As the Victorian political press pack piled on to premier Daniel Andrews’ Labor bus on Tuesday morning – the first official day of the state’s election campaign – the opposition unveiled its own set of wheels.
With the Coalition ditching the campaign bus in the lead up to the 26 November election, it will instead rely on a “Ditch Dan” restored circa 1970s ambulance travelling around the state to remind voters of the state’s burdened healthcare system.
But the stunt appeared to backfire when the head of the Victorian Ambulance Union, Danny Hill, questioned the legality of the opposition using an “ambulance” vehicle.
Under the state’s Ambulance Services Act, it is an offence to use the word “ambulance” on any vehicle that is not owned or operated by an ambulance service without written authority of the Department of Health’s secretary. A fine of $3,698 can be imposed if someone is found to have committed such an offence.
Asked about the vintage ambulance, the opposition leader, Matthew Guy, pointed to Labor deploying a fake fire engine and hospital beds during the 2014 election in Mordialloc during pre-polling. During the 2014 election campaign, off-duty firefighters donned fake uniforms and rode in a de-commissioned fire trucks while campaigning against the Coalition.
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“I won’t be lectured from the Labor party when it comes to political advertising when it comes to what’s right and what’s wrong, or the union movement – which is the Labor party,” Guy told reporters.
Pressed on the legislation, Guy said he would “not take legal advice” from a journalist and would not confirm if the opposition had received permission from the Department of Health.
Hill stressed the reasoning behind the legislation was to prevent vehicles being mistaken for ambulances.
“It’s to stop a poor member of the public from waving down an ambulance and have two politicians roll out,” he told Guardian Australia.
“You’re not meant to portray yourself as being a paramedic if you’re not.”
But Guy rubbished the suggestion that someone could mistake the vintage ambulance for a real ambulance, saying: “Come on.”
Guy was campaigning in the Labor-held seat of Mordialloc in Melbourne’s south-east on Wednesday, when he pledged that, if elected, a Coalition government would implement a five-year freeze on the service charges on water bills, saying households would save an estimated $100 a year.
Healthcare and hospital funding is also set to be one of the major battlegrounds of the state election on 26 November.
In social media videos, the senior Liberal MPs David Southwick and Georgie Crozier stood by the “ambulance” near Victorian’s parliament on Tuesday morning, with Southwick saying there were “no beds in here”. The comment was a reference to the opposition’s criticism that the Andrews government has failed to deliver its promise of 4,000 ICU beds.
In March 2020, the government said it would inject $1.3bn into the state’s health system to “quickly establish an extra 4,000 ICU beds” in an effort to help the state respond to the pandemic. But the 4,000 beds were based on modelling of Covid cases from the beginning of the pandemic which never eventuated.
Andrews labelled the opposition’s “Ditch Dan” ambulance a stunt.