It’s been a truly beautiful day in Melbourne; for me it’s another one sacrificed to recovering from night duty; for all of us it’s another day closer to the State election – it’s 810* days, or two years,two months, two weeks and five days. I know that’s still a sizeable chunk of time away. I also know that I have no diminution of anger, determination and clarity, and that twice that time would not be long enough for me to remember.

As the cuts keep coming to other essential services (the latest target is our firefighters – show your support on Thursday), I remember and I bear witness.

Yesterday was a year since the first EBA update, and the anniversary of the release of RDNS’s log of claims. That EBA was approved by 93% of RDNS nurses on August 13, 11 months and 4 days later.

I remember Mr Baillieu, in opposition, critising the Labor state government for two weeks of bed closures before negotiating an EBA – a campaign that was the grimmest I’d be involved in to that point, and the first time we were docked for taking action. And I remember looking back fondly on that time…

I remember the Premier saying there would be no pay increases beyond 2.5% without productivity off-sets, and thinking about how many more patients we care for every year, at higher acuity, of greater complexity, and in a shorter time – 4% more ED presentations and 3% more admissions annually, to start.

I remember taking action in November, and being called by distraught members with closed beds worried that opening those beds would be letting ANF and our fight down. I remember reading distorted media reports about patients endangered by our actions, though the government has closed more beds than action in any of our campaigns has.

I remember subtle indications from our Executive, through several meetings, that VHIA had a public and a private face, and I remember the release of Minister Davis’s Cabinet-in-confidence document, submitted on International Day of the Midwife, demonstrating the duplicity of a government that promised good faith and intended all along to

Despite the fact that our “workforce largely consists of highly skilled tertiary trained staff,” that “the labour market for tertiary skilled staff is competitive and health services find it difficult to attract and retain sufficient staff both for replacement and to treat additional patients,” and that

increasing impact and application of technology means that the nature of the work performed by health professionals and the environment within which it is performed has changed markedly over the past twenty years and even within the last five years. The degree of change experienced by a health professional easily surpasses that experienced by other professionals such as teachers of lawyers,

“legal advice to [the Department of Health]… suggests delaying instigation of formal bargaining for as long as practicable to enable pre-bargaining engagement.” (all quotes from the Cabinet-in-confidence document “Nurses enterprise bargaining strategy” submitted 5.5.2011 to the Public Sector Industrial Relations Committee by Health Minister David Davis), which would

have the crisis continue to a point whereby the industrial tribunal, Fair Work Australia, is either called in or steps in because negotiations have broken down and the nurses’ action is deemed harmful to public welfare. This would force both parties into arbitration, where the government’s push to reduce nurses’ conditions is likely to be successful because the tribunal is not permitted under the constitution to tell states the ”number, identity or appointment” of the workforce they employ. [The Age]

I remember FWA suspending our action.

I remember ANF offering concessions, and VHIA being unprepared to move an inch.

Image from Victorian Trades Hall Council (source)

I remember watching reports of the November rally from London, gutted to miss the first ANF members’ rally of the new millennium and with fond memories of those I participated in during the Kennett years (and finding the palliative care conference I was at not nearly worth missing it).

I remember opening beds because Mr Baillieu wouldn’t negotiate while they were closed – and I remember that nothing happened.

ANF (Vic. branch) Assistant Secretary Paul Gilbert addressing nurses, midwives and members of the public at the Northern Hospital, December 11 2011

I remember community rallies, and hearing the same information from all three members of the Executive delivered in their individual styles, inspiring and motivating every time.

ANF (Vic. branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick, Assistant Secretary Paul Gilbert and Assistant Secretary Pip Carew (not pictured) delivering thousands of petitions to Health Minister David Davis (centre) – December 16 2011

I remember attending sporting events, Federations Square, and gathering petitions in Federation Square and the Queen Vic night market. I remember hundreds of nurses and midwives marching from Dallas Brooks Hall to Treasury to deliver those petitions to the Minister.

I remember community support, radio interviews, endless seas of red, press coverage and the epoch-long turn from attack to support, from “pay claim” to “ratios”.

I remember the unprecedented request that we consider giving our Secretary authority to resign on our behalf, rather than resigning in dribbles and drabbles if the changed the government proposed came in – and I remember wishing I’d be first, not sixth, to put my signed form on the stage.

I remember voting for action that I never really thought would never again be necessary in this state, the withdrawal of nursing and midwifery labour.


I remember cheering on brave nurses and midwives who had the courage to leave the bedside now, to protect the profession and the public into the future.

I remember the distinction between taking unprotected action and being subject to a Federal Court order prohibiting me from encouraging or inciting members to take illegal action.

ANF (Vic. branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick announcing the VHIA agreement to FWA oversight of negotiations – Alfred Hospital, March 9 2011

I remember with pride the determination of members (who were not subject to the Order) that lack of directed leadership would not stop action, and the state-wide orchestration of a show of support for nurses at a hospital renown for its dampening of nursing action; I remember with delighted triumph that this was the site of the announcement that walkouts would stop because the government was finally agreeing to proper, genuine, binding negotiations with Fair Work oversight.

I remember marching with other unions, participating in the fight against other injustices. I remember that, though our fight as nurses and midwives may be over for now, the fight to keep our essential services, our colleagues and fellow union members across a widening range of professions, disciplines and industries continues; the fight to safeguard Victoria’s future continues.

I’ve discussed the attacks on and ongoing defence of our education sectors – the gutting of TAFE funding and the attempts to impose conditions that would sever the collegiate, team-based teaching culture essential for optimum outcomes, staff retention, and professional development of teachers in primary and secondary schools.

The latest attack, on the numbers and funding of our fire fighters, will be protested on Thursday. It will not be the last. Our fight will comprise many battles, and will stretch on for another two years, before this government introduces olive branches of concession in the lead up to the election.

And our fight extends across state boundaries, because despite the AEU campaign song lyrics (“Baillieu, Baillieu, he’s going to fail you – he’s the worse Premier in all of Australia”) the battles are more furiously pitched and more viciously fought, with longer terms of government ahead, in the states north of us.

We have 810 days until the Victorian state election (November 29, 2014), 929 days until the NSW election (March 28, 2015), and 901-932 days until the Queensland election (March 2015). And sometime before that, we as a nation will have to decide in which direction we want to go, in perhaps the most pivotal Federal election in recent time. We are still at the beginning of a battle that is visceral, ideological, and important. They will hope we forget – I will remember.

*thanks to a typo this was originally posted as 840 days

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