STATEMENT BY REGGIE MARTIN, AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY on the statement “Ramping is worse than ever” and the Electoral Commissioner’s finding
The Electoral Commission has found that an advertisement published by the Australian Labor Party was misleading and inaccurate to a material extent.
The ad in question showed a paramedic discussing her experience dealing with the ramping crisis.
The ad was filmed on February 16 and went to air on February 28.
The paramedic is a real paramedic who has frequently experienced ramping while doing her job, and in the ad, she said, “ramping is worse than ever”. The paramedic provided a statutory declaration stating that, in her view and based on her experience, ramping is worse than it has ever been in her 7 years working as a paramedic. In the stat dec, she explained in detail some of her experiences while working as a paramedic. These justified her statement that ramping was worse than ever.
At the time the ad went to air, there was no data available that showed the hours that had been lost to ramping in 2022. The latest statistics released publicly were the monthly ramping figures for December 2021. The Liberal Minister had previously said that ramping figures would be released quarterly, and the next figures were due to be released in April, which would have shown the ramping numbers for the January to March period.
What we did know when the ad went to air – from all the available Government statistics – was that October 2021 was the worst month for ramping on record, November 2021 was the worst November on record, December 2021 was the worst December on record, the 6 months from July to December 2021 were the worst 6 months on record, the whole of 2021 was the worst 12 months on record, 2020 and 2021 were the worst two years on record, 2019 to 2021 was the worst three-year period on record, and when you looked at the entire term of the Marshall Government, it was the worst term of government on record for ramping, by a very significant margin.
There is no dispute about these statistics. They are the Marshall Government’s own numbers.
I authorised the advertisement featuring the paramedic – including the statement “ramping is worse than ever” – based on these Government statistics.
On March 1, the day after the ad had started running on television, the Liberal Minister (during caretaker period) put out a media release saying that ramping had reduced in January and February. The figures quoted by the Minister were not publicly available to be scrutinised and were not released by the Health Department at the time. They were only released by the Minister in a media release.
Soon after, a complaint was lodged with the Electoral Commission, arguing that because the January and February ramping figures were lower than October, November and December, the statement “ramping is worse than ever” was inaccurate and misleading to a material extent. The Electoral Commissioner informed me of the complaint and asked me to respond. I asked for the data relied on by the complainant, as it was not available on any Government website. I was not prepared to simply accept a Liberal Party media release put out during caretaker period. The Electoral Commission refused to provide me with the data on which the complainant was relying, and I had to provide my response to the complaint based on the information available to me when we made the ad.
Despite me providing to the Electoral Commissioner all the ramping statistics I had available to me when the ad went to air, being the ramping figures for every month from February 2014 to December 2021, which showed the terrible state of affairs with ramping when the ad went to air, the Commissioner concluded that the ad was inaccurate and misleading to a material extent because in October 2021 the level of hours lost to ramping was 2,868 hours (the all-time high), whereas in February 2022 it was 1,522. This was despite the fact that January 2022 was the worst January on record for ramping, and February 2022 was the second worst February on record, which in my view only confirmed the continuing upward trend in ramping experienced under the Marshall Government, and despite the fact that elective surgeries were banned in South Australia for the whole of January and only returned fully on 28 February 2022, which was likely to have been an artificial, temporary factor in alleviating ramping in January and February without solving the underlying ramping problem or addressing the continuing overall upward trend in ramping.
I also provided to the Commission evidence given in the Employment Tribunal by a Senior Ambulance Service official on behalf of the Government, stating that in the last days of February and first days of March, ramping had increased significantly, returning to upward amounts and the upwards trend in ramping was expected to continue. This was evidence given by an official of the Government, not the Union.
Despite all this evidence, the Electoral Commissioner chose to assess the complaint based solely on the ramping statistics in the four-month period from the end of October 2021 to the end of February 2022 in making his finding.
The Electoral Commissioner has asked me to publish a retraction. I do acknowledge that the ramping figures in February 2022 were lower than the figures in October 2021, and that although November was the worst November ever, it was lower than the all-time high in October, and although December was the worst December ever, it was lower than November, and although January was the worst January ever, it was lower than December, and although February was the second worst February ever, it was lower than January. I acknowledge that it was open to the Commission to choose the complainant’s proposed four-month timeframe when analysing the complaint, rather than accept the evidence and arguments I presented that showed that the overall trend was continuing upward and the statutory declaration of the paramedic’s lived experience that ramping was worse than ever.
Three of Australia’s leading QCs (one of whom is a retired judge of the Federal Court) have assessed the complaint and the Electoral Commissioner’s finding and they disagree with the Electoral Commissioner. They have provided their opinions in writing and I am willing to provide these opinions to the media.
Here is a chart showing ramping numbers for each 12-month period ending in February each year, going back to 2016/2017. It speaks for itself.
There is now evidence that has been obtained by the Ambulance Employees’ Association that shows that since the February figures were released, ramping in March has shown a return to the longstanding trend, now that elective surgeries have started again, confirming the Government’s evidence in the Employment Tribunal on March 7.
Having provided the above context, I will now address directly the retraction that the Electoral Commissioner has asked me to publish.
Here is the first paragraph of the retraction that the Commissioner has asked me to publish. I agree with its content:
The Electoral Commissioner has determined that an advertisement authorised by R Martin and published on television and social media contains the following statement purporting to be a statement of fact that is inaccurate and misleading to a material extent: “… ramping is worse than ever…”. The Electoral Commissioner has determined that this is in breach of section 113 of the Electoral Act 1985.
The Electoral Commissioner has also asked me to withdraw the statement that “ramping is worse than ever”. I am unable, in good conscience, to do so.
The Electoral Commissioner has also asked me to publish the following additional paragraph:
The statement contradicts recently released hours lost due to late transfer of care (TOC) data which shows that ToC times have declined by 47% since their peak in October 2021.
I do not agree with this paragraph.
The following statement is true:
The hours lost due to transfer of care (TOC) delays in February 2022 was 47% lower than in October 2021.
The evidence available now, in mid-March, is that ramping in the month of March has increased dramatically compared with February, and the longstanding upward trend that has occurred under the Marshall Government is continuing.