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The role of self regulation in Australia (NASRHP)

May 10, 2024

By Anita Hobson-Powell, Chair – National Alliance of Self Regulating Health Professions (NASRHP)

In Australia, the realm of professional practice is governed by a dual framework, incorporating legislative regulation and self-regulation. Government-mandated regulation provides licensed professionals with exclusive privileges, permitting only those affiliated with recognised bodies to engage in their respective fields, thus safeguarding professional titles. Simultaneously, self-regulation extends the advantages of regulation to government, regulatory bodies, and consumers without the necessity of legislative intervention. Self-regulation, while a privilege, places a unique responsibility on overseeing organisations: their commitment to act in the best interests of the public rather than solely championing the profession itself.

The overarching objective of regulation, whether through legislation or self-regulation, is to guarantee public safety, sustain public trust in the profession, and establish rigorous professional standards. It distinguishes true professionals from mere practitioners.

Entities entrusted with the self-regulation of a profession must ensure the establishment of a robust regulatory framework that remains agile in adapting to evolving landscapes, preferably benchmarked against external standards. A failure to fulfil this responsibility may necessitate government intervention through legislative regulations. Recall the media attention surrounding sports scientists in professional sports following the Australian Crime Commission’s year-long investigation into organised crime and drug use in sports. This inquiry underscored the absence of industry-supported quality assurance and regulation within these professions, ultimately leading to the implementation of self-regulating mechanisms to bolster the industry (as opposed to legislative regulation).

Self-regulation entails the implementation of standards for the profession, encompassing criteria such as entry-level competencies, the development and enforcement of codes of conduct and professional practice, complaints and disciplinary processes and requirements for ongoing professional development, recency, and resumption of practice, in addition to maintaining indemnity insurance. Furthermore, it provides guidance on appropriate professional practice, possibly through a scope of practice.

It is important to recognise that regulation, whether legislated or self-imposed, is costly due to the required governance and oversight mechanisms. While economies of scale naturally emerge as a profession expands, individuals often scrutinise the necessity and cost of these mechanisms. It is pertinent for professionals to perceive registration as a form of insurance—one might not realise its value until a situation necessitates it. Another advantage of self-regulation is that professionals can actively participate in shaping the rules and standards of the registration scheme. Government regulation remains under the complete jurisdiction of governmental bodies and their authorised entities, with rules and standards aimed at representing the public’s interests rather than those of the profession.

The employment prospects of many professionals, as well as their access to contracts, funding, and insurance, may often hinge on their professional accreditation, certification, or registration. As public awareness and expectations grow, they increasingly assume that professionals operate under some form of quality assurance—much like their doctor’s registration, their accountant’s CA qualification, a builder’s license, or their child’s teacher being registered with the relevant board.

Providing a registration scheme has been considered a member benefit for numerous associations. Nevertheless, it does not restrict an individual’s freedom of association. Over the past decade, professional associations have begun to decouple their regulatory schemes from membership, enabling non-members to participate in an industry registration scheme.

Many professionals may question or fail to grasp the necessity of personal registration under any such scheme. To underscore the importance of regulation, one must contemplate the potential consequences of the absence of a registration scheme in their profession. Would employment opportunities remain as extensive? Might the profession become susceptible to rogue practitioners? Could the profession’s reputation experience an upswing?

Regulation, whether through legislative mandates or self-regulation, is indispensable in the professional realm. It serves as the cornerstone for ensuring that professionals remain accountable for their actions and conduct, ultimately upholding and elevating public confidence in the profession.

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The current Scope of Practice Review has initiated discussions about the “regulation” of the health professions space. What the paper lacks is the recognition that self-regulation can be divided into two categories. Firstly, there are those who truly self-regulate. Secondly, there are professions falling under the National Alliance of Self-Regulating Health Professions (NASRHP), operating to meet external standards for self-regulation.

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