WA Introduces Bill to Modernise Veterinary Practice

Thursday 3 December 2020 @ 9.28 a.m. | Legal Research | Trade & Commerce

The Veterinary Practice Bill 2020 (the Bill) was introduced into the WA Legislative Council on 25 November 2020, by Alannah MacTiernan, the Minister for Agriculture and Food. The Bill was subsequently discharged and referred to the Standing Committee on Uniform Legislation and Statutes Review (see Standing Order 126(1)). In broad terms the Bill's purpose is stated as being to provide for the regulation of the practice of veterinary medicine in WA, as well as to facilitate the regulation of the practice of veterinary medicine on a national basis. The Bill will repeal the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1960 (WA) and the Veterinary Surgeons Regulations 1979 (WA) and make consequential amendments to various other Acts.

Outline of the Bill

The language used in the proposed Bill reflects "modern terminology", for example, the term "veterinary surgeon" in the current Act is replaced with the term "veterinarian" and the term "veterinary surgery" is replaced with "veterinary medicine". 

The current "Veterinary Surgeons’ Board" is retitled as the "Veterinary Practitioners Board of WA" (the new Board) and will comprise a broader membership. Members will be appointed directly by the Minister after consultation with the Australian Veterinary Association (WA Division) regarding veterinarian appointees, and the Veterinary Nurses Council of Australia (WA Division) regarding veterinary nurse appointees.

Procedural fairness will be applied to decisions which may have an adverse effect on a person (see clauses 31, 48, 71 and 130 of the Bill). The new Board must invite and take into consideration that person’s submission when finalising its decision. Certain decisions of the new Board, such as refusing registration; making an immediate action order; requiring a health assessment, or making a finding of unprofessional conduct are to be reviewable by the State Administrative Tribunal (the Tribunal) (see clause 150 of the Bill).

Key Reform Details

This Bill incorporates the following reforms:

National recognition of veterinary registration

The Bill introduces the mutual recognition of veterinarians registered in other Australian jurisdictions (see clause 22 of the Bill) based on various national and Council of Australian Governments agreements. The Bill provides for deemed registration in Western Australia (WA) for an interstate veterinarian holding primary registration in another Australian jurisdiction to permit practice in WA, subject to the same conditions, restrictions, or limitations that apply to their primary registration. This applies to an interstate veterinarian who’s primary place of residence is not in WA or who resides in WA for no more than three months, after which they must apply for WA registration.


The current legislation offers no formal process for identifying and dealing with veterinarians suffering an impairment. Whilst informal voluntary practices have evolved, they are not considered adequate. According to the explanatory materials, the Bill intends to support the mental and physical health of veterinarians and  veterinary nurses, while protecting the public. The Bill proposes separating impairment from unprofessional conduct matters wherever possible and contemplates a health assessment by a medical expert, paid for by the new Board. It shifts the focus from punitive penalties to managing the impairment and associated risks by the imposition of appropriate conditions on registration.

Under the Bill, impairment may arise during the registration process, during an investigation into a complaint, or by third-party notification of a suspected impairment not associated with a complaint.

The explanatory material also points out that, impairments that are effectively managed, or which do not impact a person’s performance while at work, do not fall within the scope of impairment provisions in the proposed Bill as they are not likely to "detrimentally affect a person’s capacity to practise veterinary medicine or practise as a veterinary nurse".

Ownership of veterinary practice businesses

The Bill will allow non-veterinarians to own veterinary practices which brings WA into line with all other Australian jurisdictions, other than NSW which, subject to certain exceptions, requires ownership by a veterinarian or group of veterinarians who have a controlling interest.

Immediate action orders

The Bill will allow the new Board to make an immediate action order in relation to a veterinarian or veterinary nurse if it is satisfied that there is an imminent risk of substantial injury or harm to any person or animal (see clause 70 of the Bill) - such an order may impose or modify conditions on registration or may suspend veterinary practice for the period of imminent risk up to a maximum of 28 days.

Complaints and discipline

The Bill reintroduces the power to deal with disciplinary matters which was taken from the current Board in 2005, when the State Administrative Tribunal was established (see clause 88 of the Bill). All disciplinary matters, regardless of the level of seriousness, have subsequently been referred to the Tribunal. This follows on the  operation of the State Administrative Tribunal by the Standing Committee on Legislation which found that the powers of vocational regulatory bodies, such as the Veterinary Surgeon’s Board, to deal with minor disciplinary matters and impose penalties, such as a fine or reprimand, should be reviewed. 

The Bill empowers the new Board to investigate complaints, hold an inquiry and make orders following a finding of unprofessional conduct, including imposing fines of up to $2,000, imposing or modifying conditions on registration, or issuing a reprimand. Conduct of a more serious nature (professional misconduct) must be referred to the Tribunal.

Under the Bill, new Board membership will increase from five to eight members, as well as deputy members, all of whom will be appointed by the Minister for a period of up to three years each. The broadened expertise it is indicated, will be brought to bear by including a consumer representative and a legal practitioner in line with other Australian jurisdictions, and a veterinary nurse to reflect the new formal regulatory status of the veterinary nurse profession under the Bill. Further, before appointing a person to the New Board, the Minister must consult with that Board, the WA Division of the AVA, and the WA Division of the Veterinary Nurses Council of Australia (VNCA).

Veterinary nurses

According to the explanatory material, WA is the only jurisdiction in Australia to specifically regulate veterinary nurses. Under the current Act a person must apply to the current Board for approval to be a veterinary nurse and thereby the authorisation to perform certain duties and veterinary services. Complaints of unprofessional conduct can be dealt with under the current Regulations. The Bill proposes to elevate this regulatory process into the primary legislation and provide regulation for veterinary nurses that mirrors regulation for veterinarians.

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