Political slogans scrawled on the side of ambulances have landed paramedics in court.
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Late on Tuesday afternoon, the Health Services union which represents ambulance officers was called before the NSW Industrial Relations Commission to explain the liquid chalk protest messages.
The slogans criticise the Baird government's changes to death and disability insurance for paramedics.
Messages include: "NSW paramedics most trusted, least protected, thanks to Premier Mike Baird."
The HSU says the new scheme has been cut by up to 75 per cent for a permanently disabled paramedic.
HSU Secretary Gerard Hayes appeared before the industrial commission to explain the "civil disobedience". Ambulance officers have also received letters instructing them to remove the slogans.
Mr Hayes said Health Minister Jillian Skinner says she wants workers to speak out about problems in the health system.
"Yet when we make our voice heard, we have to explain it before the Industrial Relations Commission," Mr Hayes said.
"I am proud of the spirited, robust campaign being run by grass roots paramedics to make the public aware of the government's intention."
Mr Hayes said slashing death and disability insurance would force paramedics to hesitate before they ran to a car crash or sprinted up stairs when someone was having a cardiac arrest.
"Paramedics deserve a properly funded insurance scheme, just as the public deserves a paramedic workforce willing and able to put their body on the line to do the job," he said.
Paramedics in Victoria also wrote political messages and slogans on their vehicles during a two-year pay dispute with Ambulance Victoria and the state government in 2013 and 2014. They voluntarily removed the slogans only after a change in government in 2014.
In July this year, the Tasmanian Government sought legal advice on whether there were any implications for paramedics who wrote anti-government slogans on ambulances.
Whether it is an eternity sign, a message of political protest or a hopscotch court, chalk markings can be a contentious subject.
The question of whether chalking is an act of unlawful graffiti has been debated in the NSW Parliament.
Greens MP and industrial relations spokesman David Shoebridge said Australia had a proud history of political and artistic expression using chalk to communicate dissent and challenge authority.
"From Arthur Stace's 'Eternity' to rainbow crossings and now ambulances with a message, this is a part of our history and should remain free from heavy-handed government interference," he said.
"The Greens stand with paramedics who are sending the Baird government a clear message that they matter, and their industrial rights matter.
"As recently as 2013 the Parliament expressly stated that chalking messages, and even hopscotch courts, on public footpaths and pavements is lawful and this protection should be extended to industrial matters."
Section 4 of the NSW Graffiti Control Act protects the right to mark public footpaths in chalk.
"We achieved this protection by inserting an amendment three years ago to the Graffiti Control Act in 2013," Mr Shoebridge said.
The section says the outlawing of graffiti does not apply to the marking of any public footpath or public pavement with chalk, "including, but not limited to, marking out a hopscotch or handball court".
Stephen Blanks, president of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties, said: "It is not unreasonable to use chalk to mark property in a way that does not permanently damage the property in order to make a political communication.
"The freedom to make political communication is a constitutionally protected freedom."
A NSW Ambulance spokesman said the state government valued the work of paramedics and funded an insurance scheme and workers' compensation benefits.
He said the NSW Industrial Relations Commission made a new Death and Income Protection Award, which commenced on August 20.
"The new income protection scheme provides new benefits to sick and injured paramedics who received nothing under the old scheme because their illness or injuries did not result in permanent total or partial disability," the spokesman said.
"The previous lump sum benefits for disability have been replaced by a two-year income protection benefit to support staff during a period of recovery and rehabilitation before they return to work. This is not a lump sum or 'payout'.
"As the chalking matter is currently before the NSW Industrial Relations Commission, NSW Ambulance will not provide any further comment at this stage."
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