Government Whip in the Legislative Council

Liberal Member in the Parliament of South Australia




Legislative Review Committee - Gayle's Law

Wednesday 16 October, 2019

On 19 June this year, the Legislative Review Committee resolved to conduct an inquiry into the variation regulations that have been developed to support the operation of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (South Australia) (Remote Area Attendance) Amendment Act 2017, more commonly known as Gayle's Law. Gayle's Law is legislation the parliament passed in late 2017 in response to the tragic death of Gayle Woodford, a dedicated nurse murdered in March 2016 while working on the APY lands.

Having resolved to conduct this inquiry, the Legislative Review Committee invited some 27 individuals and organisations to make a submission on the regulations. In all, the committee received 16 written submissions. Those submissions came from a broad range of interested and affected parties, from the managers of health clinics operating in remote Aboriginal communities, professional and industrial organisations and chief executives of national organisations like the Royal Flying Doctor Service, to name just a few. The committee also received two submissions from members of the Woodford family.

The submissions contained a variety of views on the variation regulations. Each submission deepened the committee's understanding of the complexity of strengthening the safety afforded to the front-line health professionals working in remote and sometimes unpredictable environments. The majority of the submissions the committee received were supportive of the regulations, recognising both the need and the challenge of providing a degree of flexibility in limited circumstances so that health practitioners in remote areas are able to respond to an out of hours or unscheduled call-out without a second responder, but only if it is safe to do so. The ability to attend a call-out without a second responder in limited circumstances to prescribed locations does not undermine the primary intentions of Gayle's Law, which is to minimise risk to health practitioners when answering an unexpected call-out.

Anyone who has lived in or visited towns like Innamincka, William Creek and Marree or communities in the APY and Maralinga lands will be aware of the challenges of seeking and delivering health care in those remote locations. Limited practitioner numbers, patchy telecommunication systems and vast distances are just some of the issues health practitioners must navigate on a daily basis as they work and live among the communities they serve. A blanket rule, where under no circumstances a health practitioner is permitted to attend the care of a patient alone, could be destructive to community health and risk patient lives in rural communities.

As minister Wade has detailed in this council and in correspondence to the Legislative Review Committee, the purpose of the regulations is to ensure every health professional working in remote areas is protected from harm while balancing their interests in being able to carry out their job with practicality, skill and care. Everyone deserves to feel safe in their workplace wherever that workplace may be. The disallowance of the regulations some three months after they came into operation would undermine the safety of the staff and the sustainability of services they were first and foremost designed to protect.

The purpose of the committee's inquiry was to ensure that those stakeholders who had an interest in making public their submissions in relation to this important issue had a vehicle to do so. The South Australian community, rightfully so, is incredibly vocal and passionate about these regulations and how they support the strong desire we all have to keep our front-line health workers safe.

Both in the formulation of the regulations and their examination by the Legislative Review Committee, key organisations like the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia, Tullawon Health Service, CRANAplus, the AMA and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation were consulted. It was vital for the committee to be informed by the insights, experience and challenges of delivering health services safely in remote areas. However, there will always be risks. Unfortunately, in no situation can a guarantee be made about the absolute safety of every individual. That is simply the reality and nature of the job. I am sure everyone here admires the selflessness and courageous nature of the people who deliver these vital services. The resilience and dedication of these professionals in caring for some of South Australia's most vulnerable individuals is nothing short of inspiring.

When parliament passed Gayle's Law in 2017, it stipulated that a review of the legislation must be undertaken two years after the legislation came into operation, that is, after 1 July 2021. The committee has adopted its final report, with a recommendation that a review be conducted one year after coming into operation instead of two years, consistent with the Minister for Health and Wellbeing's previous public commitment. Gayle's Law has been operating in South Australia for some three months already. In another nine months it will be reviewed thoroughly, I am sure.

I would like to thank the members of the committee, the Hon. Connie Bonaros MLC, Mr Dan Cregan MP, the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos MLC, Mr Josh Teague MP and Mr Joe Szakacs MP. I would also like to thank the secretary, Mr Matt Balfour, and the research officer, Mrs Lisa Baxter. Additionally, I extend a thank you to all of those who assisted in the development, implementation and examination of the regulations and to all those who made submissions to this inquiry.

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