Good evening, all.

As the RDNS EBA ballot’s scheduled (vote YES!) I ask you to think again about the fight our District nurses had, our Mental Health nurses had, and our acute general nurses and midwives had.

We’ll need to renegotiate this Agreement, and the many smaller, private EBAs, in 2016. As we know, every other EBA follows the lead of the acute public sector Agreement. We’ve had to tussle with government every time – it’s never a cakewalk, we never get to just sit down and negotiate, and regardless of who’s been in power we’ve had to take action every single time.

Never like this, though. We also know that the reason we had such an unprecedented, protracted, bitter and contentious battle this time was because we faced a Premier unprepared for the task, a Health Minister unwilling to compromise, and an employer negotiating organisation required (and apparently gleeful) to follow the government’s lead.

ANF members stood united and, thanks to strong, intelligent leadership, we managed to win against the odds: retention of Australia’s only acute an all nurse/midwife workforce; Australia’s first nurse/midwife: patient ratios; the defeat of the reintroduction of short and split shifts; an Agreement covering stand-alone centres the government sought to have also fight alone; and improvements in EN career structure 8 years in the planning. Our membership grew and, at least as importantly, so did those members prepared to take a further step forward and represent their colleagues – welcome, all of you 🙂

But it didn’t come without cost. Once again, though we did get a higher-than-policy increase, we were forced to trade appropriate, commensurate pay parity with our interstate collegues. Many members lost pay to forward the fight, and many (thank you) donated to support them. We gained knowledge, experience, and strength, but for some of us relations and relationships will be forever changed. Now we need to exercise vigilence in our work places – we have to ensure that our hard-won conditions aren’t eroded at the bedside. And we need to make sure that the future of our profession is safeguarded into the future – for our selves, for our current and incoming colleagues, and for the communities we serve.

In 852 days we will vote on what kind of State government we want to lead us. We’ll also be voting on which government will make decisions about our essential services, and those who perform our most vital work – teachers, who tend those most precious to us and shape our future; ambulance officers, who respond to our most urgent crises; police officers, who risk their lives to preserve the peace; fire fighters, who risk their health and their lives preserving our lives and possessions; SES and CFA staff and volunteers, who need equipment and support services; and the health care professionals, who are there for every moment from conception to death.

Listen to what the various parties have to say, but be guided by both the past and by the policies of the party, not the promises of the candidates. If there were a perfect party we wouldn’t need elections. What we need to consider is who will govern in the best interests of the populace they were elected to serve. We know what Mr Baillieu promised, we’ve seen what he’s delivered, and we’ve seen the lies, duplicity and deception of this party.

At last years’ Delegates Conference Minister Davis promised fair dealing; two months earlier, on International Day of the Midwife, the Health Minister submitted a Cabinet-in-Confidence document recommending the government adopt a strategy that would force us into full arbitration, a move which would mean Fair Work Australia could make no binding determination about staff composition, workload or hours of work – that’s ratios, qualified skill mix, and full shift lengths gone in one, irrevocable move.

A week later, on International Nurses Day, he gave a speech that, in retrospect, told us all we needed to know:

The nursing care people receive may contribute positively to a person’s life expectancy or to the quality of life they experience… Nursing and midwifery careers have always appealed to those who like variety and flexibility in their work and over 60 per cent of our nurses and midwives work part-time in our public services. [emphasis added]

Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. If we have to fight this government again we will, and we’ll win. But imagine what outcomes we could achieve with that unity, that determination, that clarity, if we negotiated with a government more interested in the best interests of the community, the future of the public health system, the wellbeing of nurses, midwives and patients. Just imagine.