This speech is to indicate support for the Dental Practice (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill. This bill replicates a number of the clauses that exist in other health professional bills.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I rise to indicate opposition support for this bill, which amends the Dental Practice Act. I put on the record that I believe the opposition has been suitably cooperative in assisting the passage of this bill. It was introduced in the House of Assembly on 27 September (which was before estimates) and, according to the conventions of this parliament, it must lie on the table for a full sitting week. The debate concluded on 15 November, which I understand to be the next sitting week (allowing for estimates) and, today being 21 November, we hope to conclude the debate.
This bill replicates a number of the clauses that exist in other health professional bills. The ones that were moved first have been the nurses and the medical practice acts, and a range of other health professionals have been included. This arises from competition principles that are being imposed, I suppose one could say, by the commonwealth government. I have indicated that I have a question, which I understand is being passed on to the government. Members of the dental profession are very keen to find out what is in the regulations. I think they had some concerns about one of the key provisions, which is extending the ownership of dental practices to people who are not dental practitioners, but they understand that that is a non-negotiable provision in this bill and one which has been imposed on all other professions. However, the regulations will be identifying the scope of practice of the profession, which is a little unusual compared to some of the other acts.
I think it is important that we do not take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to regulatory legislation for health professionals, because there are differences; and in some of the subsequent legislation that will come before the parliament (or, indeed, which have already been introduced) some of those differences may well emerge. My question relates to the regulations and whether we can get some sort of ballpark figure from the government about when a draft of the regulations might be available. I will continue to talk and, hopefully, the government will have an answer. I am not asking for a definitive date but a ballpark figure.
I turn to some of the provisions of the bill, which I will not dwell on, because they have been replicated in a number of other bills we have dealt with. My understanding is that students are included. However, I understand that students have already been included in this act, so that is not necessarily a new issue. There are some changes to the composition of the board and to some of the board’s procedures. Key issues include the matter of ownership of dental practices and issues in relation to those persons and organisations, which must highlight potential issues with practising dentists.
A number of these things have been replicated, as I said, in previous legislation, and I do not wish to dwell on them. However, I do want to highlight the COAG process. My understanding is that all the acts relating to health professionals were meant to be reviewed some time ago, and I think that these pieces of legislation are really dragging the chain. Also, I think that the psychology practice bill and the pharmacy bill are yet to come before parliament. The COAG process is about to well and truly overtake all this in any case, so it is an indictment on the government that it has taken this long to bring this legislation before us.
For members who might be interested, the Productivity Commission produced a report on the health workforce in January 2006 which flagged the establishment of a single national professional registration for all health professionals. This is a done deal, because it has been agreed to by all health ministers around Australia. It is due to be established by July 2008, and the intergovernment agreement is due to be finalised by mid-2007. It is envisaged, I understand, that there will be some sort of reference or complementary legislation which will be replicated throughout jurisdictions.
I note, too, that this COAG proposal is proposing that the administration be the section which is consolidated nationally and that the states and territories will continue to retain issues in relation to complaints and notifications and disciplinary matters. I think that in 2003 the state government proposed that there be some form of single health registration body inSouth Australia. There were a few problems with it, but one issue was that the remaining health professional acts had not been reviewed, and the department sought to roll them into the same piece of legislation.
It was rather ad hoc, if you like, and it did not make sense in a strategic sense. The proposal included that peers would not review peers; that you would have, if you like, one professional of each represented on the board, and all the professions arced up about that, including me, as a registered physiotherapist. The example I often quote to people is that, as a physiotherapist, I would not understand what is appropriate practice for a podiatrist or an occupational therapist, and therefore I am not in a position to judge them as a peer. I am very strongly of the view that peer review is a very important part of the governance of health professionals. I am pleased to note that those complaints and disciplinary matters will be retained at a state level because, indeed, there are even some differences between the different schools around Australia.
I think it is very dangerous, as I mentioned at the start of my speech, that we take a one size fits all approach because, in many ways, there are some significant differences and, certainly in terms of judging the appropriateness, professionalism or otherwise of particular professionals’ practices, it is a difficult thing for somebody to do if they are not as familiar as somebody who has gone through the training and practice. So, with those comments, I indicate support for the bill. There is disappointment that it has taken this long for it to come to the parliament but, in the interests of providing support for something that should be dealt with post haste, the opposition supports the bill.