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Education and Employment References Committee
Mental health conditions experienced by first responders, emergency service workers and volunteers

KARAM, Mr Ray, Owner and Founder, Police Are People; and Private capacity

KARP, Dr Jann, Private capacity

O'CONNELL, Mr David, Private capacity


ACTING CHAIR: Welcome. I understand that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you.

Mr Karam : Yes.

ACTING CHAIR: Is there anything you wish to add about the capacity in which you appear today?

Mr Karam : I am also here privately as a former New South Wales police officer.

Dr Karp : I'm a former New South Wales police officer presenting myself as a retired cop.

Mr O'Connell : I'm a former Australian Federal Police officer of 26 years, a first responder who has suffered post-traumatic stress.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. I invite you each to make a short opening statement, and then we will ask you some questions.

Dr Karp : I'm a Penrith Selective High School graduate and got a degree at the University of New England. I joined the New South Wales police in 1983, and the police department then supported my education with a diploma, masters and PhD. I retired in 2007, I think—I'm not exactly sure. I had five hurt-on-duty approved injuries that were physical and I have chronic PTSD. My work involved general duties at Penrith, Redfern and The Rocks in Sydney. I acted as an inspector for one year in The Rocks, and that was coming to the end of my policing career.

During work as a general duties officer—and I would like my comments to be regarded as speaking on behalf of many people doing this sort of work; I'm not unique or specific. You know: some of it is, and I'm trying to say that I'm trying to present a general story. I attended domestic violence, many deceased, drug overdoses, demonstrations and assaults, and that was an ongoing aspect of my general duties career since the beginning of it, so there's 23 years of that. Also, while I was studying, I would transfer myself, with the support of other people, into policy. I might do two years in the commissioner's policy unit and then I might go back to Redfern. I might do two years evaluating state investigative group, and then I'd go back out to the antitheft squad. So I sort of moved myself around within operations and general duties.

I decided to make my submissions on the basis of the PTSD and its effects on my current situation and, of course, report what it's like to go through a system that, in my experience of going through with a mental health issue, certainly began and then got exacerbated—I think it was deliberately exacerbated as a result of my PhD work on police corruption; I became a target. I find it offending that the New South Wales police have not presented themselves here today. I did look at the list and saw that they weren't on it. I attended another Senate inquiry into the relationship of drug use and the interstate trucking industry, and the senior police attended that quite happily, so they're obviously quite happy to attend when it's not about them—perhaps; I'm not sure. But I take it as a personal offence that they haven't presented themselves.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. Mr O'Connell.

Mr O'Connell : I joined the Commonwealth Police in 1976, and then the Commonwealth Police were amalgamated with the ACT Policing. I went across and did general duties in the ACT. I would like to give evidence on my experience of 26 years as a first responder. I did plain-clothes escort in the Commonwealth Police of diplomats whose lives were under threat, execution of antiterrorist warrants et cetera—Commonwealth law. When I joined ACT police and went over to the ACT side of the Federal Police, there was a lot of animosity against the Commonwealth Police. They didn't want Commonwealth Police in their so-called domain. I and a number of colleagues were, for want of a better word, bastardised—mistreated, very poorly treated.

I'd like to talk about the defective administrative procedures in the police force, the lack of duty of care and the negligence that I was subjected to. When three of my colleagues committed suicide, I was never given any counselling. I wasn't allowed to discuss it. This is going to go over the five-minute mark. I was expected to keep going—turn on the Superman switch, which doesn't work anymore. I don't know how I've summoned up the strength to appear here today to give this evidence. I don't need notes. It's all in here. Every day of my life, every night, is a living misery for me—for what has been done to me and what has happened in the police force without being allowed to get closure and to speak about the individual life-threatening incidents that I've been involved in.

I've put in my submission, a USB stick—whether you've all read it—a lot of information, and there is far more information than what I've provided for you. I've had to talk people out of blowing themselves and me up. I've been shot at by another police officer. I've been sexually assaulted by another police officer. I have seen some horrific things—accidents involving children squashed as thin as cardboard, bloodbaths, thousands of domestic situations. My life has been threatened on a number of occasions. I've been assaulted. I've been in armed and unarmed combat with people with weapons. I've had a loaded firearm pulled on me from under a pillow and I had to punch it out of the offender's hands because I was standing too close to pull out my gun. There's the Jolimont Centre, where I had my gun out and was prepared to shoot another person because he was armed. It was a person who I'd spoken to two weeks earlier, before he went and shot someone and tried to blow up the Jolimont Centre. I'm sure most people are aware of that from the time that happened. I was given no counselling. I'm not allowed to talk about it.

When I first went across to general duties, I was on front office duties. I went through orientation to different stations and, instead of being shown things and given information as part of your instructional duties—being instructed as to how you do your duties and things—I was taken out in a police car by a pursuit driver who tried thoroughly to scare me out on a dirt road in the bush. When he nearly lost the car in a mud puddle, that scared him more than it did me. He then slowed down considerably. It didn't faze me at that time.

I was in the front office at Woden police station. It was the night shift. A former ACT police officer came into the station. He looked very agitated; he looked nervous. He walked around the front office area and said, 'Come on—you're coming out with me.' I said: 'Why? I'm the only person in the front office.' He said: 'Don't worry. That's been looked after. That's taken care of.' I was the new boy on the block, so I didn't argue. I went out with him in the car and I was taken out to Kambah Pool, the second picnic spot on the right. Kambah Pool was out in the middle of nowhere; it was a fair way out. There are no houses around or anything. The whole squad was there, including the squad sergeant. If you would like me to name him, I will. They were all standing around talking and, all of a sudden, in the darkness, I heard, 'You watch this.' Bang! The first round missed my right ear by about half an inch. The second one was about half a metre away. The other four rounds were shot into the round bin I was standing next to. I yelled out, 'Shit!' and I ran to the left. The rounds came out of the bin making a whirring, whizzing noise and were flying all around me. I was stunned. I heard Sergeant Bob Baker say, 'That's enough.' They just stood there. No-one spoke to me. Of course, I put on a brave face and said, 'What sort of rounds were they?' The police officer who shot at me, Stephen Siddons, said, 'They were soft load wadcutters.' The soft load wadcutters were rounds that we used in our firearms training at the firing range. They had a square front on them and they were used to punch holes through the targets so you could see where the round hit on each target.

I don't remember getting back to the station. I don't remember anything after that. I struggle to remember things that happened after that. I was asked by a psychologist, 'David, was it summer or winter?' I racked my brain. I tried to think whether I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt or a jacket and I couldn't even think of that. The only thing that's impacted was the bullet missing my ear by about half an inch. I have no doubt that if one of those rounds had hit me, I would probably have been killed. They'd have said that I shot first or something, and I would have been blamed, because they were like a gang, a tight-knit group. That was the first occasion. I couldn't go in and have a discussion with squad sergeants about jobs. There was no intelligent communication. But their mates could go in. They could have a table discussion on work and things they did. You were isolated—I was sort of isolated. You were treated like you were nothing.

When I went to see a certain station sergeant first class, to discuss a certain job with him, I was told: 'Don't pick my brains to make yourself look good.' I was told by another ex ACT police officer: 'If it's too hot, get out of the kitchen.' These comments were made by people who were sitting in their offices nice and safe and who had support from their mates. That's cowardice, as far as I'm concerned. I was the one out there putting my life on the line, doing these jobs, having to deal with life-threatening incidents, having death threats made against me, and copping it from the people I worked with.

Maybe I was too naive. My goal was to purchase a home and look after my family. I was the only one paying the mortgage on the home, and I had to keep working. I had a right to have a job and keep working, and I wasn't going to let anything stop me from doing that. In fact, I think I should still be working now, but I'm incapable of it. The—

ACTING CHAIR: I don't want to cut you off, Mr O'Connell, but I am conscious that my fellow senators do want to have time to ask questions.

Mr O'Connell : Yes. Sorry.

ACTING CHAIR: I'm happy for you to wrap up.

Mr O'Connell : There's 26 years—

ACTING CHAIR: I understand.

Mr O'Connell : and there is so much that I need to say. But I'll let you, please, speak to the other people.

ACTING CHAIR: I do want to get to questions, because it's really important that we do—

Mr O'Connell : I'm happy to answer any questions whatsoever.

ACTING CHAIR: Great. Thank you very much. Mr Karam.

Mr Karam : I also want to narrate what Jann said. Jann and I actually worked together. This is the first time we'd probably seen each other—

Dr Karp : Yes—since Redfern.

Mr Karam : since Redfern. Most of my service was in Redfern. I came from a little town called Casino on the far North Coast—I was born and bred there—and then went to the academy and then virtually into the city. City Central was my first station and then I went on to Redfern, which was most of my service.

I liked what Senator Urquhart said. There were a lot of common themes, and that's what she alluded to. You'll hear common themes between people, and I feel that those are the things you should take most out of, out of these things.

I'm affronted that the New South Wales police haven't turned up. I don't know their circumstances; I'm not thinking I know their circumstances. But the mere fact of having an inquiry this close to where they are and them not actually being represented is—I can't use a word for it. I'd like to see there be some way that they could be pulled into line, to deal with what is happening to their police, serving, ex and deceased. As the family just presented before, it's a disrespect to the families of the police that have passed away, whatever the circumstances, however long their service and wherever they were in their service; I think it's a complete disrespect to those people. I find it amusing that that can happen. I come to these things. I fly in at my own cost. I present myself here with a seriousness, to add something back to what I see as a forum designed to support. And if they're not here, I think some sort of action should be able to be taken against them for that. That's what I'll say about that.

As I said, most of my service was spent in Redfern. I can go through a number of things that happened to me as a person that still don't feel like it's my life. I'm out of the police and have been out of the police now for 12 years.

I've had breakdown of marriages—all those things. I've since remarried. I'm blessed to have six children, from different areas of life, not all from my current marriage.

I see things still happening that happened in my day and that happened prior to my day. We talked about a culture. There was talk of a stigma, which Senator Urquhart touched on. I feel like, when I joined in '93, there was a thing about police being seen as lowly. I touch on what David said. When you started, they would say you had less rank than a police dog. You laughed it off, and you thought that was a funny thing—and it still is a funny thing to say. But there's a culture there that you can't touch with a royal commission—that the Wood royal commission didn't touch on. It's a culture to say that there's a level of seniority in there that doesn't hit on rank.

I feel like what happens with mental illness is that the moment you feel like there's something going on, there's no avenue for you to express that in a way that supports you back. I think one lady said that they've rolled out 90 reforms or 90 pieces of legislation—

Dr Karp : Policies.

Mr Karam : or policies. And that's no surprise to me. We're great at recreating things and making it look like we're doing something, but I'm looking at mates around my home town that aren't doing well, still. And how can we have post-traumatic stress on the rise? If we've had 90 policies implemented just in the last few years, that shouldn't be happening. If there are more people committing suicide, that can't be happening, because we're over it, aren't we? Police will be saying—and I'll just speak about New South Wales—'No. We've got 90 policies here. We're over it. We have to be handling it.' But if it's increasing, then they're missing it. We've got insurance companies saying, 'We're dealing with it,' and we've got people like me who are still partly involved with the insurance company who are fearful of coming to these things, even with a thought to say, 'Who's watching? How far is this going to go out? How are they going to use it against me?' which is exactly what they'll do. We got told, in the early days when I left, 'You're paranoid. That's just your policing,' and that sort of thing. But we had a lady just present here—and she was very lovely in how she presented it and very honest—that her son said to her: 'They're going to come after me,' and she didn't believe it. People don't believe you. They will come after you. They do come after you. Police leave for different varieties of reasons and don't speak up because there's a hierarchy that will come after you. And I don't say 'hierarchy' as in, it's just the commissioner. I feel like there's an entrenched behaviour within the New South Wales police specifically that says: 'Mental illness does not have a part and won't have a part.' They won't recognise it for what it is. They won't see it for what it is. Do we even see it for what it is? I'm not sure.

I don't think the training prepares you for what you see. Do they need to show you videos? No, because that would be a trauma. Do they need to walk you through it? No, they don't. But they need to recognise that people are people and they're going to respond to and be affected by things in different ways. It doesn't mean they're broken. It doesn't mean they can't be back in the police, as David said.

I joined the police for what reason? To be a police officer. Was there any thought of retirement or getting out? No way! I was in there for the career. That was it. That was my job. All I wanted to do was to be in the police. So I was there for the long term. It got me 13 years in. I was probably busted up about five years in. I don't know how I squeezed another eight years out of it; I'm not sure. But I see people in there.

It's still not recognised for what it is. I don't think we understand fully what is going on. I don't feel like it's recognised fully, what's going on. And I feel like the more people that pass through a system that doesn't recognise that, then the more there will be suicides.

As to figures, I don't know if you've had any luck in getting accurate figures, but they break things up. So I'm watching now to see how they break up PTSD, because it'll be post-traumatic stress disorder under this heading, and there'll be different levels of it. So they'll break it all up, so you won't have how many people actually committed suicide here, how many were on the job here, how many were this or that. They break all the figures up for a reason. Scatter it across and it doesn't look as bad.

If you bring it all together—as you're doing; you're bringing a lot of people together, though I'm not sure if you're personally speaking to all of them—you'll see things across it. Even when people are talking, you watch the back and people will be nodding, so they're in agreement with what we're all saying. So how can we have so many people from different walks, from different avenues, from different places, hitting on the same things?

If 90 policies are saying that New South Wales police aren't attending and they say they've got it handled and they've got it covered, it's a joke—they are kidding themselves. But they will convince you that they are right. They'll pull out a policy that says, 'I'm doing it,' and they will present a psychologist that says that that is what they are doing—but it's not hitting home.

When my mates contact me and I talk to them, I can see that they've got post-traumatic stress. They don't even know. They say, 'I'm doing alright. This hasn't happened. This is okay and I'm managing this,' and I'm looking at them and thinking, 'You're not managing it. It's there. I can see it in your eyes. I can see it in your face.' Would I say that to them? No way would I say that to them, but I'm there to support. Why am I there to support? It is because I know that, for me, the only for me to get back to where I stand or sit now was for me to not just dumb it down, like a child, but to have the time and space to see what was going on for myself and be supported to walk back through the steps that had happened.

I couldn't understand it when someone said to me. 'You'll have less rank than a police dog'—I didn't know what that meant—'and you'll be treated like a number.' I thought: 'I'm Ray Karam. They won't treat me like that. Look at what I do. Look at how good a police officer I am. They wouldn't dare do that to me.' I got to the end the line and found it had nothing to do with Ray Karam and I was a number—29045, a registered number. That was it—you were a number. As soon as it came through, you got shunted out into the system. I didn't want to go off; my doctor forced me. He said, 'You cannot go back,' and I said, 'I'm going back.' He said, 'No, you can't. Look across your life. You've lost your girlfriend and your family is driving you around. You don't even know what's going on.' I said, 'But I've got to get back to work,' and he said, 'No, you're not going back to work, and he then put me off. I thought, 'I'll have a few months off and everything will be alright. I won't say what it is. I put my forms in and I never went back. Why didn't I go back? I couldn't go back.

Once I got out it got to the point where I felt like everything changed. As I said, I'm only just seeing Jan for the first time. There are a lot of friends that I'm just touching base with now—after 12 years. I could say that I'm back from post-traumatic stress, but now I'm dealing with the fallout from it. I had lost touch with so many friendships and so many people in my life for so long. Now that I am getting them back, it's like, 'I do remember that person.' It's like there's was a void but now there's an acceptance, I guess. At the start the doors closed. The police service, my close friends, don't even talk to me. I use the word 'friends' loosely. I still care for them deeply and I know they care, but there's something going. It could be a fear—whether they would admit it—that it's possible that something like that is possible for them and they think that their world will fall apart like my world fell apart.

Why did my world fall apart? Because no-one was there to support me. No one was there to stand there and go, 'What you are going through happens regularly, but how is it for you? How can we support you? What else do we need to do for you? What other things are you in need of?' They'll have people who will say that to you, but it's a tick and flick. It's a policy on a piece of paper that I can follow that says a couple of things: 'Ring Ray. Called him at 12:10 and he said'—police are good at taking notes—he was going alright and the family are alright. I won't have to ring him for a week. He's off for six months, and this is how we deal with him; this is what happens.' They have no idea that they are dealing with a person. They lose sight of the fact that this is Ray Karam, Dr Karp or David O'Connell. They go through all the names but they lose sight of the fact that these are people. Why do they lose sight of their people? It is because they're not brought to account that they have to care for their people.

ACTING CHAIR: Do you mind if I interrupt you there, because we do want to have time to ask some questions.

Mr Karam : I am happy to finish on that note.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you very much. Thank you all very much for sharing your stories. We do really appreciate it, and it's very important for the committee to hear them. I'll ask a question that I asked some earlier witnesses, and I suspect that I'm going to actually get a different response from this particular panel. From when you all started in your various service roles do you feel there's been an improvement in the way that organisations are handling trauma and its impact on their serving officers?

Dr Karp : My answer is no. My experience is that you write the policy and then it's the practice where things fall down. Part of my submission has been a set of recommendations. I think I've developed about eight to address changing how things operate. If we had the best commander here, and we suggested that he debrief troops post a traumatic event, you'd still find that, for example, admin staff wouldn't be included—the radio staff. Radio staff call our jobs. If there was silence on a radio for three minutes and they didn't know what was going on, they're faced with a personal trauma. They're part of an operation, but they're sitting in a radio room. The debrief may involve the police on the ground, but then that officer wouldn't think about debriefing the integrated group that worked on that traumatic event. It seems quite a simple idea to me that everyone should be included in a debrief, but that doesn't happen. The hierarchy, again, will be that the plebs doing the work, who are operationally savvy and who have faced trauma, may get a debrief, but anyone separate from that in different groups, including hierarchy, may not participate in a debrief. Most of my recommendations are about operational matters.

Mr Karam : I'd say no and yes. The fact is we've got an inquiry—you're here. Something has to be changed and there has to be an awareness to something, but the figures are saying otherwise. You can say the NSW Police Force aren't doing enough when 90 policies will say they're doing enough. But when you're on the ground and you're seeing people still presenting here saying the same things, I say they haven't gone close enough to it, and I don't think they're asking the right people.

Mr O'Connell : In my personal experience, they just didn't care. There was no-one from welfare who came around to check on me or my family. When I was pensioned out of the police force, that was it. I was isolated, I was alone and I had to try and survive. My mental state and the drugs—I was so stressed after a sergeant drove up onto Red Hill and put a bullet in his head. I wanted to drive up there and see him, because I was on the afternoon shift. They'd counselled everyone on that day shift in the office and sent them home. When I got in that afternoon, I was told about what he'd done, and I was given an arrest warrant to go and lock a fellow up who was going to one of the High Court judge's send-offs at the High Court. This fellow was going there to cause trouble, and I was given a warrant to go and arrest him, which I and another colleague did. We were almost shot as a result of that. I was assaulted and my partner almost got his gun taken out of his holster and used against us.

When I went to the watch house, I asked my partner if he could do the brief fax up because I was so tired and I couldn't focus properly. He said he hadn't been a first responder and never typed up a brief fax before, so I sat down at the typewriter, typed up the brief fax and handed it to the watch house sergeant. The watch house sergeant called me back and said, 'You haven't put in any full stops or any spaces.' I just went back in and said, 'Give it back.' He said: 'No, go home. I'll fix it up for you.' I said, 'Thank you very much.' I was dead to the world. I was a walking zombie at that stage. You've got the evidence of what happened in that 14-page report. That 14-page report I sent in is just the tip of the iceberg. That's very minimal of what actually happened.

I'm not a violent person. I never have been. I've always been a protector. That's the way I did my job as a police officer. Helping people, saving lives—that's the sort of work ethic I had. I was so stressed. When I walked into Civic station one day to start work, another police officer made a smart alec comment to me. Not being able to get off my chest what I needed to get off, with everything that had happened to me, the urge to go 'bang' was so strong that it scared the living hell out of me. I walked into that office, put my paperwork in my briefcase and walked out. They sent another police officer after me: 'Stop, come back. Come back to work.' I said: 'No, that's it, mate. I'm finished. I can't do any more. I can't. That's it.' I went home and broke down.

I rang up police medical services. I was so angry at that stage that I wasn't able to get all these things that had happened off my chest and get a resolution to them. I said: 'I want every doctor psychologist in headquarters. I want a meeting with every one of you.' They said: 'Righto, David, we'll make a time. Come on in.' I slunk into police headquarters in Canberra, looking around because I was so—he was a big strong police officer, and he'd been shot at. He'd saved people's lives. I'd been able to be there for other people, and here I was—I couldn't function. I was looking around to see who was watching me in this depressed, impaired state. I went in there and the CMO was sitting there, with psychologists and doctors around. They said: 'Sit down, David. Righto, what can we do for you?' I froze. I could not get one word out—not one word. I broke down and cried like a baby.

Senator PATRICK: I have a couple of questions. Dr Karp, you talked in your opening statement about domestic violence, drug overdoses, car accidents and things that you'd attended. Mr Karam, you said in your submission that you simply didn't expect the job to be what it was. I'm interested in benefiting from your experience. Is it the case that the role of a police officer is in some sense misrepresented either accidentally or in some way in the recruiting process or, in your observation, in what you might see on television or something, and that that's not clearly explained on your way into the force or during your training?

Dr Karp : I'd like to talk to a solution about that, if that's okay.

Senator PATRICK: Sure.

Dr Karp : If we assume that that's the case, and then, suddenly, you come into an environment where things are more—

Senator PATRICK: So do you think it is the case?

Dr Karp : Well, you can't know a job till you do it—

Senator PATRICK: Sure; I appreciate that.

Dr Karp : but firing a gun is certainly different to playing a PlayStation. I see those as not comparable; they are completely different situations altogether. When you enter into a job, if you have commanders who are—and operational squads will do this quite well. I'm partly answering the question and partly pushing my own agenda, which is that there is a space for people to be dealt with and for every team to have a PTSD awareness that makes that operation or setting safe by prevention.

I f you're going to do work —'Right, I'm going to do a domestic violence job '—the first operational thing is, you'll do a check on the address . A nd the check comes back through the radio that there's a gun in the house or there's a registered gun to that place. You have two officers in the car and one officer says , ' I'm good at dealing with firearms ,' and the other officer says , ' I don't know anything about them.' T hat job is sorted. That person who knows about the gun is going to deal with the gun , and the person who doesn't know how to deal with a gun is going to deal with the offender or the people , the body , if that gun situation arises. If I'm the team leader of that team and I'm listening on the radio , I'll know Jim Smith is good with guns , and I'll know Jim Brown isn't . S o my team 's covered .

I f that operational scenario is repeated , where you know , prior to going into an operational setting , that there's going to be a situation , you can look at your team and you can look at who did a gun job yesterday or the day before , and you can say , 'Y ou're not doing the gun job ; you're doing the gun job .' So the job s can be determined flexibly by good operational leaders , and post-traumatic distress , if we want to call it an entity , can be divided up operationally , or the risk of it can be divided up . T hat's what I came to say . W e all go in innocently and we all end up like I did.

Senator PATRICK: Sure. There's a management process along the way

Dr Karp : T hat's not implemented , because commanders won't be on the ground and say we have a pre - risk for injury. If I'm going to send officers out into operational settings I don't want them shot , I don't want their legs broken , I don't want them to come back with a gash on their face a nd , in Ray's case , I don't want to him to get a br ic k. They're things you can think about , so why can't you think about , 'Oh, t here's going to be blood there ; t here's going to be trauma there. Right. What are we going to do pre- operationally about that on each level ?'

Senator PATRICK: Thank you . Mr Karam?

Mr Karam : I can't really remember the question .

Senator PATRICK: I was j ust saying there was a strong contrast between what you thought you were going to do and what you ended up actually doing.

Mr Karam : Yes. There's a massive—t here's a big void between those two , but how do you gap that? M y perception of what the police were is that it was a country station . I had nothing to do with the city . I had never been to the city . On taking a country person to the city , you could say they might need some adjustment or support. I'm not sure . H ow do you implement that ? A gain , it's a big question. T he fact is , and I think it's what Ja nn touch ed on as well , there's a perception of what a job does and there's a reality of what it does . H ow do you introduce that to someone when they're joining ? D o you slap it in their face and scare them off ? T hat's not going to work . We obviously need people doing these positions , so can you vet those people ? C an you go , 'Y ou know what ? W e have to have a certain level of person come in .'

I feel like what the police set me up in the training and everything to do with it was a level of desensiti s ation to the world. You 're desensitise d. H ow do es a m a n who do es n't carry or like guns end up with a gun on his hip for so long and, not only that , be trained to use it and not be afraid to use it on someone ? T here's a level of misunderstanding with how police are trained . It says , 'W e've got to get them prepared for this , but we 'll push that bit aside be cause we've got to get so much policy into them . T hey've got to learn so much . W e'll get that into them because then they'll know what to do from the framework ,' but it takes out that personali s ation . For me, the sight of blood , even , would traumatise me. O ther men might say , at my age , 'Blood? It's nothing t o me. ' So there's going to be a massive variance between so many police . B ut I feel like , in the training , there has to be some level of experience , with the people who are training the police , to understand more of what's going on.

It's n o different from how we put A CLOs in stations to understand what's going on with the A boriginal population. Why wouldn't there be a post-traumatic stress awareness , in that regard , w ithin the police , would you say ?

I would say the best people to talk about post-traumatic stress would be the people that have gone through it, have come out of it with some semblance of balance, have got back into their lives or got back into a life, and have said: 'You know what? I'm not achieving, and I don't need to be identified by this, but I have got some semblance of understanding of what goes on for people.'

ACTING CHAIR: We are running short of time. Senator Urquhart, I'm sure, has some questions.

Senator URQUHART: I've got a number, but I'll try to just stick to a couple of important things from my point of view. I think you talked about the 'tick and flick' policy and actually losing sight of people, which I think is quite a powerful statement. Where do you think the New South Wales police and obviously the federal police could improve in terms of return-to-work arrangements? I guess the other issue then relates to people who can't return to work. Mr O'Connell, you said you just walked out, you could not handle going back into that job and you were left to your own devices, basically. I guess what I'm interested in, from your perspective in dealing with what you've had to deal with, is what support services you think should be put in place for retiring police officers or first responders who can no longer perform their duty because of an injury or whatever.

Dr Karp : I think that, if someone's had to leave a job because of PTSD, the horse has bolted, and I can't see why the horse should bolt at all.

Senator URQUHART: So we need to deal with it earlier.

Dr Karp : Absolutely, and it's actually not that difficult if you know the team that you're working with—and I don't mean specialised teams; I mean GDs—and you're aware of their jobs and what they've been to, and if you have a relationship with that person and they can say: 'My child cried all night last night, and the last shift I was on I did a deceased. I need a day in the office.' That person would say now, 'I don't have any influence over the roster.' That's what they'd say: 'No, I don't have any control over the roster.' But, if that person could have two days of straight shifts where they get a good night's sleep and they come back, they're back on the horse and they go again. So, unless you're targeting someone and you want to bring them down, or you have a desire to fit them up and therefore prolong their mental health stress to the point they become ill, or you're just ignorant, it's very preventable through disclosure. The problem with specialised squads is that, if you're a specialised officer, you have a particular skill that you particularly like doing, such as being a sniper shooter, and you're very good at it. Can you say, 'I can't sniper-shoot today'? If saying that means you're off the squad, you're never going to declare it. But if you can say, 'I can't do it today,' and someone—

Senator URQUHART: And you know that tomorrow you'll be fine.

Dr Karp : Yes. There's no movement for that.

Just while I'm on this, the New South Wales parliament held an inquiry into what the definition of injury was, and I think that's really important, because at the moment it's extremely flexible, depending on who wants to talk about it. Even the Police Association in its last magazine talks about a 'minor psychological issue'. Try getting away with that with workers comp: 'No, it's only minor.' The vagueness about determining what this illness looks like is extraordinary. When I get an 18-year-old bureaucrat ringing me up and questioning my ability to have PTSD, that's the most horrific comment. That's when I want to kill myself.

Mr O'Connell : I agree that the issues need to be dealt with at the time. This could probably have been prevented in me. I have lost everything. I have lost my career, my superannuation and three homes as a result of being taken advantage of by the legal profession while I'm suffering from mental illness. Also, if I had been allowed to debrief on being shot at and been able to get that off my chest knowing that I was safe in the workplace, I have no doubt that I would have a good career with promotion opportunities, and I have no doubt I could have even become an officer. I don't consider that delusional or anything like that, but I could have become a sergeant. If I'd had a mentor or someone like that to assist, I have no doubt I could have had a good career in the AFP, but I wasn't allowed. I had to keep my mouth shut and I had to go through with that stress and fear of not knowing whether I was going to get a bullet in the back from one of the people I worked with, as well as having to deal with all those life-threatening jobs that I did on the road with the public.

Senator URQUHART: We are having a hearing in Canberra, and we hope the Federal Police will come along to that. Has the culture within the AFP improved? I see lots of heads shaking behind you.

Mr O'Connell : I have been out of the job since 2002. My life has been absolute hell. I'm living out of the back of my car. As a direct result of the post-traumatic stress I lost my family. That has affected my children. I've lost everything. I have nothing left to live for except my children.

Senator URQUHART: You talked about the Comcare system in your submission. What was the breakdown in the Comcare system that forced you to use your superannuation and not go through Comcare?

Mr O'Connell : It was misinformation given to me by AFP health. I was told that I had to take my superannuation, otherwise Comcare would pay me only $200 a week, and I wouldn't survive. So I went and took my superannuation, and Comcare kept on paying me. That led them to say, 'We've overpaid you by $10,000,' and they started taking it back off me. I thought they were paying me the right amount, then they started garnishing my pension. I found out I didn't have to take my superannuation. That wasn't my fault; that was the AFP providing me with false and misleading information. They were getting me to sign documents while I was totally mentally incapacitated and on mind-altering drugs, saying, 'If you don't sign, we'll sign it.' That happened to me in the Family Court with solicitors as well. That's why I lost everything, and solicitors laughed and joked about it, calling themselves real smiling assassins on their business cards. You should have copies of those as well. I don't know how I've survived. I don't know why I'm still here. I really don't.

Senator URQUHART: I'm pleased you are, because your evidence is quite powerful. Thank you for coming.

Mr O'Connell : I would like to attend the Canberra hearing.

Senator URQUHART: They are public hearings, so you're very welcome to.

Mr O'Connell : If the AFP does attend, I would like to hear what they have to say.

Senator URQUHART: All hearings are open to the public, except closed-camera sessions. You're welcome.

Mr O'Connell : I was given the 10 per cent impairment by a psychiatrist who I later on realised was working for the Comcare organisation. I told him I felt I was 80 per cent impaired. I just couldn't function, and I still can't. I haven't done my taxes. I can't do paperwork without someone sitting beside me. That's how impaired my mind is. I struggle to live every day just doing simple tasks. I took them to the tribunal, and I couldn't find any solicitor to support me or to take my matter on. One solicitor in the ACT looked me straight in the face and said, 'David, Canberra is a closed house; if you want any help, you'll have to go interstate.' He had a brother who was a judge in the ACT Family Court. It doesn't matter whether it's interstate or not; I haven't been able to get proper legal representation. I went to the Law Society. They put me on to a legal firm. I said, 'It has already started; I had to get it started because of what has been done to me.' They took the matter on and went to the tribunal. We won that. I had another breakdown and went into hospital. Comcare then took me to the Federal Court while I was in hospital. My psychiatrist at the time rang them up and wanted some information off them. They said, 'If he's worried about our taking him to the Federal Court, he shouldn't have taken us to the tribunal.' That was their answer. They were hammering me, trying to make me a test case in my impaired state.

Senator URQUHART: We are getting insurers to come to the Canberra hearing, so we look forward to it.

Mr O'Connell : I've been trained to go into situations, not to back off, and sort them out. I won't back down.

ACTING CHAIR: Mr Karam, do you have anything to add?

Mr Karam : Senator Urquhart, I'm not sure if it's answering you specifically, but while a police service is moving by way of numbers—we need this many police at our station—then they just see that as, like I said before, a tick and flick. If someone falls off the track, can we get him or her back on? No, we can't; let's cut them loose and get the next one up. It sounds cold, but that's exactly how it works. You say, 'Let's bring the commanders in.' Commanders are held to a higher standard, because every month they come before a review for their job: 'What are you doing with sick leave? What are you doing with this?' They have to balance all their numbers. You don't see people like Constable Jones. As I said, the common threads are what I'd like you to take away. If you hear these things commonly, they're the things you have to highlight and bring back out of this inquiry.

ACTING CHAIR: If you have any further information you'd like to provide to committee, we're happy to accept additional submissions. Mr O'Connell, are you happy for the documentation you've given us to be tabled?

Mr O'Connell : Absolutely.

ACTING CHAIR: We're happy to accept that, I take it?

Senator URQUHART: Yes.

ACTING CHAIR: Again, thank you all very much for being here today. We really appreciate it.

Proceedings suspended from 12:47 to 13 : 30