The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I indicate that the Liberal Party will be supporting this bill. It arises from the national competition policy and is pretty much a template of the Medical Practice Bill and the nursing bill which have already been passed by this parliament. I note that in its second reading explanation the government says that a clear principle underpinning the bill emphasises the need for transparency and accountability in the delivery of services not only by the individual podiatrist but also by the organisations that provide podiatry through the instrumentality of podiatrists (podiatry services providers). I also note that things have changed since the chiropodists bill was first enacted, not the least being that they are no longer called chiropodists but podiatrists, but that particular reference refers to the change in ownership of many health services.
One of the key issues in this legislation is that disciplinary powers of the board will extend to service providers, other than exempt providers, and persons who occupy positions of authority in such organisations. A question arose in my mind as I was reading the bill; that is, when they are talking about exempt providers, they are talking about the organisations that come under the South Australian Health Commission Act, which is recognised hospitals, incorporated health centres and private hospitals.
I draw to the government's attention that often a contractual relationship exists with other organisations such as aged care facilities that might employ podiatrists and other allied health professionals on a contractual basis per service. I would like to clarify whether they will be captured under that particular area. I suspect that they are not because, if it is a contractual relationship, it is different but, if they are actually employing the podiatrist, they may well be captured by this. I am sure that they would be interested to know whether or not that is the case.
The bill also requires all service providers, that being the owners of the service, to report to the board unprofessional conduct or medical unfitness of persons through whom they provide podiatric treatment. I think that that recognises that there have been a number of changes in ownership restrictions. The NCP says that we are not to have those sorts of restrictions, so the traditional owner-operator may no longer be applying and, therefore, we need additional protections to ensure that the owners and the podiatrists are doing the right thing. It also provides for the registration of students which I understand is supported by the board and the University of South Australia.
One of the keys of the bill is to protect the public interest in health issues. As a health professional myself, the profes¬sions are very good at regulating themselves. Certainly, going through physio school, it was almost bludgeoned into us that we were to, at all times, act in the best interests of our clients. The standards are very well regarded by the professions and the schools, and the vast majority of students would end up practising with a considerable amount of pride and public responsibility. So, I think the boards and the registered organisations and professional associations should be commended for their interest in maintaining standards and, through things such as continuous professional development, to ensure that people are maintaining current practices.
Indeed, sometimes the joke is made to me that, as a physio, perhaps I would like to practise on one of my colleagues, if they have a sore neck or so forth, and I have to inform them that I am not allowed to because I have not practised for five years; so, that measure has been brought in to ensure my colleagues are protected from my unfit hands. While I might say these things in jest, in reality I think it is a very sensible measure that this parliament has taken to ensure that people's practice is current. While on the subject of current practice and such things as peer review, I also foreshadow that I will move the same amendment as moved by the Hon. Dean Brown in the lower house to increase the number of podiatrists on the board to five, with four rather than three being elected. I think that people who are best in a position to judge, and judge harshly, the practice of podiatrists are indeed their peers and, therefore, I think that is a sensible measure.
I am very pleased that the government did not go down the path that it was pursuing in late 2003 in which it was proposing to have a bill to cover all sorts of allied health professionals. As a physio, I would not have much idea of what podiatrists do or be in any sort of a position to judge their practice as competent or not. So, I am pleased that each of the professions will retain not only their own identity but also their own acts in a way that serves the community in a much better situation. With those brief comments, I indicate the opposition's support for the bill with an amendment to the composition of the board.