Veterinary legislation between Australian states and territories can vary significantly with respect to the registration process and requirements and what procedures are classed as acts of veterinary science.
That is why the ACT Government is proposing to introduce new veterinary legislation in 2017, which is modelled on the NSW veterinary legislation.
The proposed Veterinary Practice Bill 2017 (the Bill) will significantly improve the efficiency and administrative functions of the ACT veterinary legislation, with minimal changes for the ACT veterinary industry. It will further harmonise the ACT’s veterinary industry with NSW reducing barriers to movement of veterinary practitioners across the borders which will improve productivity of the profession.
Consultation is now occurring with community and the veterinary industry on the proposed Bill identified through a review of veterinary legislation carried out by ACT Government.
Feedback or comments on the Bill for consideration by ACT Government are to be sent to TCCS.Vetboard@act.gov.au. Staff are also able to discuss the Bill verbally via 02 6207 0012.
The Veterinary Surgeons Board will host a face‑to‑face consultation session that is open to all veterinary practitioners and the community to come and discuss the Bill. VS Board members and ACT Government staff will be available to answer questions on the Bill. Details for the consultation session are provided below:
Date: 9 November 2017
Venue: Ground Floor, 496 Northbourne Avenue Dickson ACT 2601.
To ensure an appropriate location is provided for the session, please send your request to attend to TCCS.Vetboard@act.gov.au or phone 02 6207 0012. Please RSVP by 6 November 2017.
On 15 June 2015 the ACT’s Veterinary Surgeons Act 2015 (VSA) and the Veterinary Surgeons Regulations 2015 (VSR) came into effect removing the regulation of veterinary surgeons in the ACT from the Health Professionals Act 2004. The new legislation was established after a new National health scheme was introduced that did not cover veterinary surgeons.
The VSA was the first stage in providing veterinary surgeons with profession specific legislation in the ACT and was established as an interim framework. The former Minister for Territory and Municipal Services, Mr Shane Rattenbury MLA, advised industry on 6 August 2015 that further consultation and work would be carried out by the ACT Government on the legislation to ensure it is operating efficiently and to identify further reform.
The Bill has been proposed based on the outcomes of the review of the ACT veterinary legislation and alternate models by Transport Canberra and City Services (TCCS).
As part of the review, TCCS looked at the performance of the current ACT veterinary legislation as well as alternate legislative models, such as the ACT’s Construction Occupations (Licensing) Act 2004 (Construction Act), which licences and regulates the construction industry in the ACT.
TCCS also reviewed the veterinary legislation of all states and territories, comparing their models and provisions to the ACT’s legislation.
TCCS found that the veterinary industry is looking towards a more harmonious system across Australia (refer to the Australasian Veterinary Boards Council (AVBC) and Australian Veterinary Associations (AVA) websites). This also includes a commitment by the Council of Australian Governments to national recognition of veterinary registration where state registration boards recognise the registration of veterinarians from other states and territories.
It was proposed that due to the location of the ACT, and to effectively harmonise legislation and reduce barriers for veterinary practitioners moving between boarders, the NSW’s veterinary legislation be considered.
The review of the NSW veterinary legislation found it is significantly more detailed than the ACT’s, and provides greater clarity around the regulatory functions and role of the regulatory board. The legislation has also been tried and tested a number of times in the NSW’s court system demonstrating a robust framework.
NSW has around 3500 registered veterinary practitioners compared to the 381 in the ACT at 30 June 2016. As a result of having a larger circulation of registered veterinary practitioners, the NSW legislation has been markedly more tested for registering veterinarians and undertaking regulatory actions. TCCS reviewed a number of complaints the NSW Board has managed, which for the Financial Year 2015-16 totalled 44 compared to the ACT’s six for the same year.
The NSW legislation is a similar legislative model to the ACT’s current veterinary legislation, and would result in minimal changes for the ACT veterinary industry.
The objective of the proposed Bill, and the regulatory board established under the Bill, would still remain the same as current veterinary legislation focussing on protecting the public and promoting animal welfare through the registration and regulation of veterinary practitioners.
Details of the proposed Bill and changes to the current ACT legislation are outlined below.
Under the Bill, ‘veterinary surgeons’ will now be titled ‘veterinary practitioners’ and the regulatory board, ‘Veterinary Surgeons Board’ (VS Board), responsible for administering the legislation in the ACT will now be titled the ‘Veterinary Practitioners Board’ (VP Board).
Other than the changes to the title from veterinary surgeons in the ACT, there will be minimal changes to veterinary practitioners’ registrations. The Bill will retain the ACT’s current registration categories (general registration and specialist registration) with provisions to impose conditions. This is proposed to reduce confusion for applicants.
Under the Bill, the main changes to registration will be in relation to veterinary premises. The current process and application forms for registering premises are confusing and industry regularly contacts the VS Board’s secretariat seeking information on how to complete their premises applications.
All premises provisions under the Bill, will differ from NSW in that it will require all types of premises to be registered with the VP Board not just hospitals, and will not require a controlling ownership by a veterinary practitioner.
The ACT currently registers all veterinary premises and the current categories of veterinary premises are proposed to be retained under the Bill. The categories include Consulting Rooms, Clinics, Hospitals, Mobile Hospitals, and House Call Practices.
Regulating all premises will ensure integrity in the industry as well as protect the public and promote animal welfare standards. New forms will be developed as part of the Bill that are similar to NSW’s and are markedly clearer.
The Bill would not increase registration fees for veterinary professionals in the ACT. The ACT’s current fees will be retained and can be viewed in the Veterinary Surgeons (Fees) Determination 2017 (No 1).
The Bill will adopt NRVR and allow all registered veterinary practitioners in other jurisdictions to fly in and out of the ACT without registering or notifying the VP Board.
The Bill will, however, require registered veterinary practitioners who have moved to the ACT to reside to register with the VP Board within three months. This is in line with the requirements in NSW. The Bill will also allow for a fee to be charged for veterinary practitioners who do not register within the three month timeframe. If a veterinary practitioner fails to register with the VP Board, they will be considered under the Bill as unregistered.
Despite NRVR, the Bill will have jurisdiction over any veterinary services provided in the ACT.
The review of complaint management in the ACT under current veterinary legislation found complaint provisions were overly complicated and caused at times significant delays in reaching resolutions. The proposed Bill’s complaint provisions will improve the performance and responsiveness of the VP Board.
The Bill will remove the provisions in the current VSA requiring the VS Board to refer complaints to a professional standards panel or a personal assessment panel to impose any conditions or disciplinary measures. The VP Board will be made up of expertise from industry paid to assess the performance of practitioners against the professional standards and code. The current complaint provisions in the ACT create duplicative and costly processes that delay complaint resolution, and underutilise the technical skills of the current VS Board by requiring another panel be established to determine complaint responses.
Changes to the management of complaints will provide the VP Board with greater powers to impose disciplinary measures on a veterinary practitioner’s registration without referring complaints to a panel. Under the Bill, the VP Board will be able to impose a fine of up to $5000, impose conditions, pay specified costs relating to any hearings, and suspend a license if justified against three criteria.
The ACT Government believes the proposed provisions in line with NSW’s for complaint management will allow the VP Board to more efficiently address malpractice in the sector, and to take appropriate action regarding the severity and effect of non-compliance. Further, all decisions by the VP Board will have appeals provision for the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal’s (ACAT) consideration ensuring the VP Board is accountable and veterinary practitioners have appeal rights.
Similarly to current ACT legislation, ACAT will also still determine occupation discipline matters to suspend or cancel registrations for persons or premises under the Bill. This process ensures the ACAT, as an independent arbiter, determines whether a veterinary surgeon’s registration should be suspended or cancelled.
To further ensure the accountability of the VP Board, the Bill will retain the ACT’s current legislative provisions to jointly consider complaints with the HRC. The ACT is a human rights jurisdiction and a joint complaint process with the HRC ensures the regulatory body responsible for administering the legislation is abiding by human rights principals.
The Bill will further allow the VP Board to impose disciplinary measures on registrations after investigating complaints, or at its discretion; refer complaints to a committee for review. Referral to a committee could occur for complex complaints or complaints where mental health concerns are raised.
Penalties for offence provisions for veterinary practitioners will differ from the NSW Act (12 months jail or 50 penalty units, or both). The ACT will retain its penalties in line with the ACT Guide for Framing Offences.
Finally, under the Bill the VP Board will be able to create complaints itself against veterinary practitioners when evidence against another veterinary practitioner is identified during an investigation or during the work of the VP Board.
All regulatory decisions by the VP Board regarding registrations for veterinary practitioners and premises, and disciplinary measures as a result of complaints carry appeal provisions for ACAT.
The VP Board is governed by the Bill and, similarly to the current VS Board, will be self-funding generating the majority of its income from registrations. The role of the VP Board will be to register and regulate the veterinary profession in the ACT by applying the provisions outlined in the final legislation.
Under the Bill the composition of the VP Board will include six members with the option of a seventh if deemed necessary. This includes:
The composition provides an objective balance of skills on the VP Board, while retaining the necessary technical knowledge from registered veterinary practitioners to review the practise standards of veterinary practitioners.
The President of the VP Board would not be a veterinary practitioner but rather an individual with extensive board experience whose role would be to guide meetings and ensure robust and equitable governance decisions.
The current election process for three members of the VS Board will be removed under the Bill. Instead, all appointment processes for members to the VP Board will be managed based on the ACT Government’s recruitment protocols with all appointments by the Minister. The removal of the election provisions significantly simplifies the legislation and creates savings from not running elections through the Electoral Commission at around $4000.
The Bill includes provisions to create greater accountability and measures to review the performance of the VP Board.
Under the Bill, the VP Board will be required to hold an annual meeting that can be attended by all registered veterinary practitioners. The requirements for the meeting will be specified in the legislation and outline minute taking, general items for the agenda, notice of the meeting, attendees etc. The meeting will allow the VP Board to receive feedback from industry creating greater accountability.
The VP Board will also be required to maintain a public register for registrations and a public register for complaints. The VS Board is not currently empowered to release generic information on complaints and their nature. The Bill will not impact on veterinary practitioners’ right to privacy as all information regarding complaints will be de-identified.
Other measures to improve accountability include the incorporation of key performance indicators relating to the work of the VP Board. For example, under the Bill there are times frames for reviewing registrations and provisions to require continued updates to veterinary practitioners and complainants during complaint management.