Over the last year strong campaigning by nurses and midwives has kept our high priority issues in front of the public.
We have just completed our 74th annual conference and, as always, it is an opportune moment to take stock of our efforts and achievements over the past year.
The first half of this year was punctuated by a state election and a federal election within months of each other – a true test of our campaigning capacity.
The effort and commitment shown by members and staff during this time was staggering.
In both elections we were driven and energised by a singular goal – the achievement of shift-by-shift ratios in the public health system and in aged care.
While those ultimate goals remain we have still made a lot of progress.
The community is more aware and supportive of our aspirations for ratios. The state government has responded to our campaign with a promise to introduce more nurses and midwives into the public health system. The Labor opposition committed to the introduction of shift-by-shift ratios. And the crisis in aged care has been brought out of the shadows and is front and centre in public discourse.
In his speech to annual conference NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard generously conceded that the Association’s campaigning and advocacy had played no small part in getting Treasury to agree to fund extra nurses in the public health system and to make improvements in rural and regional hospitals (see p17).
We now have a task to ensure the Liberal-National government delivers the additional 893 nurses and 48 midwives promised over four years, on top of what is required to meet normal growth.
The crisis in aged care is no longer being ignored thanks to relentless campaigning by our members in that sector. This culminated in a heartbreaking expose by Four Corners and the subsequent announcement of a Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety by the federal government.
We can’t rest on our laurels
These improvements in multiple areas is heartening but we can never rest on our laurels. There are always powerful interest groups who want to push back on any gains we make. No further progress will be made without hard work, sacrifice and the will to fight for it.
We have been effective in the past because of the strength we have in our branches and in our workplaces. But if we want to be even more effective we have to continue to build that strength, to build the power of our collective.
We also have no choice but to engage politically on issues that impact our patients. I understand that for many of our members that is difficult. But we have to recognise that societal issues such as climate change, trade, tax systems and privatisation all have an impact on people’s health.
It is our duty to be aware, informed and engaged on these issues as union members and citizens if our democracy is to be functional and if we want to achieve our goals.
Martin Luther King once said: “The arc of history is long and it tends towards justice.” It is a salient lesson for all trade unionists who are committed to making our society better, including nurses and midwives who are determined to make our public health and aged care systems among the best in the world.
We need to be patient and persistent.
As Mr King alluded, history shows us that comprehensive campaigns that challenge ingrained practices and behaviours in society do take time. Sometimes decades.
It is worth reflecting that this was our 74th annual conference. It is a marker of a long and brilliant history. So much of what is good in our professions and in our health system is a legacy of what nurses and midwives who came before us, fought for.
Now it is our turn to come together, combine our strength, build our own history and to add to that legacy.