It is not yet illegal to practice independently in Australia although there are still several things up in the air and the situation could become more complicated at any time.
Currently, all health professionals are required to hold professional indemnity insurance (PII) in order to practice. There is no PII covering intrapartum care at home for independent midwives and there is an exemption from this until June 2012. In order to access this exemption IMs must
1) have their clients sign a statement that they are aware there is no PII cover for birth at home
2) follow laws regarding reporting births
3) adhere to a quality and safety framework which has not yet been finalised or adopted.
So currently, we are still ok. Many are concerned that the quality and safety framework will be very restrictive and will restrict women's access to IM care, but at this stage we don't know and we don't have to follow something that is not yet written or adopted.
We have to have PII cover for antenatal and postnatal care. There are two companies that offer this. One comapny's policy is restrictive, has good cover and is expensive. The other company's policy has no "rules" around it (anyone can access it and there are no restrictions on practice), the cover is not great and it is less expensive at $1800 per annum (slightly cheaper if you are a member of the Australian College of Midwives.
As far as starting out as an IM, there are no rules at this stage. I am an IM who has never been employed by a hospital. I did the three year Bachelor of Midwifery degree which did not allow students to work with IMs. The training involved three years of hospital work. However, as I knew I was heading towards independent practice I also worked with three different IMs over the three years so that I would be ready to practice as soon as I finished the degree.
There are some who think that a midwife should not be attending homebirths without several years of hospital experience under her belt. I personally disagree and worked very hard, "doubling up" in some ways on my workload so that I would be ready to go into independent practice as soon as I qualified. I know a few others who did what I have done.
Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. The political / legal situation is complex and a bit tedious to explain but there is a lot of misinformation out there at that the moment and I am happy to clarify it with you. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.