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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 5 Hansard (8 May) . . Page.. 1312 ..

Midwifery program

MS TUCKER: My question is directed to the Chief Minister and relates to the proposal from the Maternity Coalition which will ensure that midwife-led care, as distinct from midwife care, is supported in the ACT. I understand that the Labor government's position is supportive of this option being available for women. There has been a lot of pressure due to the professional indemnity issue. A solution has been put by the Maternity Coalition in terms of how they could operate in the ACT. There would be obvious benefits if they were able to operate, which would men having independent midwife-led care or at least midwife-led care available for women. I would like to know what your government has actually done to ensure that this choice is available for women.

MR STANHOPE: Thank you, Ms Tucker, for the question. I acknowledge that Ms Tucker did give me some notice that she proposed to ask a question on this subject.

As Ms Tucker has said, members will certainly all be aware of the enormous difficulties that have occurred with regard to public liability insurance and medical indemnity insurance. Indeed, in relation to independent midwives, I think it has been a longer-term issue than it has for others in the community, to the extent that, at this stage in Australia, there is no insurer prepared to provide insurance to independent midwives.

Independent midwives have been operating and continue to operate in the ACT. There have been independent midwife programs operating actively and successfully in Western Australia and South Australia. The situation across the country is now that in none of these jurisdictions will there be medical indemnity insurance available for midwives as from either the end of this month or the end of June.

That certainly is extremely unfair to midwives. My advice-and I accept the advice-is that the decision that the insurance companies have taken in relation to midwives is totally unrelated to the claims experience of midwives. This is one of the palpable injustices of the position that has been taken by the insurance industry around Australia. The claims experience and the claims history of midwives is exemplary, particularly when compared to other practitioners within the health profession-a very, very low-level of claims against independent midwives. It is, I think, very cynical and very unfair that midwives can no longer insure.

I acknowledge the extent to which Ms Tucker has remained active in relation to this issue and the constancy of her representations to me on the issue of midwives, an independent midwife program and the desirability of ensuring that independent midwives continue to operate here. The Labor Party shares those views that support this particular option and this choice for women in terms of confinement and in terms of their care during periods of pregnancy.

I do need to give some of this background. There has been, in the debate around lack of insurance for the independent midwives in the ACT, some comparison of their circumstance with that of the VMOs. The circumstance really is significantly different.

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