The most recent efforts by Racing NSW (New South Wales) to impose a licence on veterinarians involved in thoroughbred racing began early in 2012. The idea had been floated elsewhere in previous years and in late 2013, Racing Queensland also announced its intention to establish an identical scheme.
From the outset AVA (Australian Veterinary Association) members have been very outspoken in their opposition to the racing licence. They have emphasised that they are already licensed and properly regulated by the NSW Veterinary Practitioners Board, and no further regulation is required. Members raised a range of procedural and practical matters that will make the scheme unworkable and unfair. Most importantly, there has been no demonstration of a failure of existing regulation, and the AVA has asserted all along that there’s no need for this scheme. The investigation and disciplinary powers of state and territory veterinary registration boards provides all the regulation required to deal with any veterinarians behaving unethically or unprofessionally.
There was no genuine consultation with the profession by either Racing NSW or Racing Queensland when their decisions were announced, and the AVA's attempts to discuss the consequences and negotiate were rejected.
In Queensland, the AVA approached the agriculture and racing ministers, who have supported a process of negotiation to reach a successful conclusion that will avoid any need for a separate licence.
In NSW, the Veterinary Practitioners Board offered to negotiate with Racing NSW on a memorandum of understanding that would be an alternative to licensing. At the same time AVA received some legal advice that suggested some potential legal grounds to oppose the licensing scheme. The case was eventually argued in the NSW Supreme Court. However the judge decided that the Thoroughbred Racing Act in NSW gave Racing NSW the legal right to license veterinarians working on thoroughbreds in training, but he did not rule on the terms of any such licence.
Efforts continue in NSW to find an alternative to a licensing regime that meets the objectives of all parties. A letter-writing campaign by AVA members to NSW parliamentarians has allowed individuals to loudly express their opposition to licensing.
This issue is important to the whole profession as it centres on the best way to regulate veterinarians.
In the current political environment, there are ongoing and widespread pressures to de-regulate various aspects of the veterinary profession. Acts of veterinary science and regulatory regimes are under the microscope as governments want the market to regulate more and more spheres of activity. Paraprofessionals have started supplying services in the market that have been the preserve of vets in the past, and these pressures are increasing.
At the same time, a concerted effort to impose a second regulatory regime on vets by at least one racing authority is being closely watched by others interested in doing the same. The AVA feels that these moves need to be opposed as strongly as possible to avoid additional regulatory pressure, as well as regulation by bodies with insufficient expertise to investigate and judge veterinarians.
In this broader context of pressures to both deregulate and over-regulate the profession, the AVA's concern extends beyond the interests of veterinarians. We are concerned about how these moves are likely or are already affecting the welfare of animals. Apart from protecting the consumers of veterinary services, a major reason to get the regulation of vets right is to protect the welfare of animals.
Using the example of the racing licence, the vet’s independence from the racing industry is a key and essential support for the vet’s legal responsibility to put the welfare of the animal ahead of other considerations. If that independence is undermined by stewards having power to affect a vet’s whole livelihood, then animal welfare is not going to receive the priority it deserves. A vet contravening the rules of racing or acting unprofessionally should be disciplined by a veterinary registration board, authorities that thoroughly understand a vet's obligation to protect the welfare of animals.
For more information visit http://www.ava.com.au/racing-licence.