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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 4 Hansard (27 March) . . Page.. 962 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

So what have we achieved over the last three months? It seems to me that we have gone rapidly backwards. Nurses have struggled to maintain their morale. The public health system, through both the hospital and Community Care, has battled to maintain enough nurses within the system and faces difficulty in attracting nurses back to work. In light of these facts we should have engaged in a process which made the system more attractive, that improved morale, that enticed nurses back into the paid work force and made it easier or better for them to enjoy full-time or other work within the system.

The first part of the strengthening the nursing work force initiative perhaps was attractive in that regard, a pay rise of around 11 to 12 per cent. That pay rise was touted as seeking to redress some of the quite obvious disadvantage or disincentive that there was for nurses to remain in the system, with the consequent shortages within the specialty areas that we all know exist, and the resulting stress and strain on the capacity, particularly of the Canberra Hospital, to maintain its productivity and its efficiency.

The other aspect of this was the second part of the package, the part that related to conditions, not to pay, and what do we see there? In an environment where the minister was touting the need to make nursing more attractive, to improve the conditions, to improve the morale, to entice people back, we then look at the second part of the package, that part of the package that relates to working and nursing conditions.

We see in the ministerial statement of 7 December, under the so-called workplace productivity reforms, a subheading, "No future permanent tenure for Level 2 nurses". We are talking about attracting people back into a career service. Many of us here would say, when we look at the starting pay of a graduate nurse, that it is not exactly the sort of career that we would have hassled or harassed our sons or daughters to join in terms of the attractiveness of the salary or the wages paid. It is not, and we all know that. There are not many people around this place who would urge on their children a career as a nurse, having regard to the pay and the conditions that we here offer and what is offered elsewhere around Australia.

Then, in relation to that profession, that career with that particular major disincentive, this government makes a ministerial statement about strengthening the ACT nursing work force which includes, under its workplace productivity reforms, a subheading, "No future permanent tenure for Level 2 nurses". The minister seems unreasonably to have caused some concern to not only level 1 nurses but also existing level 2 nurses. They are to be subjected to two-year reviews. The minister, in his justification for this, said:

Level 2 registered nurses obtain this level by undergoing a merit selection process. They are intended to be clinical experts and to contribute to the workplace by providing a resource for quality initiatives and junior staff development.

The minister goes on to say:

These positions are currently tenured.

If you manage to become a level 2 nurse you have got this enormous privilege which you have no right to, namely, that you hold a permanent or tenured position. You are a permanent employee at a permanent level 2. The minister wants to take this away. It is somehow unacceptable to have a career structure within the public health system.

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