Queensland: health cuts one day, privatised the next

QNU Secretary Beth Mohle
QNU Secretary Beth Mohle

The Campbell Newman Horror Show is touring Queensland with massive job cuts in health biting throughout the state and the privatisation of public hospitals on the agenda.  Queensland Nurses’ Union secretary, Beth Mohle, spoke to The Lamp.

QNU Secretary Beth Mohle says her members were unprepared for the attack on the Queensland public health system by the Campbell Newman LNP government.

“Nurses are shell-shocked. Many voted for the LNP. Now they are saying ‘I can’t believe this’. These radical changes in health were never telegraphed to nurses or the public before the election,” she said.

“Health minister Lawrence Springborg has implemented the most brutal health policy changes I’ve ever seen in my life. They don’t care who gets hurt – the health workers or the community.”

Beth says it is hard to understand the government’s aggression toward an iconic Queensland public service.

“Queensland had a public health system long before the NHS, Medibank or Medicare. It was originally funded by the Golden Casket (lottery) and the public love it.”

Things looked more promising when Campbell Newman swept into power in March 2012. Within a week he had settled an EBA with Queensland nurses that was overwhelmingly endorsed by QNU members. But from there it was only downhill.

“We still had the payroll disasters that were a legacy of the previous government. The new government legislated in the dead of night to ensure that Queensland Health could automatically recover overpayments without approval – up to 25% of a nurse’s wage. Our members were gobsmacked they could do that without consulting.

“They then legislated to do away with job security and ‘no contracting out’ protections.

“Then we had an audit by Peter Costello that catastrophised the state’s finances and tried to put Queensland in the same basket as Greece.

“In the September state budget they announced massive job cuts in health. 4100 jobs were earmarked to go in the budget. Over 3500 have already gone including over 750 nurses and midwives.”

Government reveals ignorance

Beth says looking at the health areas that have been hardest hit, reveals the Newman Government’s profound ignorance about health.

“The impact on primary and preventative care has been the most significant. A town like Emerald is a good example. It is a mining area with a significant Indigenous population. All those primary and preventative care projects, like outreach programs and immunisation, many with an Indigenous focus, have been cut.”

Earlier this year the Newman Government abolished the primary school nurse service in Metro South. Primary school nurses provided vital health screening and education programs for at least 50,000 children aged 5-12. One hundred and twenty-seven free hearing clinics – including screening with audiometry (checking level of hearing loss) and tympanometry (checking for middle ear conditions) – were cancelled.

Privatisation next

Not content to cut large numbers of staff, and cut back on services, the government has flagged its intention to involve the private sector in the public health system.

“The government has a privatisation agenda. Everything in the public sector is up for grabs. Health isn’t even seen as a public good anymore,” Beth says.

Recently a review of the planned Sunshine Coast University Hospital was announced. Full privatisation of this facility is being considered as part of this review. A similar review is taking place with respect to the operation of the new Queensland Children’s Hospital.

This follows on the heels of an announcement that public, day oncology services at the Mater Public Hospital in Brisbane are to be privatised to form a new Mater Cancer Care Service from May 2013.

Union rights under attack

Beth says there has also been an attack on trade union rights.

“We had regular meetings with previous premiers, but Premier Newman refuses to meet with union leaders. Consultation has been legislated out of existence.

“Now they are reviewing the union encouragement policy. If this goes so will trade union training leave, leave for QNU councilors to attend council meetings and delegates to attend annual conference, as well as leave for workplace consultative committees.

“We’ll lose Pay Roll Deductions (PRD) and union education. Springborg actually said that allowing PRDs was akin to money laundering!”

Culture of fear

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman – whose parents were both federal Liberal MPs – was educated at the Royal Military College, Duntroon and spent 13 years in the army. Beth saysit is easy to see his military bearing in his style of governing.   “The current climate of fear is palpable – kill one and terrorise a thousand. NGOs like the Indigenous health services are too scared to say anything. Their funding arrangements have a gag clause – if they receive more than 50% from the state government they can’t advocate.

“There are echoes of the old Joh Bjelke-Peterson days. The LNP has a huge majority and there is no upper house in Queensland to curb excesses of power. The ideology in this Queensland Liberal National Party (LNP) is very hard.

“People have been keeping their heads down. But now things are turning and people are starting to get angry and take action.”

Lessons to be learnt

Beth Mohle says there are important lessons for all nurses to be gleaned from the experiences of Queensland nurses working under the new Liberal National Party government.

“Before the election this mob didn’t fess up about what they were going to do,” she says.

After the initial shock, however, she says nurses are mobilising in increasing numbers to defend the public health system.

“The lesson is you have to be politically savvy, you have to be organised and you have to be linked in with your community.

“You also need to toughen up. Relationships are important to nurses. When it gets nasty we can find it difficult. Although we like to be liked, it is more important to be feared and respected. We need to put pressure on the politicians.

“They just want us to be compliant girls. Well, we won’t be. We are a force to be reckoned with. The community respects us – it’s only the politicians who don’t.”