Good evening – it’s May 29th, and (in Melbourne at least) it’s as cold as the Premier’s heart. It’s also 914 days until the next state election – and that’s precisely 2 years and 6 months. Which means this government’s had eighteen months in power – let’s have a glimpse at their track record, shall we?

At a time when Victoria needs a strong education sector and a skilled workforce, the vocational education sector is facing the deepest and broadest cuts in its history, with an estimated 80% of TAFE courses being affected – in many cases they’ll be wholly eliminated. These cuts include the only Victorian AUSLAN program in the state, one of only two in the country (and there are state-based regional differences, so even if everything else was okay with the Baillieu suggestion that this be taken over by NSW, such a course wouldn’t serve the population in need).

There will still be user-pays programs, but that’s little help for those people who are disadvantaged, including what looks likely to be a growing population of retrenched and redundant workers who can’t afford to pay up-front. Incidentally, for 15% of TAFE graduates a VET qualification is a bridge to university.

In what is a truly innovative mood, Mr Baillieu has also passed legislation allowing the government to pull just under $500 million from WorkCover over four years – money that isn’t raised through taxes, money that is in no way revenue, money that belongs to the employers who paid it in and the employees who are injured at work every day.

The list of environmental cuts and program closures is so long I’ve included a link instead of itemising them but funding was cut by 20% just for this year.

They’ve failed to fund the Truck Action Plan, aimed at alternative routes for the trucks that currently congest the western suburbs – 21,000 trucks pass through the City of Maribynong each day, including 7,000 just on Francis Street.

In other budget news, along with an eleven month dispute with SES professionals, volunteer SES services will no longer receive the one truck per unit that was the sum total of their state funding.

We can’t forget (and I mean that – etched in our collective psyche, it is) the longest industrial campaign in ANF (Victoria) history, a campaign that is still going, though we all hope today’s FWA hearings have borne fruit. In May the Health Minister signed a Cabinet-in-confidence report recommending VHIA, on behalf of the government, drag out negotiations with us in hopes that we’d trigger compulsory arbitration, thus losing ratios, proper shift lengths and the skill mix that guarantees our acute public patients only receive care from qualified, registered, accountable nurses. Some two months later, at the 2011 Delegates’ conference, Mr Davis said “We are prepared to, ah, negotiate in good faith” – wrong, Minister Davis.

Instead we were collectively and individually subjected to months of deceit, legal proceedings, intimidation, dockings, weeks where the poor ANF staff had no days off (I hear that all the sausages they could eat was poor compensation!), manipulation, distortion, outright lies, uninformed criticism from media and Herald-Sun readers, physical assault (I heard of at least one nurse in a campaign shirt being spat at), and accusations that we were all blackmailed – not to gain amazing privileges or lavish pay, but essentially to keep the unique conditions that mean Victoria has no significant nursing shortage: conditions that not only keep nurses in the profession but that provide accountable, safe, quality care that has allowed us to treat more patients in less time at lower cost than ten years ago, even though inpatients are both more acute and have more comorbidities than ever before.

I would do it all over again tomorrow if needed – for the EBA, for the ANF, for the profession that I still love, for the patients I have and will care for in the future, for the health system I and those I love will use, and for the things I never expected going in: the inspiring people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made, the strangers/new friends who feel as though they know me from my rants here (hi!), a bold new hair colour to go with my well-worn new wardrobe, the unbeatable experience of gathering petitions and door knocking, the are-you-serious privilege of speaking publically (in an ad, published letters, radio interviews, on camera and in The Age) on behalf of members across the state, a whole catalogue of battle anthems (I’m listening to a campaign CD as I type), embracing Twitter, and the wonderful community support I got to see every day, everywhere. There’s an elderly couple in my neighbourhood who stopped me one day in late January to ask me about the campaign – as recently as last week they asked how things were going, and have decided not to vote for Mr Baillieu in 2014, despite voting Liberal all their lives (and living in his electorate).

Despite all that, I will go happy to my grave if Victorian nurses and midwives – hell, Australian nurses and midwives – never again have to fight this hard, this long, for an agreement that not only benefits our communities but that in the middle- and long-term saves more lives and is more cost effective than the proposed alternative.

It’s precisely thirty months until the next state election, and the Baillieu government is polling better than they did pre-election. I suspect that, regardless of the cuts and slashings and services disemboweled in the interim, some six months before the election there will be sweeteners extended, perhaps in the form of tax cuts, paired with scary warning about the spending-mad opposition. We cannot rely on the electorate to remember the harms this government has done, and tried to do – we have to remember, and remind them. I know what I’ll be doing 914 days from now, and I’ll be delighted to have company.
Note: this entry was originally posted on the ANF (Victoria) Facebook page on 29/5/12