The battle of values – July 2006

It`s easy to be complacent about rights and values when times are good. The crunch really comes when times get tougher.

In these prosperous and hedonistic times to talk about values can sometimes seem quaint and old fashioned. But values aren’t an abstract concept, they are tied in with rights and a vision of the sort of society we want to be.

Something is stirring in Australia. For nearly a decade and a half we have had a long economic boom and an unparalleled period of prosperity. But when I talk to nurses I sense a growing unease about the way our society, and even our profession, are evolving.

It is not the only reason, but the federal government’s new workplace laws have been instrumental in making people think about where we are heading as a society.

One thing that these laws have done is reveal the fragile situation many working people, including nurses, find themselves in.

The truth is, even in good times, many people are just keeping their heads above water. They are vulnerable to even small economic shocks. That is why there has been a strong reaction to these laws, which threaten people’s take-home pay and conditions.

Many people are also beginning to realise that the fundamental values of the labour movement – sticking together, putting a hand out to those in need, improving our lives through hard work with fair rewards – are not just moral positions but have economic and professional dimensions that give people security and better jobs.

Health is about values, too

Some of our Area Health Services could do with a reminder that providing decent health services extends beyond bean counting and also involves values.

You need a sense of values to be a good nurse. Good nurse managers who combine managerial efficiency with the values required for clinical excellence are invaluable assets for the health system.

The proposed downgrading of nurse manager positions in the health restructure threatens to worsen an already compromised health service, particularly in rural areas (see story page 12).

The Association will continue to press NSW Health to maintain the vital role of nurse managers within the management structure.

They are critical for delivering optimum health care to those who need it and deserve it.

Finally, Labor has a credible economic plan

At the federal level, it is heartening that Kim Beazley has listened to the concerns of working people and their unions and taken a strong stand against the government’s workplace laws and economic direction (see story page 20).

It is important for Australian democracy that we have a strong opposition with genuine alternative policies that are credible. The Labor Party has already put forward policies on skills and training, infrastructure development and taxation which deserve consideration. It is putting forward an economic vision that is about nation building and which Labor claims will ensure working people share the benefits of economic prosperity when times are good and they are protected when times get tough.

On the other hand, the Liberal Party is putting its faith in market forces (except in the labour market) and workplace laws that give all power to the employer to determine pay and conditions.

Kim Beazley’s pledge to abolish AWAs and introduce collective bargaining rights in Australian workplaces adds another dimension to Labor’s economic plan.

It clearly delineates the two main political parties on workplace rights and will make the next federal election a clear choice between two vastly different sets of values.