Today was the second day of the ANF (Vic. branch) 20th annual delegates conference, which concluded with a robust and very impressive, noteless address by and Q&A with Federal Industrial Relations Minister Bill Shorten, who provided unprecedented support during our campaign.

Bill Shorten: Federal Labor Member for Maribyrnong, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation

He spoke, among other things, about the vital importance of union delegates (‘Being a delegate of a trade union is just about one of the finest things you can do’), his commitment to the rights of workers, and the fidelity to its base of the Australian Labor Party – in response to a question from delegates, Minister Shorten listed policies and legislation that support and protect workers; I was shocked to discover that this government has achieved so much with such little acclaim, or even recognition, from the mainstream media who, for the most part ignore ALP achievements in favour of following the agenda of the Opposition.

(photo courtesy of Megan Hayes)

Preceding Minister Shorten was Robyn Moore, voice over artists and inspirational speaker, who changed the energy in the room and really did engage and energise us. This campaign has crystallised my resolve, and shown me what I’m capable of, but had that not already been the case I have no doubt Ms Moore (vocal star of Australia’s longest running political radio comedy, How Green Was My Cactus) would have moved me in the right direction – here’s a taste of Cactus, and of Robyn (the voice of Blinky Bill) in person.

Chief Nurse and Midwifery Officer (Victoiran Department of Health) Alison McMillan

Earlier in the day we were addressed by Alison McMillan, the Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer for the Victorian Department of Health; unsurprisingly, not everything she said was popular – including her prediction that health aides will eventually be incorporated into acute care; her suggestion that nursing education be a continuum that allows exists at aide, enrolled and registered nurse levels; and her request that RNs be more welcoming of students on placement without acknowledging the increasing onus, workload, and inadequate preparation this involves. However, I was very impressed by the disclosure that she has worked a couple of clinical shifts in the nine months since she assumed the role, which is highly unusual for someone at that level. I also thought her refusal to guarantee that acute care would forever remain an all-nurse domain was realistic and indicative of integrity (not unlike Daniel Andrews’ similar stance yesterday).

The ANF (Vic. branch) conference also allowed us a preview of a Federal advertising campaign for ANF, launching later this year. We were addressed by Deputy Secretary of ASU NSW and ACT, Michael Flinn, who spoke about marriage equity, which prompted a motion from the floor calling ANF to develop a position or policy, including rationale, on the topic (which passed). Monique Bloom spoke on behalf of the EW Tipping Foundation; ANF Federal Secretary Lee Thomas spoke about the long-running national Because We Care campaign for the aged sector, which has had great funding success.

Importantly, Federal TCFUA National Secretary Michele O’Neil spoke about the fifteen year struggle for the rights of outworkers, who receive cut fabric to make clothes, and who have traditionally had no support, no WorkCover, no sick leave, no maternity leave, no annual leave, no opportunity for lost or unretrieved wages, and no recourse. It was a struggle that makes ours look almost easy, and I know much of what both Michele and outworker Su (I think) spoke about was new and shocking information to many delegates. Their tenacity, commitment, determination and courage is something to be truly proud of, and which was accompanied by significant personal risk.

For me, though, the most significant event of day two took place within minutes of the opening of the second day – though it took me some time to realise it. I had the great honour, privilege and responsibility of being named the Hannah Sellers Job Rep of the Year. I really do appreciate the faith, respect and honour the award represents, but have had a little trouble with it – pleased pride has battled with my awareness that I didn’t really extend myself – I only did what I couldn’t not do. And I’m all too aware of the things I could have done, but didn’t. I didn’t advocate strongly enough in my own workplace, I didn’t have the courage to stand up to intimidation and fear, I didn’t speak up loudly, and I wasn’t in a position where I had to sacrifice anything significant. All of which could seem ungracious, and that would be far from how I feel.

ANF (Vic. branch) Assistant Secretary Pip Carew, TCFUA National Secretary Michele O’Neil, ANF (Vic. branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick, me, and ANF (Vic. branch) Assistant Secretary Paul Gilbert

I’m not very good at off-the-cuff public addresses, and so I managed to leave out quite a lot of what I’d have liked to have said, and who I’d liked to have mentioned. I can give a presentation, but to a large crowd I am better with keyboard spontaneity than behind a podium, and in case it’s only just starting to sink in. So here’s what I would have said, had I been given a little warning:

Thank you.  I am grateful for and humbled by the recognition of this award, created in honour of Hannah Sellers, whom I greatly admire, and who I had the privilege to meet during the campaign. Isaac Newton famously said that if he could see farther it was because he stood on the shoulders of giants – those who went before him and paved the way. This campaign, like the Federation itself, was a group effort, and this award really belongs to all the reps who fought so hard, for so long, through a campaign unprecedented in our history. I have been met, and been inspired by, so many people over the past nine months – politicians, journalists, members of the public, members and officials of other unions, members of ANF, reps, ANF staff, former ANF (Vic branch) Secretary Belinda Morieson, members of Council, and our magnificent Executive.

I want to thank you all for giving me the opportunity to exceed what I believed I could do. I also want to thank my organisers past and present, particularly Deb Burton, Belinda Clark and the indefatigable Claire Salmon; the Red Ninjas, who showed me how to lighten up, particularly Megan Hayes, Yvonne Bates, Maria Mondini, Tanya McRae, Hilenia Zaami, Cris Aivaliotis and Sandra Oakley; my fellow workplace reps, who know what it takes to stand up in the face of unrelenting but covert opposition, especially Kathleen Collins, James Lever and Brad Wishart; the ANF staff and officials, who have been gracious, tireless,  kind and encouraging; and the reason we are not only the most committed, united, powerful ANF branch in the country but one of the strongest union presences in our own right – Lisa, Pip and Paul.

Lisa was yesterday overwhelmed by the fidelity, unity and commitment of her members. As I type this it’s only really sinking in and I, too, feel overwhelmed by similar emotions, and can’t see the monitor. Let me conclude by saying that we are truly blessed, and our Executive truly has the membership they deserve. Thank you all again, so much.