House debates

Wednesday, 16 October 2019


Medical and Midwife Indemnity Legislation Amendment Bill 2019; Second Reading

10:04 am

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Health) Share this | Hansard source

The Labor Party will be supporting the Medical and Midwife Indemnity Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, which seeks to improve the operation of indemnity insurance following a first principles review. This is a very important item and I note that this bill does go some way—but only some way—to addressing some problems in the current environment for Australia's midwives. The requirement that all indemnity insurers must provide cover to all providers who need it is a particularly useful provision in this bill. At present this universal cover obligation only applies to the four insurers who have contracts with the Commonwealth. This is a sensible extension which will help.

I want to place on record my thanks to all the doctors, midwives, pharmacists and others who've contributed to the review process that has led to this legislation. We do support this legislation but I need to note that this will be an ongoing problem. This legislation does not fix some of the fundamental issues facing Australia's midwives. There are big gaps in indemnity insurance for Australia's midwives, and this legislation does not even attempt to deal with those. There are two major issues with midwifery indemnity insurance that it does not address: the lack of cover for homebirths and the lack of competition and choice in other midwifery cover.

There's only one provider for indemnity insurance for midwives, which means there is absolutely no competition in the market. The lack of competition—I freely acknowledge—is not an easy issue for the government to fix, but it is one the government should pay some attention to and should be trying to think of creative solutions for. The other issue is that there is no indemnity insurance for all homebirths. While there's an exemption for holding that insurance, it is set to expire, which, of course, creates massive uncertainty for midwives in relation to homebirths. This is not a sustainable situation, and the minister does need to be turning his attention to this issue. Ultimately, it could jeopardise the ability of midwives to attend homebirths. Parents should have a range of choices when considering their birthing options. One of those choices is to have a midwife attend a homebirth, but that may not be the case if the exemption is not extended or if there's not a solution found for the lack of indemnity insurance, because then midwives will have to respond accordingly to the risk.

Our concerns about these issues are consistent with our longstanding support for midwives. It's important to remember that the last Labor government added midwives to the national registration scheme, which was a very important initiative in recognition of their professionalism and their importance in the health system. We ensured that regulations are on par with other medical professionals, as they should be. It also gave midwives access to a range of Medicare and PBS items for the first time.

I was very pleased to attend the conference of the College of Midwives a few weeks ago and to address some of these issues at their important conference in Canberra and to express my support for midwifery and the roles they play in supporting new parents across the country.

I now move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House calls on the Government to address the lack of indemnity insurance for midwives who attend home births, as well as the lack of competition and choice in other midwifery cover”.

This amendment will give the House an opportunity to express its concerns about these issues. We don't pretend they're easy. This has been an ongoing issue for Australian midwives since 2002, when a major provider went bankrupt. Midwives deserve the support of the government of the day, and they deserve the attention of this House. So we call on the government to provide more attention to these issues.


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