Posted on 08. Nov, 2011 in Speeches

Mr LIM (Clayton) — I rise to speak on the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Victoria) Amendment Bill 2011. This bill will amend the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Victoria) Act 2009 by imposing a time limit on appeals. While this is not a large bill, it should nevertheless be regarded as more than merely a technical bill as it limits the rights of health practitioners. I will say more about that later. This bill follows a raft of bills dealing with health practitioners introduced in the previous two parliaments. The reform of legislation relating to the registration of health practitioners was undertaken by the Labor government. This reform included the move to a system of uniform national registration of health practitioners. The Health Professions Registration Act 2005 brought 12 health professions under uniform legislation. Amending bills in 2007 and 2008 took into account the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) discussion on a national scheme and, pending that scheme, ensured that Victoria had modern and up‑to‑date legislation, including strong and effective disciplinary provisions.

In 2009 the previous government introduced the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Victoria) Bill. That bill implemented the 2008 COAG agreement to bring the registration of health practitioners under a national scheme by 1 July 2010. As I have remarked in previous debates, the protection of consumers of health services is the fundamental responsibility of government, and it can only be done by legislation and the licensing of health practitioners. The registration of health practitioners provides an assurance to the consumers of health services that professionals such as doctors, nurses and indeed practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine are safe, skilled, ethical and competent practitioners.

The implications of having unsafe practitioners can be tragic, as we saw in the case of Dr Death in Bundaberg. Therefore the registration of health practitioners is one of the most critical legislative and regulatory responsibilities undertaken by the state. The registration of health professionals is much more comprehensive than just handing out licences to practise. Certainly for registration it is mandatory for professionals to have undertaken the prescribed education and training. However, it also imposes obligations relating to safe practice, especially an obligation to have attained and to continue to satisfy required levels of competence. For instance, practitioners cannot renew their registration without recency of clinical practice.

There is growing recognition of the importance of continuing education. Registration in the case of some practitioners, such as nurses, provides those who have undertaken specialist education and training with identification through specialist endorsement.

Registration requires health professionals to act ethically, professionally and competently and ensures that there are processes for reviewing this, including the handling of complaints initiated by aggrieved consumers and sanctions that include loss of the right to practise.

There are a number of areas in which health practitioners may encounter legal disputes. These include admission to practise, issues relating to competency, unfitness to practise because of substance abuse or criminal offences, and complaints from consumers. There are now well‑developed and transparent disciplinary and legal processes. Nationally a practitioner’s right of appeal is limited to
28 days. This is not the case in Victoria. This bill brings Victoria into line by imposing, from 1 July next year, a 28‑day time limit in lodging an appeal with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. This is one of the concessions that has to be made in order to achieve a nationally uniform scheme of health registration. However, it needs to be noted that it will result in a reduction of the rights of practitioners.

The Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee reported on this bill in Alert Digest No. 6. I thought the committee was a bit wimpy, given its responsibility for rights. Its comment on the bill was restricted to quoting from the minister’s second‑reading speech in respect of the delayed commencement of the provision. The committee, I believe, should have gone a step further in its comments section and identified that the imposition of a 28‑day time limit on appeals was a reduction in rights but a necessary trade‑off in moving to nationally uniform registration of health practitioners.

Despite this concern, this side of the chamber will not be opposing the bill because of the overriding benefit to Australia and to health practitioners themselves in allowing practitioners to more readily practise throughout the country.

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