03 Aug AMR v Gardner – the state of play in Queensland
The interstate recognition of reciprocal equivalent occupations changed on 1 July 2021 with the passing of the Mutual Recognition Amendment Bill 2021 (AMR), through the Commonwealth Senate. AMR proposes to facilitate the unencumbered transition of occupations and professions across jurisdictional boundaries (namely interstate) thereby allowing people to engage in those occupations and professions without the need to re-register in the jurisdiction in which the ‘activity’ will be delivered. Put simply, if you are registered in a occupational / professional scheme in your home state (following the introduction of AMR), it is not necessary to register in another state – where there is in that state a registration framework for the same occupation / profession as is being performed in your home state. By way of analogy a builder registered in another state (being the home state) does not need to re-register in the second state (being the jurisdiction in which the building work will be undertaken) – a process referred to as ’deemed registration’.
However, one of the exceptions to deemed registration is ‘… any public protection requirements required by the law of the second State before carrying on the activity…’. Notably, Queensland has been a national leader in the regulation of the engineering profession – having instituted a scheme of registration obligating those practising engineering in Queensland to be registered and thereby entitling a registrant to use the postnominals RPEQ – registered professional engineer of Queensland. Queensland’s strident framework of registration was recently the subject of judicial consideration by the Federal Court in the matter of Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland v Gardner  FCA 564 (Gardner decision) – being a successful appeal brought by the Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland (BPEQ) challenging a decision of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) permitting the registration of Mr Gardner as a RPEQ – Fire Safety (with conditions).
THE IMPACT – GARDNER
The Gardner decision reaffirms the foundation for the existence of BPEQ and moreover the framework of registration for those seeking to perform professional engineering services in the State of Queensland. The decision of the Honourable Justice Logan in Gardner is significant and potentially renders nugatory current and future applications for registration (pursuant to the Professional Engineers Act 2002 (Qld) (PE Act)) when such applications are made pursuant to the Mutual Recognition Act 1992 (Cth) (MR Act). As a starting point the principle enunciated from Gardner is referenced at paragraph  of the decision. The salient two questions for ultimate enquiry and determination are:
- Is there a scheme of registration for the same profession / occupation (c/f s. 4 MR Act); in the first state as that of the second state? and if so;
- A re the activities authorised in the first state – to be conducted as part of that registration the same as the activities authorised in the second state?
As a starting point, where there is no scheme for registration in the home state, purported claims to practise in the second state (where a scheme of registration exists) will fail – in that those seeking to practise in the second state will need to progress through the normal registration application process in the second state.
IMPACT – DEEMED REGISTRATION
However, if you are registered as a professional engineer in another jurisdiction this does not mean that you are automatically entitled to ‘deemed registration’. The Gardner decision (referencing the High Court decision of Victorian Building Authority v Andriotis  HCA 22) (Andriotis decision) references the entitlement to registration in respect of an ‘equivalent occupation’. Critical to the entitlement for registration is the claim for equivalency. Inherent within the assessment of equivalency is consideration of the approved activities in the home state (within the home state’s registration framework). AMR does not automatically displace the requirements of s. 17 of the MR Act – this being the section considered by the High Court in the Andriotis decision. Critically, the question that must be answered in the affirmative is whether the two occupations (namely the one in the home state versus the one in the second state) are equivalent.
THE EQUIVALENCY TEST
On the question of equivalency, the Gardner decision tells us that we must consider the ‘…activities authorised in the first State – to be conducted as part of that registration – the same as the activities in the second State?…’ (c/f paragraph 40). This of course applies on applications for registration however AMR (through the process of deemed registration) purports to ‘deem’ registered the practitioner already the subject of registration in the home state, treating that registrant as authorised pursuant to the respective statutory framework to carry out the authorised ‘activities’ in the second state. Gardner outlines with clarity the preconditions required for application of the MR Act.
As was the case with Gardner, applications for registration pursuant to the PE Act with reliance upon the registration scheme of another jurisdiction will almost certainly be unsuccessful, save for those activities that accord with the PE Act. Regulators are obligated to consider the applicable tests of s. 29 of the MR Act and therein make a decision on the question of equivalency of occupation / profession.
As was detailed by his Honour in Gardner, in circumstances where there are no applicable registration scheme/s for the profession of engineering any assertion for equivalence requires an assessment of the first state’s authorised activities, unless that review determines the ‘application of engineering principles and data to a design, or to a construction, production, operation or maintenance activity, relating to engineering’ is indeed authorised the jurisdiction of MR Act cannot apply because those activities are not regulated (c/f paragraph  of Gardner – cited above).
Gardner is arguably authority for the contention that even when it appears two jurisdictions have legislation regulating the same profession in order for the MR Act to apply the test required pursuant to s. 29 of the MR Act must be applied substantively and moreover there must be an interpretation and correlation of each of the activities authorised under each legislative scheme – therein permitting consideration of the other relevant considerations pursuant to s. 29 namely, whether a condition/s could or ought to be applied to achieve equivalency.
It should be noted that no change has occurred to sub-section 29(1) of the MR Act. The tests applicable to that sub-section remain current. Inherent within this conclusion is the fundamental requirement for the BPEQ to maintain a framework of registration for every practitioner registered pursuant to the PE Act. The continuance of sub-section (1) in its current form places the obligation on the BPEQ to continue to pursue the objects of the PE Act through the maintenance and provision of the registration framework of all persons purporting to practice a professional engineering service in Queensland.
Reminder – s. 115 Professional Engineers Act 2002
The decision of Gardner takes on particular significance around the discussion on the objects of the PE Act. Notably, and critically, it is a criminal offence to practice professional engineering services in Queensland and not have registration. Section 115 of the PE Act states:
115 Who may carry out professional engineering services
- A person who is not a practising professional engineer must not carry out professional engineering service
Maximum penalty – 1000 penalty units.
Division 2 of the PE Act – s. 3 references the mains object of the PE Act, they are:
3 Main objects of Act
The main objects of this Act are –
- To protect the public by ensuring professional engineering services are provided by a registered professional engineer in a professional and competent way; and
- To maintain public confidence in the standard of services provided by registered professional engineers; and
- To uphold the standards of practice of registered professional engineers.
Notably, sub-section 3(a) prescribed that the objects of the PE Act are to protect the public. Critical to protecting the public is providing for a scheme of registration for practitioners of professional engineering services. His Honour, in Gardner (c/f paragraph 33) references, inter alia, the fundamental purpose of the PE Act as follows:
33. One purpose of the Engineers Act is to ensure that only an individual who is a ‘practising professional engineer’ and registered as such may carry out ‘professional engineering services’: s 115(1). Another is to ensure that an individual who is a practising professional engineer carries out professional engineering services only in an ‘area of engineering’ for which the individual is registered under the Engineers Act: s 115(3). These purposes are achieved by a compulsory registration system. Each of the terms highlighted is defined in the Engineers Act…
We strongly advocate purported registrants from other jurisdictions obtaining legal advice to ensure they receive appropriate instruction on their obligations when delivering a professional engineering service in Queensland.
1 Mutual Recognition Amendment Bill 2021, s. 42D(4)(f).
2 Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland v Gardner  FCA 564 at 
3 Ibid at .
4 Mutual Recognition Amendment Bill 2021, s. 67