Fight back against ACT budget cuts

Issue 

By Tony Iltis and Sue Bull

CANBERRA — A fightback against the ACT Carnell minority Liberal government's budget cuts is heating up. There have been several disputes, protests and rallies and public service workers may soon apply bans on the government's revenue collection. On September 27, nurses and other health workers at Woden Valley Hospital held a noisy stop-work rally outside the administration offices. Speakers from a number of unions, including the Australian Nurses Federation (ANF), Health Services Union of Australia (HSUA) and Commonwealth Public Service Union (CPSU), attacked the ACT government for paying consultants Booz-Allen and Hamilton $330,000 to recommend cuts to staffing and patient care in the name of economic efficiency. "Carnell's on the Booz and we've had enough!" was a popular chant.

After marching through the hospital's administration area, the health workers crammed into the general manager's office to put some hard questions to him. It was clear that concern for patient care, as much as their own jobs and conditions fuelled the health workers' outrage.

An example of what nurses and hospital staff objected to was the Booz-Allen/Hamilton recommendations concerning childbirths. Woden Valley's average of 35 minutes of staff time per birth is, according to the consultants, "economically inefficient" and should be reduced to the "best practice" time of 25 minutes!

The Kippax Community Task Force has vowed to defend the Kippax health centre, one of two community health centre's in Belconnen that have come under the axe.

Meanwhile, CPSU members picketing the Belconnen Remand Centre (BRC) were attacked by police escorting scabs into the centre on September 27. Later 25-30 police stood toe to toe with picketers as the 13 "temporary staff" finished their shift. Officials and members from the ANF stood by to give the CPSU members and officials a hand. There had not been such a huge line-up of police at an industrial dispute in the ACT since the deregistration of the Builders Labourers Federation in 1986.

CPSU members at the remand centre had walked off the job and begun the picket over budget cuts and staff freezes. The Carnell government plans to cut funding to the centre by 70% over the next three years in likely preparation for establishing the ACT's first private prison.


CPSU delegate Daryl Hancock said, "It's creating enormous stress at the centre. We are so understaffed that the levels of burn out, redeployment and compensation payments are unbelievable."

The strike spread to the Symonston Periodic Detention Centre where a picket was set up on September 29. Other public servants in Corrective Services and Attorney General's departments banned the processing of all paperwork relevant to BRC.

A group of 25 custodial officers was led by CPSU branch secretary Cath Garvan to sit in ACT Chief Minister Kate Carnell's office on September 29. Carnell was speaking on talkback radio at that time so Garvan informed her, on air, that the officers were awaiting her return.

TV crews filming the officers were told to leave or be arrested but to cries of "Don't go! We'll support you!" from the officers decided to tough it out. They filmed Carnell on her return as she sweetly told the officers how sympathetic she was to their demands.

The government then notified the Industrial Relations Commission of a dispute, giving 30 minutes notice to the CPSU. The officers rejected a subsequent IRC recommendation to return to work.

CPSU members at Kaleen Youth Shelter walked off the job for 24 hours on September 29. They are opposing the privatisation of the shelter, management's continuous breaches of the award and its failure to respond to provisional improvement notices in the health and safety area. A campaign of rolling stoppages, with bans on sleep-over shifts, overtime and maintenance, continues.

Despite pre-budget assurances that education would not be cut, supplementary funding has been removed from Charnwood High and Stirling College. The former will lose five teachers and according to the ACT education department will only be able to offer a "basic" curriculum in 1996. Stirling will offer a full range of courses next year but this is to be reviewed on a year-by-year basis.

CPSU members in the ACT treasury will hold a stop work meeting on October 3 to decide on an industrial campaign. Delegates had been planning a bans campaign but after hearing of the police attack on the BRC picket, they decided to consider tougher action.

The Australian Workers Union has banned mowing and rubbish removal on Northbourne Avenue and from around the ACT parliament, making it impossible for the politicians to ignore the fightback in the lead up to October 17 when it will vote on the supply bill.