauls its sentencing laws after a backlash over two women who were discharged after assaulting a paramedic.
From mid-June, people who assault emergency services staff in the state will be jailed for six months. Drug or alcohol-induced impairment will no longer be deemed an excuse to avoid imprisonment.
Ball told The New Zealand Herald he had only put the bill in the Parliamentary ballot the day before it was drawn out and the timing couldn't be better as Victoria enforced the same measures.
"I think it's well overdue to be honest," he said.
Ball said the bill aimed to ensure the public understood that first responders deserved the utmost respect and were not fair game for assaults and abuse.
"Police, ambulance, fire and corrections officers put themselves in very dangerous situations and surround themselves with unsavoury characters and we need to ensure that they're protected doing their job.
"I think they understand that for a long time they've had targets on their backs and the law hasn't been there to support them."
So far this year, 1020 incidents of abuse have been reported, which include 262 physical assaults. Thirty-three percent of those happened at weekends, 15% were related to mental health issues and 36% related to alcohol.
St John people and capability director Sue Steen told the Weekend Herald that while they did have systems, alerts and support for staff, they also needed harsher deterrents.
"I think it's about time that ... paramedics are recognised as emergency services personnel treating patients in really tricky environments and it's not okay for them to be assaulted."
She says too few assault cases get to court.
"This is based on the fact that our individual ambulance officers have to agree to pursue that prosecution, whereas this bill will put us in a much stronger position," Steen said.
First Union organiser Lynette Blacklaws was also hopeful the bill would improve the safety of paramedics.
"It has been a long time coming and our members have been screaming out for justice, and a deterrent from members of the public lashing out at them, which to date seems to have had no repercussions for offenders."
A 69-year-old man was this week sentenced to a year of intensive supervision plus reparations for indecently assaulting a Hamilton ambulance officer in March.
At sentencing, she spoke of the toll the incident took on her: "I have been an ambulance officer for 13 years now. I have never come across a situation like this in my career where I have been indecently assaulted.
"We treated your medical condition at your home and then transported you to hospital. We showed you care. We showed you compassion.
"On arrival at hospital my colleague went to get a wheelchair. I leaned forward to remove various monitoring equipment from you and remove your seatbelt from the stretcher. You chose to indecently assault me as I was doing my job."
The ambulance officer said the ordeal affected her relationships with her family and she was unable to return to work for five weeks.
Ball said serious assaults on police officers had also risen in recent years.
"If you look back ... about 30 or 40 years, touching a police officer was a no-no, but these days it feels like they're fair game."
He added that Corrections officers were included in the bill because of the high-risk environment in which they work.
"Within the last year, there have been 20 serious assaults by prisoners on prison guards," Ball said.
St John will make a submission on the bill which is likely to have its first reading in Parliament within the next six weeks.
- By Carla Penman