Back to basics

Nurses and midwives have no choice but to engagepolitically on issues that impact our patients.

The NSWNMA has had to reassess its traditional approach to industrial negotiations over the last eight years in light of the 
intransigence of the state government, Assistant Secretary General Judith Kiejda told 
annual Conference.

“That negative response over the last eight years left us no alternative but to convert existing campaigns into political campaigns as it became clear that only changes of government at state and federal levels could deliver our ratio agenda,” she said.

“There are still members who don’t understand why we have to engage in party political campaigns. To them I say – when the government of the day is invested in ignoring nurses and midwives’ pleas that are backed by evidence – to change the way things are done, be it in public hospital sector or the aged care sector, we have no alternative.”

Judith said nurses and midwives must also have an understanding of the broader issues that impact on people’s health.

“Along with campaigns that govern our working conditions we have a responsibility to participate in issues that have the capacity to impact negatively on a decent society.

“We need to be informed and engaged as members of the union and society on issues such as climate change, trade, tax systems and privatisation. All these societal issues have an impact on people’s health.”

Climate change in particular, she says, is “having a real impact on the health of people”.

“When we have South Pacific neighbours watching their atolls sink due to rising water levels – something is severely wrong. When the schoolchildren across the globe are marching for their future environment, we must back them up.

“The nursing and midwifery professions have an important role to play. There are many of us who connect daily with everyday people – so we are very well placed to educate others about climate change and its health impacts, but to do that we need to be aware and be informed.”

Big issues sidelined

Similarly, the impact of tax and trade issues on the poor and vulnerable cannot be ignored, Judith says.

“We must understand government decisions and how they impact public services. We need to understand and be able to articulate the argument that if you are given a personal tax cut, then that robs the central pool of funds from which we pay for essential public services, like health, education and infrastructure.

“A progressive fair tax system not only provides more resources for public services it stimulates 
the economy.”

Judith says people want a better Australia than is being offered to them by politicians.

“Current research suggests that Australians do care about each other, we do want a democracy that is good for everyone, we do believe that all Australians should have access to good public services and we also believe that governments should by and large administer those services. We do believe in a fair go.”

Yet, she says, important issues with long-term consequences, like privatisation, are sidelined at election time.

“Yes, we ran a super-fantastic campaign to save five regional public hospitals from privatisation and then we look at the current debacle that is the Northern Beaches hospital – where we ran a million-dollar campaign.

“The locals wanted a shiny new hospital despite our warnings of the realities of such a privatisation. Now we have to watch the users of that hospital suffer.

“It’s no fun to say ‘I told you so’.”

It is time to go back to basics if the union is to achieve its goals, says Judith.

“We know from recent experience that wins only occur when we stand together. If we truly want mandated ratios in any sector, the only way we can achieve that is to convince whoever the decision maker is, that’s the employer, and in the public health system that’s the government, to change its view.

“That will only happen when we have built enough workplace power – more members with more engagement – that politicians become scared of losing the next election.

“Your union leadership and staff are committed to steering this ship in a way that will put us in a place where we can win. We cannot keep working the way we did in a previous industrial climate and expect the outcomes to be different. We must change our approach.”