Health and Community Services Complaints (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill

Health and Community Services Complaints (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 18 October 2018.)

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:41): I rise on behalf of the Greens to indicate that we support the Health and Community Services Complaints (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2018. This bill will amend the Health and Community Services Complaints Act 2004 so that the National Code of Conduct for healthcare workers that was approved by the COAG Health Council for adoption by the states and territories replaces the Code of Conduct for Unregistered Health Practitioners (South Australian code), which is indeed currently in the regulations under the act.

The national code is, as members know, based on the current South Australian code. The South Australian code was adopted from the New South Wales model after the Social Development Committee's 'Inquiry into Bogus, Unregistered and Deregistered Health Practitioners'. That committee did some excellent work, including leading us to where we are now.

It is certainly most welcome that those parts of the practice of health that do not fall within the current regulations and appropriate structures for complaints are able to be dealt with in this way. Certainly, members would also know that one of those areas where it is quite intrinsic within the health system is the area of social work. I think this bill yet again underlines the need for the registration of social workers. This is a second-best option for the moment but is certainly no final solution. I also welcome practices such as gay conversion therapy and other dubious areas of so-called health care being able to be brought into scrutiny to give consumers and citizens alike better protections.

I remind members that at a stage soon I will be bringing my bill to register social workers to a vote, but it would be terribly unparliamentary of me to mention that, so I will actually just draw members' attention to a September 2014 document, which is entitled 'Evidence of harm caused by social workers: Australian and overseas examples', that has been put together by the Australian Association of Social Workers. It identifies examples of harm by country, including a child protection social worker who was charged and convicted with 16 counts of distributing indecent photographs of children and possessing indecent photographs. The children in the photographs are the same age as the clients that the social worker was working with. That example was from England. That person was struck off the Health and Care Professions Council register and was unable to practice from thereon as a social worker.

Another example is from Ontario, where a social worker who worked in a correctional institution was allocated a client who was incarcerated after being convicted of aggravated sexual assault. The member provided the client with counselling and psychotherapy to assist the client with managing their anger and frustration and to deal with depression, anxiety, childhood victimisation and shame and guilt over the offence for which the client was incarcerated.

The social worker then engaged in a sexual and intimate relationship with the client, engaged in personal phone contact with the client and allowed the client to access confidential records concerning other clients. The social worker discussed details of those relationships with the client in sessions rather than focusing on the client's therapeutic needs. They also shared the substance of the initial mandatory report received by the college with the client that told the client that they had to get their stories straight.

That social worker was in Ontario. They were subjected to a 12-month suspension and ordered to complete a boundaries and ethics course and engage in insight-orientated psychotherapy, and they were supervised in their practice for a period of two years. I could go on and on. Indeed, the Australian Association of Social Workers has gone on and on with countless examples that we know occur within this profession.

As I have said before, there are many good practitioners in this profession and they do deserve our respect. They have some of the most difficult jobs, and they are essential to not just our health care but also of course the community and human services that we so often laud in this place. However, there is an incongruity there: in those particular countries social work is regulated. Here in Australia it is still not.

With those few words, I look forward to this part of this particular bill that we debate no longer being required for social workers because I hope to see them covered by a proper regulation system and registration in the near future.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.

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