Second Reading

Resumed from an earlier stage of the sitting.

HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [5.13 pm]: I rise on behalf of the Greens to offer our contribution to the debate on the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (WA) Amendment Bill 2017. I acknowledge that when I first received a briefing on this legislation, it was stressed to me that this was an urgent piece of legislation that needed to be addressed, yet I note that it has taken many, many months for this bill to be finally debated. I also note that when I received that briefing, I asked whether the bill was going to be referred to the Standing Committee on Uniform Legislation and Statutes Review, because it struck me as obvious that it needed to be referred to the Standing Committee on Uniform Legislation and Statutes Review. I was advised at the time that that was unnecessary. We then, of course, discovered that indeed it was necessary that the bill be referred to the uniform legislation committee, which made me wish that it had been done in the first place. As we know, the uniform legislation committee, as usual, did a very good job and has picked up some important provisions around the regulation-making power, which I am pleased is going to be addressed within the revised bill.

The bill also deals with some matters that have effectively been outstanding since 2010. That reinforces the importance of better utilising our committee structure. I find that a bit frustrating, because we could have dealt with this legislation a lot sooner. This is good legislation, and the Greens will be supporting this bill. In our view, the amendments serve to further strengthen the health practitioner legislation, which I last spoke about in this place in 2010.

The bill seeks to give effect to the amendments that have come from the recommendations of Mr Kim Snowball after his review of the legislation. The bill effectively seeks to include paramedics in the national scheme. It provides for the establishment of the Paramedicine Board of Australia. It enables the COAG Health Council to change the structure of national boards by regulation rather than by legislation. We welcome that amendment. It strengthens public protections to include stronger powers to take action in the public interest. It separates the nursing and midwifery professions to clearly reflect that they are two distinct professions and expertise. I note that nurses and midwives will be allowed to maintain registration in both professions at the same time. It also restricts birthing practices to registered medical practitioners and qualified midwives.

I am particularly pleased that paramedics are set to join the list of health professionals that are covered by the national law. Paramedics have been advocating for this for a long time. Paramedics are an invaluable part of our health system. They have high levels of training, skill and expertise, and that needs to be acknowledged through a national registration process. It is important to acknowledge more generally the role of paramedics as first responders and the personal toll that can take on people. As a suicide prevention advocate, I am deeply troubled about the high rate of suicide among paramedics. More can always be done to support our frontline workers. This legislation does not address that, and nor can it, but it is important to make that point. Registration also helps ensure the safety of consumers through ensuring that minimum standards are met and maintained. The Greens are particularly passionate about providing greater protection for people who access health services and we have been advocating for that for many years.

While we are talking about national regulation, there are three additional health professions that I have long been advocating should be subject to a national registration regime; that is, social workers, counsellors, and psychotherapists. I have spoken about this many times in this chamber in the term of both this government and the previous government. I am disappointed that nothing has changed in this regard. I hope this will be the next tranche of reforms in the national regulation scheme. The fundamental problem is that because there is no government regulation of the counselling and psychotherapy professions, there are no set requirements for training, supervised practice or ongoing professional development. This is highly problematic, because it means that anyone can claim the title of counsellor or psychotherapist regardless of how little they know or how poorly grounded their understanding of the profession. Unfortunately, the consumer has very little recourse when something goes wrong. Pretty much the only complaints process open to consumers is to go to the Health and Disability Services Complaints Office, which, frankly, does not have the capacity to address the issue in a substantive way and, most importantly, does not have the capacity to stop someone from practising. By the very nature of their roles, counsellors and psychotherapists are seeing people when they are at their most vulnerable.

Debate adjourned, pursuant to standing orders.


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