Taxpayer funded firm sends woman bush, unprepared

2628 Ming Lai companion OKBy ERWIN CHLANDA
A woman employed by a taxpayer funded company providing services in some of The Centre’s most remote areas was “terminated whilst on sick leave and then sacked” when she complained about the firm’s failure to provide her with training in safe driving on bush roads.
Right: “Got lost finally found my way to the Aged Care Facility. Stressed out, comforted by Lorraine.”
Ming Lai says she had asked the STEPS Group Australia for three months to provide the driving training but she had been fobbed off by the local manager, Philip Allnutt, saying he’d  “blown the budget for the month”.
The News rang the CEO of the Queensland based company, Carmel Crouch, to offer her the right of reply, but she declined.
Ms Lai says she was required to travel on her own to places including Lajamanu – some 14 hours from Alice Springs. She declined.
She was given a 4WD vehicle to reach closer dirt road destinations but was not told how to put the car into 4WD, nor was she given any other bush driving training.
The News asked the best-known local instructor in bush road driving, Jol Fleming, of Direct 4WD, to comment generally on the need for dirt road training (not specifically on Ms Lai’s complaint).
He said special training is doubtlessly required unless it is a “manicured road with a clay cap, nice and smooth, no wrinkles.
“We don’t have any of these in The Centre.”
He says putting the car into 4WD on dirt roads, even if there is no risk of getting bogged, is advisable: “You have all four of them working.”
This would enhance safety 30% to 40% because it increases the directional stability of the vehicle.
“All the percenters add up,” Mr Fleming says. “Then there are preparation, tyre pressures and a string of others.”
Ms Lai said her satellite phone never worked although she had informed the manager numerous times: “He informed me that it was for emergency only, even then SOS didn’t work.
“His way of keeping in touch was to leave a message on my mobile phone which didn’t work either.
“I was never shown how to pump up the tyre, just told the gadget was in the car.
“I could not call for help either as there was no [phone] coverage.
2628 Ming Lai road OK“A 20 Litre diesel [container] was placed behind driver’s seat.”
Ms Lai said she was threatened by STEPS for contacting the Alice Springs News Online under her confidentiality agreement with the company.
Left: “The road was rough and slippery. No signs of anyone for ages.”
It wrote to her that she “must not disclose Confidential Information … without the express prior written approval of STEPS”.
Ms Lai says she is not disclosing any “Confidential Information” as defined in the agreement.
“I simply want to make sure that no other workers are put into the position of fear, physical risk, stress and possibly loss of life I was put into.”


  1. I believe this is a breach of the WHS Act 2013. Staff need to be trained, adequately equipped and supported to travel remotely.

  2. She’s not the only one Erwin, you would be amazed at some organisations that do exactly the same thing, except they do have a satellite phone.

  3. I agree with Local 1 and Lizzie Gilliam, however there are few choices to make in life more difficult than in this case: “My life or my job.”
    Australians should know that the bush is a dangerous territory, and going in solo without training is equivalent to a death wish.
    If workers were refusing to go to work in those conditions, the bosses will quickly change their tune.

  4. Surely training is included in the yearly budget. Or is it siphoned off to other more needy area?

  5. I thought that you would need to be already qualified or have previous experience when you apply for a job.
    Did the job application state that it would assist with training if required?
    Why are people who have no experience being given jobs when there are experienced people who are unemployed because they will not be given the same opportunities?
    I strongly believe that you should have some kind of experience in the field before you contemplate about applying for the position.
    Unless you were forced to do a certain job.
    Most of the time an educated person would have refused to take on a job that he or she has no training or experience in.
    Tough cookies I say.

  6. I am surprised that nobody has asked Ms Lao if she had indeed received 4WD training in her previous employment. Perhaps we should ask?

  7. Thank you for your comments.
    As for Ronald Kirkman, I wish to ask him does he know any Registered Nurses with many years of experience in Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol, Counselling, Life Coaching, General Nursing, Cert IV in Community Services, Aged Care, Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Jungian Psychotherapy, Masters in NLP and Ph D in Metaphysics who has worked in Alice and knows and understand our Indigenous clients and communities, author, artist … who can do the job I did?
    I would like to meet them, so don’t make passing remarks like this without meeting me.
    The fact, that during my verbal phone interview, a 4WD safety course was promised to me or I would not have accepted the job.
    I’ve worked in Mental Health and AOD in Alice and it is MANDATORY FOR TWO STAFF to go out to communities.

  8. @ Ming Lai, with respect, you were alone, you did not received the safety course promised, but you chose to go.
    In your CV I can see you are a Jungian, therefore you are familiar with the “The Power of Choice” and the poem I walk down the street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk, and the four choices.

  9. Clearly Ms Lai is well qualified and experienced, so one has to also ask about professional responsibility!

  10. Thank you for all your comments.
    For Ronald K. please check with me first before making such a remark, there is not a more qualified trainer and assessor than I am, and I did the job to educate, empower and enhance the lives of our people in the communities to better look after their elderly.
    The 4WD safety course was promised to me during my telephone interview by head office, but was not adhered to by the manager here, in Alice, because he said the road was fine, last July when he went to that community and he had blown the budget for the last three months in a row. He had plenty of time to put me through the course, but was trying to save money and not my life.
    So, don’t tough cookies, mate.

  11. Ms Lai you say Mr Allnut says the budget was blown for the month in the article but in your comment say three months. Which was it?
    Furthermore you say how experienced you are including extensive work on communities, which by inference suggests that you had been to many.
    How is it then that you have never received 4WD training?
    There appears to be something terribly wrong with your facts!
    Again as a driver you take on many responsibilities including but not limited to ensuring the road conditions are safe, your capabilities as a driver and the safety of the vehicle.
    If any of these were in doubt, as an experienced nurse, you should not have made the trip.
    I suggest to you that you are blaming an organisation for you own shortcomings or you have another agenda.

  12. Wow, so many nasty and uninformed comments here. Even Joel Flemming, one of the most knowledgable people we have has said that Remote 4WD training should be a part of any worker’s training before they go remote.
    Ultimately it is the bosses’ responsibility to assess the hazard and manage the risk, and yes, the worker has the right to refuse unsafe work.
    Unfortunately it does not always happen in the real world especially the NT, and workers are often victimised when exercising their rights, especially as there has been a substantial review into OHS in the Territory recently.

  13. Agreed Evelyn, but some of these are. WHS laws have failed this person.
    Let’s hope she takes it to Worksafe NT, as there are certainly some breaches here.
    Every workplace needs a health and safety rep.

  14. @ Local 1: I am in total agreement. Ming Lai has a case: Employers have rights and responsibilities regarding workplace health and safety. A duty of care exists to provide for the protection to the health, safety and welfare of workers and others within a workplace.
    An employers’ responsibility includes:
    • Ensuring workers receive sufficient information, instruction and training in the work that the worker may be required to perform.
    • Enabling the worker to perform the work without risk to the health and safety of the worker, or any other person.


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