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Turia: Veterinarians Bill

Veterinarians Bill Tariana Turia; 14 December 2005

Firstly I want to commend the work of the Primary Production Committee in considering the Bill.

Mr Speaker - I have been subjected to members of the Maori Party opining the fact that they have had, for one of them, a Cow of a day, for another, a Dog of a day.

They have complained of being drenched with rain, herded through airports, drafted into queues, and shorn of any dignity as they were barked at by the frustrated, as they too, were shepherded in to waiting lines.

All this, as a result of inclement weather, and a fog bound Wellington airport.

One of these members, also claimed that as his plane descended into Palmerston North airport, he thought for a moment that he would land either in the New Zealand Rugby Academy, or the Veterinary School at Massey University.

As a former dairy farmer, Mr Speaker, I do have some Hands On knowledge and experience with the Veterinary profession.

I remember a time when I was quite intimately involved in the art of the Artificial Insemination, of a dairy herd; or treating cows with mastitis, or bloat. I could have been described as a lay vet myself.

While I might have appeared confident, I was always apprehensive that my knowledge gained through practice experience might not necessarily be sufficient to ensure safe practice.

I was therefore always appreciative of the skill and expertise of our local vet. He had a practical, common sense manner, determined from the outset that nothing but his best was good enough.

It is a type of attitude which comes from the love of the job, the love of animals, and the love of the land.

The Maori Party recognises the need for a competent, professional veterinary workforce to service the needs of rural New Zealand, and the livestock industry. We are acutely aware that rural New Zealand has the biggest shortage of vets - and what this will mean in terms of the protection and quality of stock.

This is significant as vets play a very important risk management role which is vital for the agricultural/farming sector.

Having a competent workforce is absolutely necessary to reduce the increased risk of disease outbreaks (including serious diseases like foot and mouth; and TB) in rural areas where vets are thinly spread.

This is essential for the ongoing development of our primary industries.

We know also that the shortage of qualified vets has posed a real problem for the agricultural sector with its heavy reliance on animal health and welfare. This Bill will help to solve those acute shortages.

The Maori Party is supportive of the changes proposed to regulate practising veterinarians, to improve the registration process and categories to attract and retain veterinary surgeons.

We know also, that initiatives taken in the Taxation Bill discussed yesterday in this House, will contribute also to retaining our specialist students on-shore.

When they complete their studies, the accumulated debt for each vet student is about $50,000 and that debt has been a major driver for many of them to move offshore. This has contributed to the current extreme shortage of rural vets in New Zealand.

We are also supportive of the move to replace the five-year veterinary science degree with a four-year course. This is a significant move, which will help to solve the acute shortages within the sector, and yet not impact negatively on the professionalism and the skill.

We are supportive of the moves to reform the regulation of the profession of veterinarians.

We are pleased with the changes that have come through the Primary Production Select Committee.

We commend the work done to offer limited and provisional registration, and to also set professional standards and monitor performance.

During the process of considering this Bill, a number of anecdotes were passed on from experts in the field - both the literal and professional field.

The Bill sets in place certain academic and English language requirements in order to be registered by the Council as a veterinarian. In fact I didn't realise until I read the Bill, that English must be the language of the animal world.

A registered person who holds a current practising certificate will include quite specific competency testing in areas such as communication skills.

We have heard horror stories of how some farmers have gone to vets, asking for their animal to be 'fixed' - meaning to have their general health improved, their illness treated, their wound healed.

Imagine their horror when they realise the 'professional' has interpreted 'fixed' as meaning the animal should be 'castrated' or 'to be put down'. Too late then, to ask to see the registration papers of the offending vet.

This is obviously an area where the disciplinary powers of the Veterinary Council of New Zealand will come into their own.

Mr Speaker, we are aware that currently the situation out there in Heartland New Zealand, is less than positive for situations of abuse or neglect in regards to animal welfare.

We are aware, that even when there are cases of unprofessional conduct or severe neglect, have been taken to the Veterinary Council, the Council hasn't had the teeth to take effective action against recalcitrant vets.

The vet practices that we have spoken with told us about clients that have come from other vet practices that are dodgy, that have over-charged the clients, and whose practice has been inferior.

In extreme cases, severe negligence with regard to animals, careless practice, or inappropriate use of drugs, should have resulted in criminal prosecutions but lack of the ability to enforce the law by the Council has resulted in frustration amongst the profession, and the concern of the profession being brought into disrepute.

Our informants welcomed the Bill, particularly the aspect relating the increased powers of the Council to discipline appropriately.

The Bill makes it quite clear that the Council's primary function is * to regulate practising veterinarians; * to deal extensively with discipline and competency issues; * to be able to suspend and withdraw practising certificates; * and to impose conditions on practising certificates. One of the issues our informants also raised, however, was the composition of the Veterinary Council itself.

The Bill continues the Veterinary Council of New Zealand established under the 1994 Act with broadly the same powers and membership: * three veterinarians elected by veterinarians, * two laypersons and one veterinarian appointed by the Minister; * and the person responsible for the veterinary science academic programme at Massey University.

There was concern that because of the size of the veterinary community, it was felt that a quasi-judicial appointment would give a greater balance, thus freeing the Council from accusations of subjective decision-making.

It was also suggested that the laypersons should possess significant understanding, interest, or experience of the primary sector; and that the veterinarians appointed should have standing and repute within the veterinary profession.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party is pleased to support a Bill which will put in place moves to ensure the veterinarian practice continues to demonstrate high standards.

Ultimately, this will be in the interests of the animals of our country, and will ensure the public can have confidence in the profession.

Tena tatou katoa.

ENDS

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