Today was the first day of the ANF (Vic. branch) Delegates Conference, and I am kicking myself for not having been since my first, in 2007 – though I’ve been a member and a representative since I was first registered, in 1992, my workplace is not particularly union friendly. So, though I admired the Executive, was inspired by the speakers, buoyed by the camaraderie and purpose, and made it into the official photo, I found the occasion more lonely and isolating than uniting.

What a difference a campaign makes! Thanks to our Facebook presence,and the panopoly of events (in addition to more members’ meetings than usual we also had community rallies, workplace meetings, petition signing, a presence at the tennis, workplace walkouts, and that’s just the activities I participated in), I know many people, and even more know me – to demonstrate my support for the campaign, in late December I had my hair dyed ANF red, which makes me stand out in a crowd.

This time around there’s an amazing spirit, sense of accomplishment, and air of determined unity that may well have been there in 2007 (it was, after all, an EBA lead-in dels) but I didn’t realise it; and my engagement with ANF is higher, deeper and broader. That has made a huge difference to my experience – and so I’ve tried to support people for whom this is their first delegates conference – we have many more reps, and over 140 for whom this was their first dels. I want to do my part to ensure that it’s not their last.

Highlights for me were: first, the contrast between current Health Minister David Davis and Opposition leader Daniel Andrews – one appeared to have a comprehensive appreciation of the issues facing nurses and midwives, the need for a qualified workforce, and values ratios enough to vow that they will not be used as a bargaining chip in any negotiations with his party; the other? Was David Davis, who read from a script and managed to avoid answering any actual questions. What made me increase my estimation of Daniel Andrews’ integrity was his refusal to make ‘podium promise’ guarantees in response to audience questions – that way, he pointed out, lies “not the worst paid teachers [but] the best in Australia“. As this is the third time I’ve personally heard Minister Andrews make this commitment, I feel confident it’s not a ploy but a genuinely held position.

Martin Flanagan, who’s been a journalist for The Age for many years, was entertaining but passionate when he spoke about cultural diversity and the need for an open, unbiased media. He also observed that unless you meet people from other nations and backgrounds, all you know is what the media tells you;at present, Australian  media’s loudest voices have the least contact with difference, and most vociferously call for heterogeneity.

Jon Faine discussed the importance of neutrality in journalism – his job, he told us, is to ask the very hardest questions: if his interviewee can’t answer them, that’s his or her problem; his role is to appeal to the heart, the mind and the pocket in equal measure, and to elicit information that allows the listener to determine the truth. You can hear two of his interviews with ANF (Vic. branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick and Victorian politicians Premier Ted Baillieu (here, on March 6th) and Health Minister David Davis and Opposition leader Daniel Andrews (here, on March 7th, the day a breakthrough was announced), and judge for yourself. Other notable points:
– it needs to be repeated: Alan Jones was found to be corrupt and unethical, yet is richly rewarded to stand in judgement of others, and- the things [Australians take for granted are things people around the world are prepared to risk their lives for.

Hearing both journalists made me even more concerned about the current attack on and restructuring of Fairfax media, and the possibility of an evisceration of the ABC in the event of a Coalition victory in next year’s Federal election

Between these two men was an amazing performance by Mick Thomas – in 1988 his band, Weddings, Parties, Anything released an album that included the song “Sisters of Mercy” about the 1986 nurses’ strike. I first heard it when it was released, and was moved then – in the intervening years it’s had only greater resonance, and the song made it on to my campaign play list; I had it on repeat rotation throughout the campaign, still playing almost every time I’m on line.

Mick Thomas, with ANF (Vic. branch) staff Brett Stevenson and Bobby Kuriakose

Tomorrow the acute general public EBA will be officially signed – and a week later it kicks in, including back pay, increases and (for permanent staff) the education funds.

Tomorrow our mental health colleagues embark on their 241st day without an EBA, despite months and months and months of attempted resolution, and industrial action.

Tomorrow our RDNS colleagues will be 12 days in to industrial action in response to an offer that would see them earning $10,000/year less than their community health colleagues.

And tomorrow (in just over eight hours) Day 2 of dels starts – I must get some sleep, but: the election is precisely 2 years, 5 months and a day away today. What I’d have said to Minister Andrews, what it would behoove Minister Davis to heed, and what I say to you is: that is not nearly long enough for the nurses and midwives of Victoria to forget, and we will ensure that the electorate remembers.

If we have to we can and will fight, and win, again in 2016 – but I, for one, would rather devote that time and energy to advancing the profession, encouraging our interstate colleagues to campaign for ratios and all-nurse/midwife workforces, to working with instead of against government, or even, I don’t know, having a life. Just a little one, bonsai like – small but well tended!