Second Reading

Resumed from 15 March.

HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [12.35 pm]: I rise again as the lead spokesperson for the Greens on the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (WA) Amendment Bill. I have previously indicated that the Greens are happy to support this legislation. I will give a summary of what I was speaking about before debate on this bill was adjourned. The bill is attempting to bring paramedics within the national regulations. The Greens have indicated that this is a step in the right direction. One of the matters I mentioned previously was that other professions will need to be looked at and I hope will be looked at in the future to bring them into the national scheme as well. I specifically talked about my concerns around the issues of social workers, psychotherapists and counsellors. As I have indicated, these professions deal with very vulnerable people, and social workers in particular have been calling for inclusion into this scheme for quite some time. I hope that we will see some movement in this area within this term of government, because I think that would be very good for both the professionals who work in this area—certainly people who are professional social workers—and also the people they see.

I specifically want to talk about the issue of psychotherapists and counsellors because part of the problem is that at the moment pretty much anyone can put up a shingle and call themselves a psychotherapist or a counsellor. That can create, and has created in the past, very serious issues for people who go to a counsellor or a psychotherapist and who, by definition, are already in a state of mental vulnerability. If they are not seeing people who really know what they are doing, that can be highly problematic. There are many horror stories about unregistered mental health professionals who effectively wreak untold damage. Psychotherapy counselling and social work are currently classified by the federal government as posing low risk to the community and, hence, they are able to be self-regulated; however, this does not match reality. There are cases of families who have effectively been torn apart because of the actions of rogue practitioners. We need to acknowledge that although some people might be doing a good job and are effective at what they do, without having proper regulation in this area an environment is created whereby people who are effectively engaging in rogue practice are able to abuse the power that has been given to them and can wreak serious damage on a person’s sense of self and wellbeing. Members would be aware of documented cases of practitioners implanting false memories of abuse in their clients, which, understandably, results in extreme personal distress, not only for the client but also for the families. I do not think we can understate how dangerous some of these practices can be. The Greens would like to see greater protections put in place for people accessing these health professionals, and for social workers, counsellors and psychotherapists to be afforded the professional support and recognition that registration can bring. We call on the Minister for Health, as I called on the previous Minister for Health, to advocate for these changes through the Council of Australian Governments. I hope that I can work with this government to try to get some movement. It would be terrific to see Western Australia take the lead in this area.

As the Greens spokesperson for consumer protection, I am also pleased to see that the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (WA) Amendment Bill 2017 contains provisions to allow for boards to intervene quickly and with greater powers when complaints are lodged against registered health practitioners. That can only serve to strengthen the legislation in a positive way and the Greens are happy to see these changes.

I want to make some specific comments about the provisions in the bill relating to nurses, midwives and restricted birthing practices. As a former industrial officer with the Australian Nursing Federation, I have the utmost respect for the professionalism of nurses and midwives. They are amazing professionals and very passionate about the work they do. I am pleased to see that there are provisions in the bill to ensure that a registered midwife or medical practitioner must be present through the three stages of labour. I note that these amendments were recommended by the coroner and by Mr Snowball, and that Western Australia and South Australia are leading the way in ensuring that women are being supported by qualified and reputable practitioners. It is heartbreaking that the impetus for this welcome change in WA was driven by the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of the child known as Baby P, whose mother was under the care of an unregistered midwife.

The Greens will continue, as we always have, to advocate for Western Australian women to have access to free, safe and, importantly, diverse options for pregnancy and childbirth, including homebirth and birth assisted by trained midwives. We see this bill as being completely consistent with that call. We would like to see increased funding for primary maternal health care, with the aim of reducing interventions in labour, including induction and instrumental and caesarean deliveries. This is both cost effective for the system and empowering for women because it means they are safe to birth with minimal intervention. There are many benefits from reducing intervention when appropriate, both for the health of the mother and baby and in reducing costs to the health system.

Accordingly, we believe there needs to be an increase in midwife-based birthing services and women-based services. On that note, I am pleased to hear that another birthing centre will be opened at Fiona Stanley Hospital. I had my three children at the birthing centre at King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women and did not have a doctor present; I had only amazing midwives present, and the experience was a wonderful and empowering one. I received the utmost clinical care, and I know that is the experience for many people. I was, of course, lucky that the midwives assisting me were very highly qualified and really knew what they were doing. One does not necessarily have to have doctors present at birth when there are no complications, but it is really necessary to have midwives who know what on earth they are doing. This bill will help to recognise the level of expertise and professionalism that our midwives possess.

Those were the few comments I wanted to make about this bill. It is a long time coming. We had hoped that this legislation would be passed last year but that did not happen, so I do not wish to hold it up because the sooner we get the scheme in place, the better. The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (WA) Amendment Bill 2017 is a good piece of legislation and was arrived at after a review process that included extensive consultation. It contains provisions that add paramedics to the list of health professions covered, introduces flexibility around the establishment and amalgamation of national boards, and increases protections for consumers of health services, including birthing mothers.

I can assure members that I will continue for the duration of this term to call for the addition of social workers, counsellors and psychotherapists to the list of health practitioners regulated by this legislation, but notwithstanding that, the Greens will support this bill.


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