Legislative Council: Tuesday, September 26, 2023



Veterinary Services Bill

Committee Stage

Debate resumed.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I understand this amendment seeks to ensure references to premises are taken to include a reference to a mobile hospital or clinic in which it is intended that veterinary services will be provided. That is a vehicle, a demountable building, or otherwise, inside of which a veterinarian can provide veterinary services.

This amendment is also linked, as I understand it, to further amendments regarding mobile hospitals or clinics, including an amendment relating to information kept on relevant registers, amendment No. 7 [Centofanti-1], and an amendment which would require the veterinary premises standard to contain requirements relating to mobile hospitals and clinics, amendment No. 8 [Centofanti-1].

Veterinary premises registration requirements outlined in the bill are intended to apply to bricks-and-mortar premises within which veterinary services are provided. Examples of such premises include clinics, practices, hospitals, emergency centres and specialist centres. These premises are typically occupied by a veterinary business fitted out for the purpose of providing veterinary services and create an expectation as to the types of veterinary services that may be offered within them.

Registration of such premises will enable the board to set minimum standards for veterinary premises and will enable the board to set conditions on premise registration where that might be required. It will ensure premises where veterinary services are provided are fit for their intended purpose and appropriately regulated. It will also provide confidence to consumers when seeking veterinary services at different types of premises.

I do note examples interstate. I understand there are no similar mobile premises in South Australia at this time, but interstate there are, for example, purpose-built semitrailers or B-doubles which operate to provide veterinary services where they are needed, whether that be in regional areas or as the result of an emergency or a natural disaster.

One example is the Animal Welfare League of New South Wales mobile veterinary animal care truck, which was deployed to flood-affected areas in New South Wales in 2021 to provide emergency veterinary relief to companion animals and livestock. The Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital also operates from within a full-sized custom-built semitrailer, which can be transported to the scene of a natural disaster such as a bushfire, flood, mass stranding or oil spill, for example—anything such as that which may affect wildlife on a large scale.

It is possible that such mobile hospitals and clinics may commence operating or become more commonplace in general and in South Australia in particular in the future. As these mobile hospitals and clinics are typically fitted out for the purposes of providing veterinary services within them, I accept that there is a case that they too should be registered and held to appropriate minimum standards similar to those standards that a traditional bricks-and-mortar premises will be held to.

Minimum standards offer protection to both veterinarians and also to consumers of veterinary services. So on this basis, I support this amendment. I can also indicate at this time my support for the two related amendments to clause 39 and clause 40.

Amendment carried; clause as amended passed.

Clauses 4 and 5 passed.

Clause 6.

The CHAIR: Clause 6 has an amendment in the name of the Hon. Ms Centofanti and also the minister.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: If possible, I would like to ask some questions of the minister around clause 6, particularly on board composition.

The CHAIR: Yes.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: How was the criteria or area in terms of skills, knowledge and experience determined in regard to board composition?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I am advised that the skills, knowledge and experience was determined by looking at the requirements in other Australian jurisdictions, and also through feedback to the discussion paper. I think a skills-based board is particularly important. We want to have input from those who are intimately involved in the profession and also ensure that there is confidence from the public in the way that any matters are dealt with.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Why was the Australian Veterinary Association SA Division representative removed from that board composition?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: The change was in relation to it becoming a skills-based board, which I alluded to in the answer to the previous question. I think there is a great deal to be had from input from the AVA, but rather than being a representative board, if this bill passes, it is a skills-based board and therefore inappropriate to be specifying which particular bodies should be represented on the board in that manner.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Why then does the teaching of veterinary science remain, given that there is really only one organisation in South Australia where veterinary science is taught?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I think that is entirely consistent with changing to a skills-based board. We need to have skills in training and teaching. I am a little confused by the question because if the bill suggested that it should be the university of X, then that would be indicating a specific, whereas what we are saying is the skills necessary. If those skills are only provided by one body that is not a problem, but we do not need to specify the body, we need to specify the skills because of the emphasis on it being a skills-based position.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Could a veterinarian out in practice then who had their memberships in a certain field, whether that be surgery, medicine, etc., be considered sufficient to have skills in the teaching of veterinary science?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: Sorry, could you repeat the question? There were a couple of words there that—

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: In a situation where you have a practitioner out in general practice but who has obtained their memberships, rather than a specialist—there are two different things, memberships and specialists—will those vets who have obtained their memberships in a certain subject, whether that be surgery, medicine, etc., be taken to have enough skills to fulfil that composition on the board in regard to the teaching of veterinary science?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I am advised that any person putting forward a nomination would need to demonstrate their skill set, their expertise and their qualifications and then it would be taken on merit, remembering also that in terms of the skills that we are looking for—this is collective skills of the board—we are trying to get that appropriate balance between all the members to ensure that they are able to continue supporting the purposes and the objects of the board in a way that is of benefit to the state.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Is the minister suggesting that it is on a case-by-case basis, in terms of the teaching skills?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: It would be on merit. If someone nominates to be a member of the board, they need to demonstrate their expertise, their qualifications and their skills and then that will be assessed as part of the overall nomination process for the board.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: If a member puts forward their name and does not have membership or specialist skills, will they not be accepted onto the board? When you say you want broad, are we saying that they need to encompass all of the requirements? I would assume not because there are urban companion animals, rural mixed and production animals, commonwealth responsibility, teaching of veterinary science, and management of governance and any other area.

I guess what I am trying to decipher is what is it specifically about the teaching of veterinary science; what qualification would the member need to have regarding the teaching of veterinary science to become a board member?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: First of all, to clarify the honourable member's first point, there is no suggestion that every member of the board would have each and every one of those listed skills, knowledge and experience. That is impossible, of course. I was not aware that anyone was interpreting it in that way at all. Instead, the board collectively or holistically needs to be able to demonstrate that the board as a whole possesses those skills, knowledge and experience. The bill sets out that:

…as far as reasonably practicable, endeavour to ensure those veterinarians collectively—

so it is actually in the wording, 'collectively'—

have skills, knowledge and experience in the following areas:

It then refers to:

(b) teaching of veterinary science;

In order to teach veterinary science, there are no doubt certain qualifications that one must have and therefore that would form part of the person's nomination, and part of the consideration of the board would include all of those things I mentioned: qualifications, experience, skills and knowledge.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: I guess I am trying to work out what degree of skills is required in terms of the teaching of veterinary science. I am happy for you to take on notice whether or not you need to have a doctorate, or whether or not you can have a membership, or whether or not you can have a specialty. That is what I am trying to ascertain out of this line of questioning.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I think it is fair to say that the bill is not intended to be prescriptive. It is going to be on a merit basis. I would be surprised if someone who did not have a high degree of qualification as well as experience would be a preferred candidate if others had far greater experience, qualifications and so on. Rather than being prescriptive in the act, it is referring to the board collectively having the very skills, knowledge and experience that are required, and teaching of veterinary science is a key part of that. I have a question for the mover of the amendment.

The CHAIR: Yes, minister.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Should I move my amendment? I have not moved it yet.

The CHAIR: Would you like to move your amendment?

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Could I ask the minister some questions before I move my amendment, because the answers will indicate whether or not I move it. That is the reason I asked whether I could ask the minister some questions about her amendment. The minister has obviously put forward a similar amendment about consulting with a peak body.

The CHAIR: Hang on. The minister has not moved her amendment either.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Can I move it and then withdraw it?

The CHAIR: You can move your amendment and you can withdraw it.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: Chair, is it possible just to have some various questions before either of us moves the amendments, or is that not permitted under the standing orders?

The CHAIR: Yes, we can allow that.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: I will go straight to the question, and hopefully you will know what I am talking about, minister. Can more than one peak body be prescribed by the regulations at any given time?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: Certainly that is possible. At the moment there is only one peak body representing the veterinarian profession in this state, that of course being the AVA. Therefore, if the bill passes with the amendment that I have foreshadowed I will move, it is the AVA that would likely be the prescribed peak body.

However, discussions were had around if that peak body were to change its composition or if there were another peak body that might arise, so, in theory, yes, it is possible there could be more than one peak body. If that were the case, I cannot see any issues with consulting with such additional peak bodies, but at the moment it would refer to the AVA. However, this is just a matter of ensuring that, should that change in the future, we do not need to come back and change the act. As I understand it, this is an amendment that the AVA has indicated they support—that is, the amendment that I seek to move.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Your amendment describes—and I am conscious that we are heading into difficult territory—that the minister may consult with a peak body prescribed by the regulations. Are you able to provide examples where the minister would consult with the peak body and examples where the minister would decide he or she does not need to consult with the peak body?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I am advised that some of the discussions have been around the fact that, given that under this bill the board will be a skills-based board, it is important that any consultation on the veterinarian board appointments adds value and does not become a tick-the-box activity that adds administrative burden.

One of the examples I can think of would be if there was the reappointment of a board member or maybe an extension for a short period of time to align with dates of other vacancies. There are various administrative reasons why it might be appropriate to simply make that appointment without necessarily consulting with the peak body. Most of the time I would expect that it would be appropriate, but this just ensures that there is flexibility not to add administrative burden.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: I indicate I am happy not to move my amendment and support the minister's amendment that she will move shortly.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I move:

Amendment No 1 [PrimIndRegDev–1]—

Page 10, after line 12—After subclause (2) insert:

(2a) Before recommending veterinarians with primary registration for appointment as members of the Board, the Minister may consult with a prescribed peak body representing the veterinary profession in the State.

Amendment carried; clause as amended passed.

Clauses 7 to 10 passed.

Clause 11.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Minister, does this provision extend to or include governance training? I say that given section 12 talks to governance training and the requirement for a member of the board to complete training related to corporate governance.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I am advised that governance training would not generally be considered under remuneration—they are separate aspects—but I will just talk to the point around requiring governance training. The bill introduces a requirement for members of the board to complete training related to corporate governance in accordance with any requirements that will be set out in the regulations. Requiring board members to complete governance training will support the board to successfully carry out their functions and of course, through that, provide effective regulation of the veterinary profession.

It will also support board members, importantly, I think, who may not have had previous board experience, and support them to be able to contribute effectively and in a manner that best represents the skills, knowledge and experience for which they were appointed. Any further requirements specifically in regard to governance training can be set out in the regulations. In terms of the cost associated with governance training, that is intended to be met by the board.

It is certainly my view, and I think the view of many others, that such an investment is a very worthy investment. We want to have higher levels of governance expertise and so undertaking that training means that, firstly, members of the board will be confident in their ability to carry out their obligations and, secondly, it will not discourage those who do not have existing board experience. Certainly, in my many meetings and discussions around the state, when we talk about boards—because I am always keen to encourage particularly regional people to be more involved with boards and put their names forward—understanding the requirements and obligations of board members, and also what they need to be aware of, can be quite intimidating.

I think it is an important initiative that will actually safeguard those members of the profession and others who might consider applying to be on the board, and it will create a better outcome for the board and for the profession overall.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Can the minister give an indication of whether she is envisaging that the cost of the governance training will fall to individual members of the board, or would that be covered through the Veterinary Surgeons Board's annual budget?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: As I said, the costs associated with governance training are intended to be met by the board, not by individual members. So, yes, one would expect that it would come from the board's overall budget.

Clause passed.

Clauses 12 and 13 passed.

Clause 14.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Before I move my amendment, I note the minister's amendment before us, and I would like to ask the minister a question before moving my amendment. Is the minister able to give this chamber an undertaking from her—that is, the minister—that the Veterinary Surgeons Board will continue the work they have recently been doing to engage with the national body on a regular basis to assist with national consistency?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: It is fair to say that the current board is very keen to engage with the AVBC on all relevant matters. Recently, on 22 September, I am advised the council put out a media release welcoming the South Australian vets board to their list of members, and that they are continuing to work very productively.

From my discussions with various stakeholders, including the AVA, it was noted that it is important to look at national consistency wherever that is appropriate, and of course the council has a key role in that. However, it is not always necessarily the case that South Australia will agree with a particular direction the AVBC is heading in, and therefore it is important to retain the flexibility.

The other reasoning is simply that there might be some minor matters where they are pretty administrative in nature, or whatever, where there is not a necessity to go out to wide consultation. We also want to make sure we are not putting an additional administrative burden for no benefit. The amendment I have foreshadowed does indicate there will be consultation with relevant stakeholders, and in many cases the AVBC would be one of those relevant stakeholders.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: I am happy to withdraw my amendment, and I indicate that I am also happy to support the amendment standing in the minister's name.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I move:

Amendment No 2 [PrimIndRegDev–1]—

Page 13, line 26 [clause 14(4)(a)]—After '(as the case requires),' insert:

with veterinarians, a prescribed peak body representing the veterinary profession in the State or relevant stakeholders

Amendment carried.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: I move:

Amendment No 1 [Centofanti–2]—

Page 13, line 33 [clause 14(4)(c)]—Delete 'a reasonable period' and substitute '30 days'

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Currently, the bill talks about changes to code standards and guidelines being communicated to veterinarians within a reasonable period. Certainly, in the opinion of many stakeholders and in my opinion, that is too vague. Given that it is largely administrative in nature, that 30 days should be sufficient time to notify veterinarians of any changes to codes, standards or guidelines via email communication. I think this really comes down to improved transparency, accountability, but also improved communication.

I want to note at this point in time and place on the record that the current Veterinary Surgeons Board have significantly improved their communication with the veterinary industry, so I do want to put that on the record. This is simply about futureproofing this bill and therefore 30 days should be sufficient time to notify vets of any changes to codes, standards or guidelines so that they are aware of them going forward in their daily lives.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I indicate that the government will be supporting this amendment. The original wording was that it would be a reasonable time, and I note that an amendment was foreshadowed to change that to 14 days. Upon further discussion, that has now been amended to 30 days and that is to ensure that there is sufficient time. Whilst emails are one way of communicating, there are obviously also websites and newspaper channels and various others, so 30 days is likely to be a reasonable period, noting that at times some of that communication will happen much sooner.

I would also like to acknowledge the work of the current board to improve their communication and their relationship with veterinarians. I have had some very positive feedback from a variety of quarters about that, so I would like to commend the current board on that.

Amendment carried.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: I am just wondering if the minister can confirm to the chamber that the wording 'high professional standards' with regard to veterinary services does not imply that the veterinarian is under an obligation to provide a high standard of care that not every animal owner can afford. As the minister would be aware, the provision of veterinary care operates in a private market with no public funding, so the costs of the services are borne by the owner of the animal. So I am just wanting the minister to clarify and confirm to the chamber that the wording 'high professional standards' does not necessarily equal the standard of care but rather the professional conduct of the vet.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: Could the member point out which particular part of clause 14 she is referring to with that wording.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Clause 14(8).

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I thank the member for her question. I am advised that this is the same wording as is in the current act, but I am happy to expand on the reasoning behind it. The intent of the Veterinary Services Bill 2023, which is reflected both in the long title and the functions of the board and consistent with the current Veterinary Practice Act 2003, is to regulate the provision of veterinary services to achieve and maintain high professional standards of competence and conduct, with the object of supporting animal health, safety and welfare, and the public interest.

The term 'high standards' refers to veterinarians' conduct and competence as reasonably expected by users of veterinary services. So it is not a reference to the expected standard of care but rather a veterinarian's conduct—that is, the manner in which a veterinarian behaves—and their competence, meaning the ability to provide a service successfully or efficiently. The reference to high standards in the long title and within clause 14 of the bill is also unchanged from equivalent provisions in the existing legislation.

I am advised that no change was made in the bill in terms of the wording, as it is considered that 'high standards of competence and conduct' continues to appropriately reflect the intent of the regulatory framework and the reasonable expectations of the users of veterinary services as well as, indeed, the broader community.

Clause as amended passed.

Clauses 15 to 22 passed.

Clause 23.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: I move:

Amendment No 6 [Centofanti–1]—

Page 16, after line 41 [clause 23(2)]—After paragraph (c) insert:

(ca) include the following information in respect of complaints received about the conduct of veterinarians under this Act:

(i) the number of complaints received by the Board in the relevant financial year;

(ii) the number of complaints received by the Board in a previous financial year that were ongoing in the relevant financial year;

(iii) the number of complaints finalised (including by dismissal, decision to take no further action, Board resolution and order of the Tribunal) in the relevant financial year;

(iv) the average time taken for complaints referred to in subparagraph (iii) to be finalised;

(v) the number of complaints dealt with in the relevant financial year that were ongoing for more than 6 months, 12 months or 18 months; and

This amendment is around increased transparency for both the profession and the public. Concern was repeatedly raised throughout the consultation process about the lack of transparency around the complaints process. Whilst it is extremely pleasing to see that this new bill addresses the majority of these concerns, many vets have indicated to me the importance to legislate for some requirements with regard to reporting on the complaints process, specifically the number of complaints received, dealt with and finalised.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I understand that this amendment seeks to require the board to include certain information in respect of complaints received about the conduct of veterinarians in its annual report. Already, requirements relating to the annual report are outlined in clause 23 of this bill. It includes the ability to further prescribe information required in the regulations, should this be required. In addition to requirements outlined in the bill, the board's annual report must also adhere to the legislated requirements under the Public Sector Act 2009.

This proposed amendment would require the board to report a range of statistics relating to complaints handling, some of which are already voluntarily reported by the board. I do note that in their recent newsletters they have been providing a range of information to assist with transparency and information for the profession and others.

The preference is that this additional information would be prescribed in the regulations as opposed to in the act itself. There are a few reasons for that. First of all is that it could be more easily changed or expanded should that be required. It may well be that in the future we think there would be benefit and value in additional information being provided, and that would be much easier to include if the requirements are specified in the regulations.

As the regulations would be consulted on as they were being developed, it would also create the opportunity for broader analysis and stakeholder consultation relating to the required information—so including it in a broad consultation, which I think is particularly important, rather than including it here in the act itself, which has not had that broad level of consultation. It would also ensure that matters of details, such as the reporting of complaints, are maintained in one place to support a simple approach to regulation, which is always, I think, to be pursued where possible.

The Australian Veterinary Association does not support this amendment, but it does support that information being included in the regulations, and I think it is also happy for it to be consulted more broadly. I am also advised that the Veterinary Surgeons Board of South Australia supports inclusion of information relating to complaints also to be prescribed by regulation.

So, on this basis, I intend to oppose this amendment in favour of further considering these complaints reporting requirements during the development of regulations and with the expectation that something along those lines, or certainly very close to, once we have had proper and appropriate consultation, would be likely to be in those regulations.

The Hon. C. BONAROS: My colleague will speak to the amendment itself, but I just want to make a couple of points in relation to transparency and accountability, especially given the volume of material that we now see being prescribed by regulation as opposed to that included in the substantive piece of legislation. With respect to the comments concerning the AVA, from a drafting perspective I think there is in here an onus on us to ensure that the bare minimum that we require is actually prescribed in the legislation as opposed to regulations.

I will be surprised if those regulations are seen by anyone in this chamber once they are drafted, let alone the subject of any disallowance motion if they were not to satisfy the needs or outline the bare minimum of the information that we seek to achieve by having this provision in there.

I would ask the minister to just clarify that, even with the insertion of this amendment, that does not prevent the government from making additional regulations that would canvass all the issues that she has just described following consultation, and all the other issues that she just outlined. What is it in this amendment that would prevent the minister from doing that, regardless of whether it was included or not?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I am advised that the reasoning is that, whilst it is true that we could add through regulation, we would be able to change anything that is being proposed here. In terms of enabling that flexibility, that is one aspect. Secondly, I guess, it is about the clarity of having requirements in one place rather than some in the act and then some additional ones in the regulations. Whilst that is not necessarily a huge issue, it is certainly preferable in general to have that. So being able to change some of these things would be more easy in regulation.

I do come back to the point, too, that as far as I am aware, certainly from the government, but from the mover of the amendment, that has not been widely consulted. Perhaps I might end with a question to the mover of the amendment as to what consultation has occurred around this?

The Hon. C. BONAROS: Just before we do that, my first question is: more preferable to whom, because it would appear to me that it is only more preferable to the government to hold that position? Secondly, if we look at the intent and objects of this bill, what is it in this amendment that could possibly be problematic in terms of requiring, in the form that it has been drafted, the number of complaints, the number of complaints received by the board in the previous financial year, the number of complaints finalised, the average time taken for the complaints referred to, and the number of complaints dealt with in the relevant financial year?

What objection could there possibly be in relation to having that material prescribed in the legislation, and anything additional that the minister wishes and the government wishes, if this parliament so agrees, to have prescribed in regulation?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: On face value, I would agree with the honourable member that there does not seem to be anything that is problematic, but that is why we do consult: to ensure that there are no unintended consequences. That is basically the reason this has not been consulted on. The Australian Veterinary Association does not support the amendment, nor does the Veterinary Surgeons Board. They are important stakeholders, and if they see the benefit of it being prescribed in regulations I think that is an important consideration. I would also like to come back to the question that I want to ask the mover of the amendment: what consultation has occurred?

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: I have had a great number of conversations with a very large number of vets. I have certainly had conversations with the AVA and, whilst I respect their current position in terms of it being in the regulations, the conversations I have repeatedly had with vets have been around transparency and accountability, and making sure there is something in the legislation that requires the Veterinary Surgeons Board to ensure they are reporting on the complaints process, ensuring they are reporting on the number of complaints, the number of complaints that are ongoing and the number of complaints that have been finalised.

These are not big, onerous pieces of information to report on an annual basis, and I bring it back again to what vets have been discussing with me over the last two years that has led to this bill: that they are very, very strong in wanting transparency and accountability, particularly with the complaints process when it comes to the Veterinary Surgeons Board.

The Hon. C. BONAROS: I have another question for the minister, again respectfully to the AVA: did the minister have discussions with the AVA following the filing of these amendments? Regardless of whether it is the AVA or individual vets, the consultation we have undertaken on the bill—my colleague has carriage of this, but I will ask the question—is that these principles have been broadly supported. It would not take away from any consultation process. Has the minister had any discussions that have landed us in this position now, given that we have previously been of the understanding that very broadly these provisions have been supported?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: As I mentioned earlier in this debate on the bill overall, yes, we have had broad discussions with the AVA and the Veterinary Surgeons Board in recent days since these amendments were filed. I do not disagree at all with the honourable member that there is broad support for the inclusion of these matters in terms of reporting. What we are talking about here is the distinction of whether it is in the main part of the act or in the regulations.

Referring to the Hon. Ms Bonaros' earlier comment that the parliament will not see the regulations, I think perhaps that wording was not what was intended because, of course, we all have the opportunity to see regulations and potentially move a disallowance motion, if that is required. There is absolutely the opportunity to have consultation about the regulations—that is the intention in developing those regulations.

Can I ask a further question of the mover of the amendment: how many vets has she spoken with about whether these requirements should be in the act or in the regulations?

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: What I can again state is that I have been having conversations with a large number of vets over the last two years. This process started in 2020 under the former Liberal government, and I was involved in some of the first meetings with the veterinary stakeholders. What they stressed back then, and what they have continued to stress to me over the last two years, is the importance of ensuring there is transparency and accountability when it comes to reporting of the complaints process.

My concern is that, by not having it in the legislative framework but by having it via regulations, the executive can at any stage at any time make changes to these regulations. As the Hon. Connie Bonaros has pointed out, certainly regulations have far less scrutiny put on them than pieces of legislation do in this place. That is why I am continuing to move this amendment, because I firmly believe that this is what the veterinary industry are wanting when it comes to transparency and accountability within the veterinary industry, particularly when it comes to reporting of complaints and processes by the Veterinary Surgeons Board.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I rise to indicate that the Greens will be supporting this amendment. We believe that the number of complaints received by the board in the previous financial year and the relevant financial year and the ongoing resolution of those—the time that they take to conclude—is actually the bare, basic minimum we should expect to see in the annual reports.

The Greens have long held that the requirements that this parliament expect to see in annual reports are quite rightly put into the act, it is far more transparent, and if the minister is worried about having to look in different places, surely the basics should be in the act. Then the minister knows what her job is, the AVA knows what is required of them, the board knows what is required of them and the parliament knows what we believe to be the bare minimum to be reported on. I congratulate the mover on the amendment.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: Following the words from my colleague and also the Hon. Tammy Franks, we will be supporting the amendment moved by the Hon. Nicola Centofanti. Again, just to reiterate, we are all about openness and transparency. I cannot see that publishing any of this information is going to be detrimental to the profession or the organisation that is responsible for producing that annual report.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: Just some further advice: as I mentioned I think at the beginning in regard to the requirements under the Public Sector Regulations:

A public sector agency's annual report to the agency's Minister must contain information (including relevant statistics) with respect to the following:

(a) the functions and objectives of the agency;

(b) the legislation administered by the agency…

It further goes on to provide, in regard to the agency's operations and initiatives, 'including an assessment of their effectiveness and efficiency'.

The view and the advice I am receiving is that really it is covered and it would be better in the regulations, but we have had the indication here from members of whether they will be supporting it or not. I just have one final question, though, for the mover of the amendment and that is whether she consulted with the Vet Surgeons Board about this amendment.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Yes, I did.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: What was their feedback?

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Their feedback was that they are currently doing most of this in their annual report.

Amendment carried; clause as amended passed.

Clauses 24 to 28 passed.

The CHAIR: The next indicated amendment is in the name of the Hon. Mr Pangallo to insert new clause 28A.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: I rise to say I will not be moving this amendment.

Clauses 29 to 38 passed.

Clause 39.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: I move:

Amendment No 7 [Centofanti–1]—

Page 28, line 28 [clause 39(3)(b)]—After 'premises' insert:

(if relevant)

This is consequential to [Centofanti-1] 2.

Amendment carried; clause as amended passed.

Clause 40.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: I move:

Amendment No 8 [Centofanti–1]—

Page 29, after line 10—After subclause (2) insert:

(3) Without limiting the matters that may be included in the veterinary premises standard, the standard must contain requirements relating to mobile hospitals and clinics.

Again, this is consequential to [Centofanti-1] 2.

Amendment carried; clause as amended passed.

Clauses 41 to 48 passed.

Clause 49.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: This clause refers to veterinary services to be provided by veterinarians and it being an offence otherwise, except in circumstances prescribed by the regulations. Can the minister please outline to the chamber the types of prescribed circumstances she intends to regulate?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I am advised that the regulations, in respect of the query from the honourable member, would likely refer to vet nurses and vet technicians, but not necessarily exclusively those. Just to touch a little bit more on that point: because this was part of the discussion in the lead-up to developing this bill—whether vet nurses and vet technicians should indeed be included—I think it is fair to say that there is a diversity of opinion on that, and there is a lot more work that needs to go into it.

As members would be aware, the final bill that we are looking at does not provide for registration of veterinary nurses or technicians. It is important, though, to acknowledge the important work that they do. Veterinary nurses and vet technicians and paraprofessionals play a very important role in the provision of veterinary services, along with the opportunity that there are certainly some benefits that registration might provide.

However, the Australasian Veterinary Boards Council, the Veterinary Nurses Council of Australia and the Australian Veterinary Nurse and Technician Regulatory Council are all currently working together to progress regulation and title protection for veterinary nurses and veterinary technicians through the development of a national framework for registration.

To support efficient, rationalised, national harmonisation, which would be the ideal, it is vital that any national work be afforded due consideration prior to South Australia making a decision independently to require registration of vet nurses or technicians. As a government we will, of course, continue to monitor that progress towards a national framework and be involved in any consultations that might occur.

In the meantime, it is clearly very important that vet nurses and technicians can still undertake their employment without being in contravention of this bill, and there are potential avenues to enable this to occur. The regulations that have been referred to in the question that I had from the honourable Leader of the Opposition are certainly envisaged to include vet nurses and technicians within those regulations.

Clause passed.

Clauses 50 to 53 passed.

Clause 54.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Can the minister explain to the chamber how clause 54 and the provisions under division 2 will not have unintended consequences on the business relationship between veterinarians and livestock producers?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: Just as a little bit of background in regard to this provision, the undue influence offence in clause 54 is intended to prohibit certain persons in positions of power from inducing or attempting to induce a veterinarian to provide or, indeed, to not provide veterinary services. The improper directions offence in clause 55 is intended to prohibit certain persons from inducing or encouraging a vet to engage in conduct in the course of providing vet services that would constitute unprofessional conduct or that does not reflect current standards of veterinary practice in the state.

Both offences are intended to ensure that vets are enabled to provide vet services free from inappropriate influences from persons in positions of power. My advice is that there was some discussion and feedback about this during the development of the bill and/or consultation on the bill, so 53(2) was developed to address the issue that I think the honourable member is referring to, with that saying:

…this Division does not apply to a person merely because the person is the owner, or has control, of an animal in relation to which a veterinarian provides veterinary services.

That was developed to address what I think is the concern being raised by the honourable member.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: Can the minister provide any examples where this could apply?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: An example would be where an employer of vets was to encourage one of those vets to essentially cut corners in a way that would be unprofessional or potentially problematic in order to save money. Given that they are the employer, they could be either directly or indirectly threatening a person with a loss of employment if they do not cut the corners, which might be inappropriate. That is just one example of the sorts of things it is designed to overcome.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: Could it also apply to a senior citizen who had an extremely close relationship with a pet, for instance, and the pet unfortunately would need to be put down, and the senior citizen would not want that pet to be euthanised and may offer some inducement or put some influence on the vet not to carry that out? Could it apply to that?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: My advice would be that 53(2) covers that, namely, that the division does not apply to a person merely because the person is the owner, or has control, of the animal. It appears unlikely that that would be a consequence, is my advice.

Clause passed.

Clauses 55 to 60 passed.

Clause 61.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I move:

Amendment No 3 [PrimIndRegDev–1]—

Page 36, line 11—Delete 'endangering the animal's health, safety or welfare' and substitute:

putting the animal at significant risk of serious injury or harm

This amendment makes specific reference to 'putting the animal at significant risk of serious injury or harm' with the intention to improve clarity. This amendment is linked to clause 62 as well and discussions that will no doubt occur in regard to that.

The revised wording—remembering that this is in relation to medical fitness to provide veterinary services—is considered a higher threshold than the current wording. So 'endangering the animal's health, safety or welfare' is a much lower threshold and the revised wording is considered more proportionate to the strength of powers available to the board under clause 62.

The discussions around this clause and the one that follows are very much around ensuring that any veterinarian who has some incapacity—it could be mental ill health, it could be a physical incapacity—is not discouraged from seeking appropriate assistance and treatment where applicable by a fear that they might have their livelihood put at risk if they were to seek that assistance in terms of the duty in the following clause for a health professional to report medical unfitness of a veterinarian.

We know that there have been significant concerns around mental health within the veterinary profession and particularly around attempts at self-harm, so what we want to make sure is that we have the appropriate balance between what is expected, and rightly so, from the public that if someone is unable to perform a particular kind of veterinary service without endangering the life of an animal, then obviously they should not be in a position where that could occur.

Similarly, we want to ensure that we are not discouraging those from seeking treatment out of possibly unfounded fear that they might be reported unnecessarily. This is about trying to find the right balance, and of course it does refer to the amendment which has been foreshadowed by the Hon. Mr Pangallo, and I would like to thank him for his involvement in this part of the discussion.

Given the serious, sensitive and personal nature of medical fitness, and the right of veterinarians to receive treatment without fear of compromising their livelihoods, it is considered important that the bill offers improved clarity around this. It is also important for treating health professionals who might contemplate the medical fitness of veterinarians seeking treatment and at times be faced with a challenging decision to report so as to prevent significant risk of serious injury or harm to an animal. So it is essential that we consider the two in tandem. The revised wording, in my view, gives the appropriate threshold to ensure the balance that we are seeking is achieved.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: The opposition are very happy to support this amendment, which really supports the amendment moved by the Hon. Frank Pangallo, and I too want to acknowledge the work of the Hon. Frank Pangallo, but I will do that once the Hon. Frank Pangallo has moved his amendment.

Amendment carried; clause as amended passed.

Clause 62.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: I move:

Amendment No 1 [Pangallo–3]—

Page 36, lines 12 to 23—Delete clause 62 and substitute:

62—Duty to report medical unfitness of veterinarian

(1) If a health professional who has treated, or is treating, a patient who is a veterinarian is of the opinion that the veterinarian is or may be unable, as a result of a physical or mental illness, disability or deficiency, to provide veterinary services personally to an animal without putting the animal at significant risk of serious injury or harm, the health professional is under a duty to inform the Board, in writing, of their opinion and the reasons for that opinion.

(2) If a health professional makes a report to the Board under subsection (1), the health professional must notify the veterinarian of that fact and of the nature of the information provided.

(3) A person incurs no civil or criminal liability in carrying out the person's duty under subsection (1).

I indicate I will not be moving amendment No. 3 [Pangallo-1], amendment No. 4 [Pangallo-1], nor amendment No. 1 [Pangallo-2]. My initial amendment was to strike out the clauses dealing with mandatory obligations for persons, including a medical practitioner or an employer or others who might be connected to the person, to report a veterinarian if they were considered medically unfit to provide their services where failure to do this would carry a heavy $10,000 fine.

My view initially was that this was a very heavy-handed approach and placed an unnecessary burden on the reporter and the individual. As I outlined in my second reading speech, we know through various reports and industry surveys that vets are having to deal with highly charged situations and workplace pressures daily and that they have higher rates of mental health issues and suicides than many other professions.

My concerns were that this clause had the potential to accelerate health problems for vets and could have other consequences, with individuals either avoiding or being reluctant to seek medical treatment if there was the prospect of losing their career or a likelihood of it. It can also constitute an invasion of privacy.

I would have asked the minister to produce any evidence why this step was even necessary and whether it could one day be applied to other professions and industries, particularly those outside of health and human welfare—for instance, in the legal profession, in police work, or in this job. Imagine if you had to force a doctor to report a colleague in this place who might be seeking medical treatment for mental health, wellbeing or other ailments. Would you have such a law in place that could destroy a person's life or damage a reputation in the event of a vexatious or unsubstantiated report?

As I said, this clause was not initially supported by the AVA; however, they seem to have had a change of mind in recent days after consultations with the minister. I have also had consultations with the minister and have been reassured about the actual intent of this particular clause. The result is this amendment, which clearly defines that a health professional has a responsibility to report to the board if they are of the opinion that a veterinarian is incapable of carrying out their duties because of a serious medical condition which could put animals at significant risk of injury or harm.

I also note that there are now no civil or criminal liabilities in relation to carrying out this duty, although on the surface it could still be seen as a mandatory obligation. As a result, that is the amendment I have moved.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: The government will be supporting this amendment. I will just expand a little on what I said in relation to clause 61. Just to clarify, the amendment seeks to remove the offence that is currently provided in clause 62 of the bill in favour of a duty, which is a slightly lesser requirement. That duty will be for a health professional to inform the board of a veterinarian's medical unfitness but specifically where there is significant risk of serious injury or harm being caused to an animal.

Just to reflect back on the Hon. Mr Pangallo's comments about potentially this kind of thing being expanded to other people such as us here in parliament, I think much as we like to think our speeches are very important—and in many ways they are—they certainly do not place a person or animal at risk of serious or significant harm or injury, in my view. Therefore, I do not think there is a particular risk in terms of it being expanded, for example, to people in this place.

The amendment also removes the obligation on an employer or a responsible person in respect of registered premises to report medical unfitness. There is still the ability for persons of all types to be able to make a complaint about the conduct of a vet, and those processes are provided in part 7 of the bill. This is about trying to find the right balance between ensuring that animals are not placed at significant risk of serious injury or harm, but making that threshold at that level so that there is not a tendency to report things that would not place an animal at such a significant risk.

We want to ensure, as I mentioned in my previous contribution, that anyone with a health problem, be that mental health or otherwise, is free to seek assistance and treatment where appropriate without being concerned about a loss of income. So those where the health professional is of the opinion that the veterinary services being provided would put an animal at significant risk of serious injury or harm are the only ones that would need to be reported to the board.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: I rise to say that the opposition is more than happy to support this amendment from the Hon. Frank Pangallo, and again thank him for bringing this amendment forward. This amendment has the support of the South Australian division of the AVA. When we so often speak about the importance of the mental health of our veterinary professionals and the critical nature of ensuring they receive the support they need in times of crisis, it seems counterintuitive for health professionals or employees to mandatorily notify the Veterinary Surgeons Board if a client or a colleague seeks professional help, and for it to be an offence if they do not do so.

Vets should be able to ask for help without fear of being investigated by the Veterinary Surgeons Board. If we are trying to improve mental health outcomes for our veterinary professionals, this seems an absolutely critical step in that support process. As I indicated earlier, I am very happy to support this amendment moved by the Hon. Frank Pangallo.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: The Greens will also support this amendment and we thank the Hon. Frank Pangallo for bringing it forward and note the words of the Hon. Nicola Centofanti. Mental health and mental ill health is quite a significant issue and I think this is a much more modern and destigmatised approach.

Amendment carried; clause as amended passed.

Clauses 63 to 78 passed.

Clause 79.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: I move:

Amendment No 9 [Centofanti–1]—

Page 45, line 33 to page 46, line 10 [clause 79(1) and (2)]—Delete subclauses (1) and (2) and substitute:

(1) For the purposes of section 22 of the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2013, there will be a panel of assessors consisting of—

(a) veterinarians with primary registration or deemed registration; and

(b) veterinarians (however described) registered under a corresponding law but who do not provide veterinary services or engage in other conduct as a veterinarian in this State.

(2) Subject to this Act, in exercising its powers for the purposes of this Act, the Tribunal will, unless the President of the Tribunal determines that the Tribunal is to be constituted by fewer than 3 members, be constituted of 3 members of whom 2 will be selected from the panel of assessors referred to in subsection (1).

The current bill stipulates that the SACAT tribunal and proceedings under this act is to be constituted by three members of which only one is to be a veterinarian. Under the new proposed changes, this puts a percentage of vet experience on that panel to one-third, or less than 50 per cent. This is inconsistent with the make-up of other SACAT panels of assessors for other professionals. For example, the Architectural Practice Act 2009 stipulates that, for the purposes of section 22 of the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2013, there will be a panel of assessors consisting of persons who are registered architects.

The argument should and can be made that to assess whether a veterinarian has displayed behaviour such that it constitutes grounds for disciplinary action there should be significant professional knowledge on the panel that understand the standards expected of the profession. One in three members on the panel being someone who is a registered veterinarian does not provide significant professional knowledge and therefore I am moving this amendment to increase the number to two members on the panel of assessors for SACAT being veterinarians.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: The government will be opposing this amendment, and there are a number of reasons for that, both in terms of practicality of administration and also in terms of what would, no doubt, be unintended consequences. To clarify, this amendment seeks to provide that for the purposes of section 22 of the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2013 there would be a panel of assessors consisting of veterinarians with primary registration or deemed registration and veterinarians registered under a corresponding law but who do not provide veterinary services or engage in other conduct as a vet in this state.

The amendment provides that the tribunal would typically be constituted of three members, of whom one is the legal member from SACAT and two who would be selected from a panel of assessors consisting of veterinarians, as previously outlined. The amendment would effectively remove the non-veterinarian panel of assessors from participating in tribunal proceedings, and this would represent a major shift away from the constitution of the tribunal provided by both the existing act and also by the bill.

There are a few concerns around that. First, it would remove what is often a consumer representative. Remembering that the existing act, and the bill we are looking at, is there not only to support veterinarians, which is an important component, but also to ensure the safety and wellbeing of animals, which is also of course an incredibly important component. Having the opportunity for a consumer representative is considered quite important.

What is also important is that the reputation of veterinarians is upheld. If there were a majority of veterinarians there is a concern that there could be a perception that veterinarians are regulating themselves or investigating themselves. That could potentially cause reputational risk to the profession, because it is far from the situation. My advice also is that usually the matters that would come before SACAT are more around conduct rather than matters that might require the technical expertise being referred to.

Finally, there is the matter of practicality. We are advised that currently, where there is one veterinarian sought to be on such panels, that is often quite difficult to access. There is a shortage of vets already, and I am advised that finding vets who are willing and available to be involved is often quite problematic. Finding two may well increase delays in hearings and the proceedings of the tribunal, and that is not beneficial either. I think one of the challenges has been around matters potentially proceeding for a long time, and that is not in the interests of the vet who is the subject of such proceedings.

The constitution of the tribunal specified in the bill aligns with the composition of a tribunal that is typically formed for hearing disciplinary matters, I am advised. In most instances these tribunals include a member offering the perspective of the profession and a member offering the perspective of someone outside the profession, usually a consumer. I understand that the participation of assessors in disciplinary proceedings under the Architectural Practice Act 2009, which has been raised as an example in this place, does not provide the best equivalent—I imagine because when we talk about vets we are talking about the health and welfare, and potentially the lives, of animals.

The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (South Australia) Act 2010 is offered as the best comparison and mirrors the provisions in the current act and the bill. If the amendment were supported it risks the loss of consumer perspective in the tribunal, which may in turn lead to a loss of consumer confidence in the complaints process. It risks a perception of bias towards veterinarians and it risks an increase in the demand for veterinarian assessors, as I mentioned, where there are already practical challenges to their involvement.

Given the significant risks associated, particularly the loss of the consumer perspective on the tribunal, the government opposes this amendment. I think it is also worth noting that not only is it opposed by the Veterinary Surgeons Board of South Australia—because they consider it may result in delays to hearings being held—it is also not supported by the Australian Veterinary Association, and I think it is important to take into account their views.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: I rise to say that we will be supporting the amendment of the Hon. Nicola Centofanti. I note that the minister made a comment earlier in relation to the matters that are heard in relation to conduct. Perhaps having an additional experienced veterinarian on this panel would lend that knowledge in being able to come to fair and reasonable outcomes. We will be supporting the amendment.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: The Greens will be supporting the amendment.

The committee divided on the amendment:

Ayes 12

Noes 9

Majority 3


Bonaros, C. Centofanti, N.J. (teller) Franks, T.A.
Game, S.L. Girolamo, H.M. Henderson, L.A.
Hood, B.R. Hood, D.G.E. Lee, J.S.
Lensink, J.M.A. Pangallo, F. Simms, R.A.


Bourke, E.S. Hanson, J.E. Hunter, I.K.
Maher, K.J. Martin, R.B. Ngo, T.T.
Pnevmatikos, I. Scriven, C.M. (teller) Wortley, R.P.

Amendment thus carried; clause as amended passed.

Remaining clauses (80 to 99), schedule and title passed.

Bill reported with amendment.

Third Reading

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (17:36): I move:

That this bill be now read a third time.

Bill read a third time and passed.