The New South Wales Government has become the last State in Australia to deregulate the profession of optical dispensing. The move, announced in April by Joe Tripodi, as Minister for Regulatory Reform, came about despite unanimous submissions from all peak eye care groups in the State advising against the move. As a result of the now Australia-wide deregulation of optical dispensers, there is a concerted move to protect the public by trying to organise self regulation by the industry.
Among other occupations deregulated by the NSW government are f loor finishers and coverers, kit home suppliers, lift mechanics, property inspectors (pre-purchase) entertainment industry agent/managers and venue consultants.
In his press release announcing the deregulation, the Minister for Regulatory Reform, Joe Tripodi, says: “In the current economic climate, it is more important than ever to remove any unnecessary costs to business.
“Business will be spared licence application and renewal fees, course fees, and time spent obtaining Home Warranty Insurance. Removing these seven licences will also make it easier for skilled people to work freely across the country, which has enormous benefits for the economy. Consumers will not be at risk with these new changes. We are removing licences which have little or no benefit to consumers compared to significant costs imposed on businesses and tradespeople. The NSW Government is not into slash-and-burn regulatory reform. Where there is a clear need for occupational licensing in NSW to protect consumers and enhance industry standards, it is being retained,” Mr. Tripodi said.
However, his statement to the media is in direct contrast to the belief of the eye care experts and overseas regulatory authorities.
In its comprehensive submission to the Government, the Australasian Dispensing Opticians Association said: “Without this regulation as is explained in the COAG submission, there will be no responsibility for an unlicensed spectacle seller to accept responsibility for accuracy or visual comfort/ health to the client or to the prescriber. We again urge the NSW government to maintain the responsibility for correctly dispensed spectacles and contact lenses”.
This and other entreaties by the Optometrists Association of NSW and the Optical Dispensers Licensing Board were ignored.
“Being completely deregulated does have concerns for our association,” says Edward Butler, Secretary of the Australasian Dispensing Opticians Association. He and others fear that if optical dispensers do not need to be licensed, that there will be a proliferation of untrained practitioners which would signify a poorer and eventually costlier service to the public.
“Despite all the eye care peak bodies opposing deregulation, I’ve had comments put to me that we are seeing the fallout of a brawl between the NSW Health Minister John Della Bosca and Minister Joe Tripodi. It was a Dept. of Health matter until the Better Regulations Office got involved in it and issued that report, which then put it in Tripodi’s basket to deal with,” says Mr. Butler.
Mr. Butler says the plan is now to approach all State bodies representing optical dispensers to get a consensus on a self regulatory approach so that “cowboys” can not enter the industry.
“We’re organising a meeting of all the committee members and then in turn we’re going to look at it going national. What we’re going to look at is dispensers being regulated by their profession – self regulation,” says Mr. Butler.
“What we will be trying to do is to sell the idea to all State bodies on the basis that this is now a national problem. The words ‘optical dispenser’ in certain States is not even in their dictionary. To do this properly, we believe we need to do this nationally. We need to go to the various State associations who in turn need to go to their members and try to make it a privilege, if you like, to belong to optical dispensing… otherwise people are going to start to think: ‘Why the hell do I need to do any course?’ That’s why Luxottica does all their training in-house, so they’ve seen the merit of this,” he adds.
Mr. Butler points out that many countries around the world that have deregulated optical dispensers for many years are now turning the full circle.
“We’ve got countries elsewhere in the world that are now going back to regulation… Asian countries, Canada and others… because they’ve had problems… having to do remakes with unqualified people dispensing services. They’ve had doctors complaining because it’s their script being buggered up.
” Mr. Butler says this has an effect on the commerciality of the optical dispenser because they’re the ones who have to foot the bill to fix up the problem.
Chairman of the NSW Optical Dispensers Licensing Board, under the umbrella of the NSW Health Department, John Jackson, writing on behalf of his board, said in part: “Optical dispensing is not a trade; in no way can the level of responsibility to the public be compared with the other 10 occupations (deregulated along with optical dispensers).
“In the interest of the visual health of the public the Board strongly recommends the continuation of the current (licensing) Act”.
In writing to the State Government’s Better Regulations Board, the CEO of the NSW branch of the OAA, Andrew McKinnon, said: “The Association supports the retention of registration and licensing of optical dispensers in NSW. We hope that the Government will agree with the views of the Council and agree to retain the licensing of optical dispensers in NSW”.
And Mr. Butler warns: “It’s the lack of training… and that’s why the national approach to this is something the (Dispensing Opticians) Committee is going to be looking at as to making it something you can display to say you are a qualified optical dispenser… otherwise, the Consumer Affairs Department should start up a complaint file now”.