Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - What's an offence under the National Law?
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What's an offence under the National Law?

Offences are breaches of the National Law, committed by registered health practitioners and unregistered individuals.

There are a number of offences created under the National Law, including the following:

  • unlawful use of a protected title
  • performing a restricted act
  • holding out (claims by individuals or organisations as to registration), and
  • unlawful advertising.

Types of offences

Section 113 of the National Law provides information on protected titles and who may carry out restricted acts. Section 97 of the National Law also outlines the use of the title ‘acupuncturist’.

The National Law restricts the use of protected titles. This means that it is unlawful for someone to knowingly or recklessly take or use a title to make someone believe they are registered in one of the health professions listed below, as well as other practices including using a specialist title when the person does not have specialist registration.

It is also unlawful for someone to lead someone to believe that another person is registered in a health profession from the list below.

Profession Title
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practice Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioner, Aboriginal health practitioner and Torres Strait Islander health practitioner
Chinese medicine Chinese medicine practitioner, Chinese herbal dispenser, Chinese herbal medicine practitioner, Oriental medicine practitioner and acupuncturist
Chiropractic chiropractor
Dental dentist, dental therapist, dental hygienist, dental prosthetist and oral health therapist
Medical medical practitioner
Medical radiation practice medical radiation practitioner, diagnostic radiographer, medical imaging technologist, radiographer, nuclear medicine scientist, nuclear medicine technologist and radiation therapist
Nursing and midwifery nurse, registered nurse, nurse practitioner, enrolled nurse, midwife and midwife practitioner
Occupational therapy occupational therapist
Optometry optometrist, optician
Osteopathy osteopath
Paramedicine paramedic 
Pharmacy pharmacist and pharmaceutical chemist
Physiotherapy physiotherapist and physical therapist
Podiatry podiatrist and chiropodist
Psychology psychologist

Restricted dental acts

Section 121 of the National Law outlines more details on the restricted acts and who may carry out the restricted acts.

Restricted dental acts include irreversible procedures on the teeth, jaw and associated structures. Under the National Law, restricted dental acts can only be carried out by individuals who are:

  • a registered dental or medical practitioner 
  • a dental or medical student performing the procedure as part of an approved program of study 
  • ordered to do so by a dentist or dental prosthetist, or 
  • authorised to carry out the act generally.

Restricted prescription of optical appliances

Section 122 of the National Law outlines more details on the restricted acts and who may carry out the restricted acts.

Optical appliances are those that are designed to correct, remedy or relieve any refractive abnormality or sight defect, including:

  • spectacle lenses, and 
  • contact lenses (whether or not they are designed to correct, remedy or relieve).

Under the National Law, a restricted prescription of optical appliances can only be carried out by individuals who are:

  • a registered optometrist or medical practitioner 
  • an orthoptist (whose name is recorded in the Register of Orthoptists and if the appliance is spectacles) who prescribes the spectacles according to the requirements set out in the National Law, or 
  • authorised to prescribe the optical appliance generally.

Restricted spinal manipulation

Section 123 of the National Law outlines more details on the restricted acts and who may carry out the restricted acts.

Manipulation of the cervical spine means moving the joints of the cervical spine beyond a person’s usual physiological range of motion using a high velocity, low amplitude thrust. Under the National Law, a person must not perform manipulation of the cervical spine unless they are:

  • registered in an appropriate health profession 
  • a student performing the manipulation as part of an approved program of study, or 
  • authorised to perform the procedure generally.

The National Law defines ‘appropriate health profession’ as:

  • chiropractic 
  • osteopathy 
  • medical, and 
  • physiotherapy.

Section 116 and 118 of the National Law provides information on ‘holding out’ and making claims about registration.

Under the National Law, it’s unlawful to knowingly or recklessly claim to be a registered health practitioner, when you are not. We call this ‘holding out’.

This can include using a title, name, initial, symbol, word or description which could be reasonably understood to indicate that an individual is a health practitioner or qualified to practise in a registered health profession.

Section 116 of the National Law also makes it an offence to knowingly or recklessly:

  • hold yourself out to be registered in a division of a health profession when you are not;
  • claim to be qualified to practice as a health practitioner.

The National Law also makes it an offence for a person to claim that another individual is a registered health practitioner when they are not.

Section 118 of the National Law makes it an offence for a person to claim to be a specialist practitioner, if the person is not registered in that recognised specialty. It is also an offence to claim someone else is registered in a particular profession or division or holds specialist registration, when they do not.

Under the National Law, a person must not advertise a regulated health service or a business providing a regulated health service in a way that:

  • is false, misleading or deceptive
  • uses gifts, discounts or inducements without the terms and conditions of the offer
  • uses a testimonial or purported testimonial
  • creates an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment, or
  • directly or indirectly encourages the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of regulated health services.

National Boards have published advertising guidelines on their website which apply to each regulated health profession. You can view information about advertising on our Advertising hub page.

It’s important to note that it is not an offence for a person, as part of their business, to print or publish an advertisement for another person. 


The National Law

In February 2019, the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2019 (Qld) (the National Law) was passed by the Queensland Parliament.

The amendments included increased penalties and introduced an imprisonment term of up to three years for offences against the National Law.

The introduction of an imprisonment term means that some offences will automatically become indictable offences in all states and territories (except Western Australia).

The updated section of the National Law (Section 241A) states the following offences as indictable offences:

  • taking or using a protected title (including specialist title) (sections 113 and 115)
  • holding out offences (sections 116 to 118)
  • carrying out a 'restricted dental act' (section 121)
  • restrictions on prescribing an 'optical appliance' (section 122)
  • restrictions on performing spinal manipulation (section 123), and
  • contravening a prohibition order (section 196A).

Managing criminal offences

Complaints about advertising are managed in accordance with Ahpra's advertising compliance and enforcement strategy. The advertising complaints hub has more information about this process.

All other criminal offence complaints lodged with Ahpra are managed by the Criminal Offences Unit (COU) and are risk assessed.

What does this mean?

Low and moderate risk matters are dealt with through administrative management. These matters are closed, following compliance.

Major and critical risk matters are allocated to an inspector within the COU for investigation.

Major and critical risk matters often relate to allegations of alleged holding out, restricted acts and/or pose a high risk to the public.

After an investigation, the matter is then considered whether it is suitable for prosecution.

Ahpra will prosecute individuals only where:

  • the prosecution is in the public interest, and
  • there is a reasonable prospect of a conviction.

Where prosecution is considered to not be the most appropriate route of action, other avenues of regulatory action will be considered such as referral to another law enforcement or regulatory agency.

Ahpra’s prosecution guidelines have further information about this process.

Penalties for committing an offence

The penalties for offences vary and include:

  • a fine of up to $60,000 per offence for an individual or $120,000 per offence for a corporation, and/or
  • a maximum three-year term of imprisonment per offence.


Decisions about prosecutions completed by Ahpra are published on the court and tribunal decisions page.

Published outcomes about advertising have been published on the advertising cases heard by courts and tribunals page.

How to report a criminal offence

As we're responsible for making sure that only practitioners who have the skills and qualifications are registered to practise, we take complaints about possible offences seriously.

Breaches can put individuals and the community at risk.

If you suspect that an offence has occurred or you have concerns about a possible offence, please complete our Criminal offences form (below) and submit it along with any additional evidence to


Page reviewed 8/12/2023