What the parties say


The Australian Nursing Federation invited representatives from the Liberal and Labor parties, Australian Greens and Australian Democrats to explain their policies on nursing and health.

Liberals on health and nursing
By Tony Abbott, Federal Minister for Health

The Howard government recognises the crucial role nurses play in Australia’s health system.

The Commonwealth government’s role in supporting the nursing workforce is mainly through education-focused initiatives. The ‘Our Universities: Backing Australia’s Future’ (BAF) package and ‘Investing in Australia’s Aged Care: More Places, Better Care’ have created almost 3,000 new nursing places since 2005. We have also provided an additional $93 million for 1,000 general nursing places as well as 430 mental health nursing places to commence in 2007.

Under Backing Australia’s Future, the government provided additional funding of $54 million over four years towards the costs of clinical placements. In 2006, the Prime Minister announced an increase in the Commonwealth’s contribution to the cost of nurses’ clinical training from about $690 to $1,045 a year per equivalent full-time student for all existing and new student places at a cost of $31 million over four years.

The Howard government has supported the role of nurses in general practice through training and support measures including increases in Medicare rebates for services provided by practice incentive payments, assistance for practices to employ a practice nurse and scholarships to assist practice nurses to upskill or undertake postgraduate education.

More than 2,000 practices around Australia are being supported through the practice incentives program to employ a practice nurse.

Mental health nurses are being supported through measures totalling $209 million including postgraduate scholarships, support in providing clinical services in the community and by the mental health in tertiary curricula initiative.

Labor on health and nursing
By Nicola Roxon, Shadow Minister for Health

A Rudd Labor government is committed to establishing the position of Commonwealth Chief Nursing Officer. Nurses make up almost 50% of the health workforce and need a senior individual to ensure leadership at the national level.

Labor recognises the importance of having a workforce strategy for nurses. Labor’s announcement on new health checks for children and our commitment to $261 million for child and maternal health services for Indigenous families are framed with nursing workforce issues squarely in mind.

While nurses continue to face significant workplace challenges, including onerous shifts, inflexible rosters and often limited career opportunities, there needs to be action rather than blame-shifting. Government needs to ensure there is sufficient additional health workforce to remove extra work and allow nurses to get on with being nurses.

We need to make sure nurses are looked after, that there is sufficient scope for retraining and skills development, and that nurses are provided with the working conditions they deserve to keep them in the workforce.

In the area of aged care, the Labor Party recently committed to introducing minimum staffing levels in aged care facilities and improving conditions for nurses, care workers and other support staff.

Much more can be done, and a Rudd Labor government is committed to doing it.

Greens on health and nursing
By Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens

The Australian Greens believe that nurses play a vital role in the health workforce but that a lack of strategic planning has resulted in a mismatch in the supply and demand for qualified registered and enrolled nurses.

This lack of planning has resulted in insufficient placement opportunities for nursing students; a fragmented state-based approach to nurse education and a workforce that cannot meet the demand for nursing positions across the board.

Our consultation with nurse organisations, community-based health groups and other stakeholders indicates strongly that a national workforce strategy to coordinate and plan future workforce issues is much needed.

The Greens support opportunities to expand and strengthen the health workforce, with new graduates and continuous professional development of practising nurses.

To build a sustainable health workforce into the future, appropriate funding must be provided for nurse education in undergraduate places and to encourage enrolled nurses to upgrade their qualifications, as well as for funded refresher and re-entry education for registered and enrolled nurses.

To that end, we support the new health training package and we recognise the funding implications that are required to ensure it is effective.

Federal oversight over a national nurse workforce is a sensible approach to this important issue. It is important that policy development and decisions are made by people with skills and experience in the profession. The Greens would support the establishment of such an office.

Democrats on nursing and health
By Lyn Allison,leader of the Australian Democrats

Australia’s health system would not be able to function without the many and varied contributions that nurses make. The Australian Democrats were actively involved in the 2002 Senate inquiry into the nursing workforce shortage and supported the many recommendations that the committee identified as necessary.

The Australian Democrats endorse the Australian Nursing Federation’s 2007 election statement. Government support for nursing as a career has declined alarmingly and nurses are leaving the workforce for many reasons including lack of autonomy, safety, limits to nurses’ capacity to function professionally as nurses with current staffing shortages, limited recognition of nurses’ skills and knowledge, lack of access to child care, shiftwork and conditions of pay.

There is a critical need for debate about the structure, funding and delivery of health care in Australia. The development of new models of care, which are interdisciplinary and build on the strengths of nurses, and other health care professionals are necessary.

In order to successfully attract and retain nursing staff, these models will need to appropriately integrate nurse autonomy and clinical decision-making, including extending Medicare rebates to nurse practitioners for more conditions and services.

They will also need to take into account the changing needs of workers so that sufficient priority is given to salary levels, work schedule flexibility and personal and professional development opportunities.

Long-range workforce planning and the provision of more funded university places for nursing students are also clearly necessary, as is financial support for upgrading qualifications and re-entry and refresher courses.