Today’s question comes from

…an Emergency Medical Dispatcher for an Ambulance Service. Currently we have no policy or procedures in place to deal with abusive callers. We are not allowed to terminate the call and our Supervisors advise us that this is considered abandoning the call which potentially results in disciplinary action. We therefore have to endure some quite distressing calls.

Are you aware if it is an offence for a caller to abuse us like that? It may not be a habitual caller, it could just be a one-off caller.

I can’t comment on potential ‘disciplinary action’ by the ambulance service.

It is an offence to use a carriage service, ie a telephone service, to make a threat to kill (Criminal Code 1995 (Cth) s 474.15(1)), to cause series harm (s 474.15(2)) or to ‘menace, harass or cause offence’ (s 474.17).  The test for the offence in s 474.17 is objective, that is it does not require that the accused intend to cause offence.  Rather the offence is committed where the accused uses the telephone in a way ‘that reasonable persons would regard as being, in all the circumstances, menacing, harassing or offensive.’

The Code specifically provides that s 474.17 is intended to apply to calls made to ‘an emergency call person’ (s 474.17(2)(c)).  An emergency call person is an employee of the agency that receives triple zero calls and forwards them to the relevant emergency service, rather than a call taker with the emergency service itself (Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) s 7, definition of ‘emergency call person’).  Section 474.17(2)(c) is intended to ensure that certain call takers are covered but it does not limit the general terms of s 474.17 so it still follows that a person who uses a telephone in such a way to ‘menace, harass or cause offence’ to a call taker from the emergency services commits the offence.