Brett Holmes: let's build a better future

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Brett Holmes, General Secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, spoke in Melbourne today at the ACTU Congress on the six-point plan to build a better future for Australians. Here is Brett’s speech.

Firstly I acknowledge the Wurrungeree people as the owners of this land and any elders past and present.

I am honoured to be here today to endorse the six-point charter of the Build A Better Future campaign and move the workplace resolution outlined by ACTU President Ged Kearney.

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This year spells another budget disaster from this federal government. Workers, women, young people and the vulnerable continue to be casualties of this government. Unemployment is on the rise, but there are no concrete plans for jobs or education. There is a growing ageing population but no constructive dialogue around health. Women and working families will be worse off under this government, with cuts to paid parental leave and family tax benefits that are far greater than the government’s investment in childcare.


Brett addresses the Congress.

As the leader of the union that represents 60,000 nurses and midwives in NSW, we are affected by these issues – but we are all affected  by all of these issues: worker’s rights, Medicare, education, public services, a secure retirement and of course we want a fair go for all and will do everything in our power to defend our living standards.As frontline health professionals, we feel strongly that our universal health system should not be undermined by any government. Our council and committee of delegates have voted to campaign at work and in the community to defend Medicare and public health and to push back against privatisation and user-pays. We will fight with every ounce for penalty rates and our rights at work. And a decent retirement.

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This year’s budget disaster is, we fear, another nail in the coffin for universal access to healthcare and public health. Health cuts this year include:

  • A further $2 billion in cuts to the public health system (on top of the $57 billion announced in budget 2014) – including child dental benefits schedule, preventative health care, mental health and drug and alcohol programs
  • A four year freeze on Medicare rebates
  • An as yet unknown increase of scripts on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme as the government continues to flip flop on this issue.

Their intention is clear: they are ripping billions of dollars out of healthcare and turning our world class public health system into a for-profit driven industry just like the US, where health costs are astronomical and health outcomes worse.

Medicare will become a safety net for the poor, particularly if the co-pay by stealth of rebate freezes continues. This will surely kill off bulk-billing as we know it, as GPs become tax collectors and pass costs onto their patients.

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Australians are already amongst the highest of OECD countries for out-of-pocket health costs. Medicare is under attack and we must do everything to prevent it from being undermined. To this end we demand that the federal government:

  • Keep Medicare. Universal bulk-billing must remain available as it keeps doctors’ fees lower and makes Australia a more equal society.
  • Keep Medicare fully funded. This government must reverse the current freeze on the Medicare rebate as these will have the same effects as co-payments.
  • Keep Medicare public. We must prevent private health insurance funds from competing with Medicare. If private health insurers are given access to GPs, they could control which doctor you can see and push up costs for the uninsured. This is the quickest way to a US-style managed care model.
  • Thousands of jobs are on the line if Medicare processing systems are outsourced; this would further undermine Medicare service delivery. We must say no to the privatisation of Medicare processing systems and support our brothers and sisters at the CPSU.

While Medicare is a key concern for us, we are committed to campaigning around all six key issues that define the ACTU’s Build a Better Future campaign.

    • Workers’ rights: If penalty rates are threatened and removed by Productivity Commission recommendations, it would have a disastrous impact on nurses and midwives and the provision of healthcare in Australia. A cut to nurses’ penalty rates is an almost 30% pay cut or more than $470 per week.
    • Our rights are being further attacked by the denial of access of nearly 100,000 nurses and midwives nationally to the Government‘s 18-week paid parental leave scheme. And what’s worse, these hard working women are being accused of being “rorters” and “double dippers”.
    • Education: More than $40 million has been cut from aged care workforce development, scholarships and training, at a time when Australia urgently needs 20,000 nurses to meet the challenges of a rapidly-ageing population.
    • The Abbott Government has also kept its plans for university deregulation in this year’s budget. These plans include the full deregulation of tuition fees and a 20 percent cut in funding, effective from 1 January 2016. This will make it even tougher to ensure quality university education for well trained nurses and midwives and when they do complete their university training, they will be burdened with huge debt.
    • Public services: In NSW we are battling a government that seems determined to hand our public hospitals to private corporations. This is well established in Western Australia and is underway across our nation. Of course we know the Federal Government is paying states billions to privatise assets and services.
    • A secure retirement: The Australian Human Rights Commission has identified the gender gap in retirement savings as a key issue. With more than 92 percent of our membership being women, we will campaign to ensure that the gender gap is closed and that women are not living out their retirement years in poverty.
    • A fair go for all: The NSWNMA have been campaigning for a few years now for a Robin Hood Tax. We would continue to lobby federal MPs and Senators on the benefits of introducing a modest financial transactions tax (FTT or Tobin Tax) to generate additional revenue for the delivery of essential public services, including health and aged care.

All these six points define our way of life. Decisions made by government today will have an impact on our future for many years to come. We cannot stand idly by while this federal government slowly but surely whittles away at everything we hold dear and generations of union members have fought so hard for.

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We stand side by side today with all the unions in this Congress in our unequivocal support for the Build A Better Future campaign. I formally move the workplace resolution to Build A Better Future. We believe Australia is heading in the wrong direction. We demand our government support:

    • Workers’ rights: Defended and extended with secure jobs
    • Medicare: Universal healthcare for all Australians
    • Education: The highest quality for all Australians Public services: Owned by everyone for the benefit of everyone
    • A secure retirement: Decent pensions and superannuation
    • A fair go for all: Everyone supported and everyone contributes their fair share of tax.

Thank you!

Previously on Nurse Uncut: Nurses and midwives don’t lie about privatisation

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