Today’s correspondent is a Queensland paramedic who has

… a question relating to the Emergency Examination Authority that Queensland paramedics and police officers can use. Please see link for ease of reference:

My questions relate to two possible scenarios:

  1. A person is involved in a car crash. They meet all requirements to be placed under an EEA due to a head injury making them violent, combative and unwilling to seek medical treatment.
  2. A person was out drinking, they had their drink ‘spiked’ by person’s unknown and their behaviour became such that they were violent, combative and self destructive.

Both scenarios could see the person placed under an EEA. If they were, through absolutely no fault of their own, would there be any repercussions for that person in the future? Does an EEA affect a persons future ability to seek high level security clearance or work within federal services such as police, military or intelligence?

An Emergency Examination Authority is a document completed by an ambulance officer or police officer who has detained a person for treatment (Public Health Act 2005 (Qld) s 157D). The Authority justifies the persons continued detention in a public sector health facility for examination and treatment (s 157E). The grounds for detaining, transporting and then authorising the continued detention of the person are:

… an ambulance officer or police officer believes—

(a) a person’s behaviour, including, for example, the way in which the person is communicating, indicates the person is at immediate risk of serious harm; and

(b) the risk appears to be the result of a major disturbance in the person’s mental capacity, whether caused by illness, disability, injury, intoxication or another reason; and

(c) the person appears to require urgent examination, or treatment and care, for the disturbance.

Will that sort of detention and treatment affect the future ability to seek a security clearance? I can’t answer that in detail as I’m not sure how much of that is based on law and I don’t claim expertise in security laws. However, consistent with open government many details of security clearances are available online.

The Attorney-General’s Personnel security guidelines Vetting Practices (Commonwealth of Australia 2013) says:

4.7.2 Mental health checks

177. Mental health assessments should only occur where the vetting agency identifies issues relating to the clearance subject’s ability to protect Australian Government resources. Having a mental health illness does not necessarily mean that a clearance subject would not be able to protect classified information or resources.

178. Additional mental health checks may be warranted where the vetting agency is concerned that the clearance subject’s emotional stability or psychological health may affect their ability to protect Australian Government resources.

179. If the clearance subject is, or has been, under treatment for an emotional or mental health condition, information may be requested from a mental health professional. The request for any medical information, including mental health concerns, should be undertaken in accordance with section 4.7.1 – medical checks.

Section 5.2.7 is headed Emotional/Mental health issues. It says:

The concerns

337. Certain emotional, mental, and personality conditions can impair judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness. A formal diagnosis of a disorder is not required for there to be a concern under this guideline.

338. A duly qualified mental health professional (e.g. clinical psychologist or psychiatrist) employed by, or acceptable to and approved by the agency, should be consulted when evaluating potentially disqualifying and mitigating information under this guideline.

339. No negative inference concerning the standards in this Guideline may be raised solely based on seeking mental health counselling.

Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying

340. Behaviour that casts doubt on a clearance subject’s judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness that is not covered under any other guideline, including but not limited to emotionally unstable, irresponsible, dysfunctional, violent, paranoid, or bizarre behaviour.

341. An opinion by a duly qualified mental health professional that the clearance subject has a condition not covered under any other guideline that may impair judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness.

342. The clearance subject has failed to follow treatment advice related to a diagnosed emotional, mental, or personality condition, e.g. failure to take prescribed medication.

Conditions that could mitigate security 

343. Mitigating factors may impact one or more areas of concern:

  • The identified condition is readily controllable with treatment, and the clearance subject has demonstrated ongoing and consistent compliance with the treatment plan.
  • The clearance subject has voluntarily entered a counselling or treatment program for a condition that is amenable to treatment and the clearance subject is currently receiving counselling or treatment with a favourable prognosis by a duly qualified mental health professional.
  • Recent opinion by a duly qualified mental health professional employed by, or acceptable to and approved by the agency seeking the clearance that a clearance subject’s previous condition is under control or in remission, and has a low probability of recurrence or exacerbation.
  • The past emotional instability was a temporary condition (e.g. one caused by death, illness, or marital break-up), the situation has been resolved, and the clearance subject no longer shows indications of emotional instability.
  • There is no indication of a current problem.

The mere fact that a person has been detained under the Public Health Act should not stop a security clearance. It may cause the Australian Government Security Vetting Agency to seek further information but if it appears that the purposes of the person’s detention was due to trauma or intoxication (in particular involuntary intoxication) then it would not, one assumes, suggest a security risk. Even if the cause of the behaviour that justified the detention was a mental illness, the Vetting Practices confirm that this does not, of itself, mean the person should not get a security clearance.