We can stop privatisation: look to Queensland

“The Abbott Government is barely 100 days old and major attacks on Medicare are on the table…”

Our Queensland colleagues have shown us that when nurses and midwives organise and persevere they can make even the most dogmatic and ideological of governments think twice about attacking the public health system.

Throughout last year we reported in The Lamp attempts by Queensland’s Liberal National Party government to privatise various elements of the public health system, most notably a large hospital on the Sunshine Coast.

At every step, this radical agenda to undermine an iconic and treasured public good was challenged by our colleagues at the Queensland Nurses Union.

Their campaign of rallies, advertising and engagement with the public paid dividends, with news that the Newman Government has ruled out the prospect of private management of the new $1.8 billion Sunshine Coast hospital – the hospital will now be managed by Queensland Health and will be a proud, publicly owned and operated facility.

Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said the decision was based on “value-for-money” as the private sector was unable, at this time, to match the capacity of the public sector. What he didn’t say was that privatisation of the Queensland health system has been political poison for his government.

A poll in the Brisbane bayside suburb of Redcliffe, where a by-election has been called, revealed that for 22% of voters “privatisation and outsourcing of the public health system” was the most important issue in their voting decision. Another 59% said it was one of several issues important to them. The poll showed the government trailing in a seat they held by more than 10% after the last election.

These developments are of great importance to us here in New South Wales.

Before last year’s federal election the NSWNMA was so concerned about the Coalition’s plans for healthcare that we made a television advertisement warning of the folly of going down the path of the largely privatised, American health system.

We copped a lot of flak for taking such a position. The Association was accused of scaremongering and branded as liars, yet time has shown that we were prescient in our warnings.

The Abbott Government is barely 100 days old and major attacks on Medicare are on the table with the government flagging the introduction of co-payments for GPs and emergency departments. The state government, meanwhile, has announced the privatisation of various public health services, including ADHC and the building and operation of the new Northern Beaches hospital.

The Abbott and O’Farrell Governments have been very coy about their plans for Medicare and public hospital privatisations. They have advanced their agendas by stealth and clouded their actions with obfuscation.

There is a reason for this – privatisation is deeply unpopular, as the Queensland experience shows.

This should give us much heart. The community believes, as we do, that the public provision of health through a universal health care system is the right thing for this country. In the public mind, Medicare is sacrosanct as are our public hospitals.

We will take inspiration from our colleagues in Queensland and do everything we can to inform the public of the dangers to their public health system and to rally their support in its defence.