A St John Ambulance volunteer in the West Australian town of Leonora has resigned after saying she ‘probably couldn’t’ respond to calls for help from asylum seekers.
The ambulance service said it had reprimanded Jo Ruprecht’s not for her opinions on asylum seekers – which she expressed on national television – but for her failure to confirm she would go to their aid if she was called on to do so.
Ms Ruprecht was at Leonora airport last week when 86 asylum seekers flew in to be housed at a disused mining camp, to take pressure off the overcrowded detention centre on Christmas Island.
Wearing a St John Ambulance shirt, Ms Ruprecht told the Seven Network she thought asylum seekers received too much from the government when others had to work for what they had.
That prompted St John to counsel her and she apologised for wearing the shirt when she made her comments on camera.
But when Ms Ruprecht understood she might have to stand down over the incident, she resigned from the service where she has been a volunteer for more than 13 years.
Her resignation prompted a fellow volunteer to also resign from the service.
“I’m a bit upset by how it was handled, I understand I didn’t do the right thing by wearing my shirt,” Ms Ruprecht told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
She said she felt attacked during the counselling session.
“I’m so heartbroken that people, the organisation, can treat you like that.”
But St John’s Goldfields manager Alan Churchill told ABC Radio the comments Ms Ruprecht made to the Seven Network were not the issue.
He said he had asked her if as a St John volunteer she would respond to a call-out at the detainee centre and she had said “she probably couldn’t”.
“As an ambulance service, we cannot pick and choose who we go to,” Mr Churchill said.
“We’re there for the service of humanity, that’s our logo and that’s where the impasse is.”
St John volunteers had a wide range of opinions they were entitled to express and Ms Ruprecht’s opinion on asylum seekers was not the issue, he said.