Abbott’s attack a slur on nurses – August 2007

Robust debate in Parliament is to be welcomed but there is no place for slander and the abuse of nurses.

There is a place for robust debate in the arenas of politics and policy. In fact it is healthy if we are to have a vibrant democracy. But that debate should be conducted with respect and should concentrate on issues and policy.

On 13 June, the federal health minister Tony Abbott, replying to a Dorothy Dixer from Jackie Kelly (Liberal member for Lindsay) and abusing his parliamentary privilege, attacked NSW nurses campaigning to protect their rights at work. Tony Abbott said that elective surgery waiting lists in NSW were blowing out because ‘the nurses are all at ACTU indoctrination lessons’.

This is an unjustified slur on the professional inte-grity of nurses. It also insults nurses’ intelligence.

In the following days, the Minister for Workplace Relations, Joe Hockey, sustained this attack against nurses in the media.

These outrageous and nasty outbursts are revealing of the bankruptcy of the federal government’s position on industrial relations. The union movement has been very effective in exposing the brutal consequences of John Howard’s IR laws for many working families. Now, federal government spokespeople like Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have abandoned any semblance of respectful and informed debate. The only card they have left is invective.

Secret government document flags AWAs for all

Lamp has always been a deeply ideological project. The recent exposure of a secret government document reveals the true ideological dimension of John Howard’s laws and the extent to which his government wants to push its agenda (see IR Shorts, page 33).

The Department of Workplace Relations brief sought consultancies to model the impact of the greater use of AWAs. One of the scenarios to be modelled was the impact of all employees in Australia being moved into the federal industrial relations system.

This should set off alarm bells for all public hospital nurses, for this scenario would be aimed squarely at you as well as other emergency workers such as fire fighters and police.

John Howard was quick to deny that this would happen to nurses but we do have to ask the question: why is this scenario being contemplated in the first place and can the government be trusted when senior Liberal politicians like Abbott and Hockey have so little respect for dedicated, hard-working nurses who are keeping our hospitals and nursing homes running?

Funding allows federal govt to call the shots on health

While the state government is responsible for the running of our public hospitals and the employment of nurses within them, it is heavily reliant on the federal government for funding. This gives Tony Abbott a lot of leverage on health policy. The Commonwealth, with some stealth, has been reducing its proportion of health funding for some time (see story, page 26).

The tertiary education sector provides us with a precedent for the federal govern-ment linking funding with the offering of AWAs to everyone working in our universities.

John Howard’s strong ideo-logical commitment to AWAs and the federal government’s control over the health system through its control of funding poses major risks for public hospital nurses.

It is one of the reasons why we will continue our Nurses Rights at Work campaign right up till federal polling day. Another is the vulnerability of aged care nurses already swept into the federal system.

We will continue to point out to the wider community the negative implications of the Howard government’s IR policies for nurses and the health and aged care systems. We will not be intimidated or bullied by Tony Abbott or anyone else out of fighting for our rights at work.