In the rush to grab headlines and the electorate’s imagination, politicians love to engage in stunts that give rise to photo opportunities. It is reported (Joseph Huitson, ‘I will not be lectured’: Opposition Leader Matthew Guy hits back after Coalition’s ‘Ditch Danmobile’ questioned by unions’ Skynews.com.au, 2 November 2022) that in the current Victorian state election
Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy has been grilled over his party’s use of a vehicle from the 1970s, which resembles an ambulance, on the first official day of the state election campaign.
The Liberals unveiled the “Ditch Danmobile” on Wednesday – a refurbished wagon featuring graphics and a number of slogans aimed at Labor’s record on health…
However, the Secretary of the Victorian Ambulance Union Danny Hill took to social media to question whether it’s allowed given the word “ambulance” features on it.
The two photos, below, are taken from the skynews.com.au story:
Is this a breach of the Ambulance Services Act 1986 (Vic) s 39?
In my opinion, yes it is. Section 39 says:
(1) A person must not—
(a) use the words “ambulance service” or any name, title or description to imply an association with an ambulance service, unless such an association exists, without the written authority of the Secretary; or
(b) represent that the person is associated with an ambulance service unless such an association exists; or
(c) use the word “ambulance” (other than on a registration label) on any vehicle that is not owned or operated by an ambulance service without the written authority of the Secretary; or
(d) impersonate an operational staff member; or
(e) use any insignia described or set out in the regulations in any manner contrary to the manner set out in the regulations without the written authority of the Secretary.
Penalty: 20 penalty units.
(2) This section does not apply to the use of the words “ambulance” or “ambulance service” by—
(a) the St. John Ambulance Association; and
(b) the St. John Ambulance Brigade.
(3) This section does not apply to the use of the words “animal ambulance” on a vehicle owned or operated by a genuine animal welfare organization for the transport of sick or injured animals.
For the purposes of the Act, ‘ambulance service’ means “an ambulance service created under section 23 or listed in Schedule 1” of the Act – in short it means ‘Ambulance Victoria’ (see s 3). The vehicle pictured does not use the words ‘ambulance service’ nor do I see anything such as styling or logos that would suggest that there is ‘an association with’ Ambulance Victoria. This means that, in my view, the use of this vehicle is not prohibited by s 39(1)(a) or (b).
We cannot see Mr Guy but I’m sure no-one would suggest he’s impersonating or pretending to be an ambulance officer so there is no breach of s 39(1)(d).
There are not ‘insignia described or set out in the regulations’ so there can be no breach of s 39(1)(e).
That leaves s 39(1)(c) and that’s straightforward – the section says:
(1) A person must not— …
(c) use the word “ambulance” (other than on a registration label) on any vehicle that is not owned or operated by an ambulance service without the written authority of the Secretary
As the photos above show, the vehicle clearly has the word ‘ambulance’ on the front, and on the back. Without the consent of the secretary of the department of health, keeping the word ‘ambulance’ on what was clearly a former ambulance is prima facie a breach of the Act.
Of course I don’t speculate on who has breached the Act, I don’t know who owns the vehicle, in whose names it is registered and how much Mr Guy had to do with the selection of the vehicle. The fact that he may be transported in it does not necessarily mean he’s guilty of the offence. To determine who was guilty of the offence one would need to know who is the registered owner and their employment relationship with Mr Guy and/or the Liberal party. We cannot speculate on who is guilty, but keeping the word ‘ambulance’ on the vehicle is prohibited by s 39(1)(c).
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In Victoria, there is a historical group who collect and restore old ambulances. They are typically restored beautifully and are historically accurate – including displaying the word “Ambulance” on the vehicles. Would the activities of this group be affected by S.39 of the Ambulance Services Act in the same way as the decrepit former ambulance being used in this political stunt?
Further, could the Liberals just paint over, or otherwise remove, the word “ambulance” to resolve the perceived issue? Thanks.
My answers are ‘yes’ and ‘yes’. Probably no-one thinks to ask for the secretary’s approval with restored ambulances but s 39(1)(c) says what it says. And yes, if the politicians painted over the word ‘ambulance’ the issue would be resolved.