Privatisation in the dock

A national inquiry is underway to gauge the extent and effects of privatisation – and to put forward alternatives that protect public services.

Nurses are among dozens of Australians from many occupations to give evidence and make submissions to a People’s Inquiry into Privatisation.

They include nurses affected by privatisation of the NSW government’s Ageing, Disability and Home Care (ADHC) and the Northern Beaches and Port Macquarie hospitals.

The NSW government will sell ADHC services and shift 1,200 nurses to the non-government sector.

It will close Mona Vale and Manly hospitals and replace them with a new privately operated Northern Beaches hospital.

Port Macquarie hospital is plagued by the legacy of a failed privatisation experiment which forced the government to buy it back in 2004.

Initiated by public services international affiliates, including the NSWNMA, the inquiry is holding public hearings in capital cities and regional centres around Australia.

“We want to talk directly with communities about the impact of privatisation on services,” said inquiry chairman David Hetherington, executive director of the progressive think-tank, Per Capita.

“The aim of the inquiry is to begin a conversation about the issue of privatisation in all its forms – including outsourcing, social impact bonds, user-pays, vouchers, commissioning, etc. – and build consensus around an alternative vision for our public services.

“We need to put forward our vision for the role of government in service delivery, what kind of public services our community needs, and ultimately, what kind of society we want to live in.”

The GFC has been used to further privatisation

He said the finance industry and other privatisation advocates took advantage of the 2007 Global Financial Crisis to persuade politicians to accelerate privatisation.

“In all jurisdictions we have seen politicians running down our public services through chronic underfunding and budget cuts, which serve as a further incentive for privatisation.”

He said the Productivity Commission would soon begin an inquiry into extending “competition and choice” in the human services sector – “which we know is just code for privatisation.”

“Our inquiry will run parallel to the Productivity Commission inquiry, but instead of looking into ways to further marketise and privatise public services for the benefit of business, we start from the premise that public services are here to serve people and their communities.”

NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes said the union supported the inquiry because it believed public services and especially health services should be run for public good not private profit.

“As people increasingly turn against privatisation politicians have found new ways to sell the concept, including outsourcing and public private partnerships,” Brett said.

“Like traditional privatisations they are all designed to shift public assets and services into private hands.

“The outcome is the same – worse services, job losses and lack of financial transparency.”

He said the inquiry was needed to start a campaign that would build consensus for a positive vision for improved health care and other public services.

Uncertainty clouds new privatised hospital

More than three years after the NSW government announced it would hand the new Northern Beaches hospital to a private operator, nurses are still waiting to be told how privatisation will affect them and their patients.

The uncertainty worries many nurses who will transfer from Manly and Mona Vale public hospitals when the new hospital opens in November next year.

Mona Vale Hospital branch secretary Robyne Brown told the People’s Inquiry into Privatisation the government did not consult with the public before announcing the privatisation in 2013.

“The government is closing two public hospitals to build a private hospital yet most people still don’t realise it will be a private hospital with public beds,” said Robyne, who works in the short stay unit of Mona Vale’s emergency department.

“When we ask what the new service will look like, no one has any answers for us.

“The operator, Healthscope, is still unsure how it will work and how public patients will be cared for in comparison with private patients.

“Will public patients get the same services they do now or will more services be ‘for profit’ based?

“For example, when we send someone home from the public hospital we make sure there’s a plan in place for them to come back or be followed up in other ways.

“That costs money and we don’t know how well the private hospital will perform that function.

“The government says it will be just like going to a public hospital but nobody knows because they’ve never done this before. We suspect Healthscope will encourage patients to use private health insurance.”

Robyne said Healthscope had undertaken to maintain Mona Vale and Manly nurses’ public sector pay and conditions for two years following the transfer.

“We don’t know what will happen after two years.

“The government has ruled out voluntary redundancy and has offered us a transfer payment but hasn’t said how much.

“They can’t give a firm answer to that and many other questions.”