"This country can afford a universal healthcare system that provides access to quality health care for everyone," Judith Kiejda, assistant general secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSW NMWA), told a forum at the University of Technology Sydney on May 27.
The forum, organised by the Save Medicare Campaign, heard Kiejda and Professor Bill Mitchell, director of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE) at Newcastle University, addressed the topic, "No to Abbott-Care. Hands Off Medicare."
Kiejda said: "On every measure, Australia is either just below, just above or on par with OECD averages for health outcomes, and the US was nowhere near our outcomes. Nobody wants a US-style health system ... and yet this is where our federal government with its ideology, backed by its vicious federal budget handed down two weeks ago, is surely taking us.
"It's not just about the extra co-payments announced for medical services and prescriptions. And don't think for a minute these amounts are the end of it. Whatever amount the GP co-payment ends up being — $5, $7, $15 — in two or three years, those providers will come back and say it's not enough, and then you and I will have to dig deeper, and a few years later we'll have to do it again. And before you know it we'll be paying $30, $40 or $50 co-payments, and bingo, we'll have the US system.
"This country has seen the slow but steady introduction of the privatisation of public hospitals over recent years. Western Australia, Queensland and now NSW are all playing this field. And make no mistake, this is all about dismantling our universal healthcare system.
"In NSW, we have seen a steady march towards privatisation of our public health services. We have seen palliative care services privatised — imagine profiteering from the dying. We have seen the wholesale privatisation of our disability services by 2018 — imagine how the most vulnerable in our society will be cared for if profit is the driver. And don't think for one minute that moving to the not for profit sector will save those people currently in the disability sector.
"Just look at the age care sector and you'll be fully able to appreciate what it means to hand over disability services to private and not for profit entities. There are services that should never be privatised and health fits into that category. Profits should never come before patients.
"This move to privatisation is not at all about the care of patients. It's purely about removing a huge burden from the state budget bottom line. The fact that there will be public beds in [a privatised] facility means nothing: because private operators only move into this space if they see an opportunity to generate revenue for their shareholders.”
In discussion, the importance of the campaign to defend Medicare was emphasised by several speakers. Its role at the centre of the campaign against the Abbott government's neoliberal budget was noted.
Kiejda stressed how the campaign for Your Rights At Work against the Howard government's Work Choices anti-union legislation built up over time during the mid-2000s. "The Nurses and Midwives Association will be there in numbers to support the struggle to defend Medicare," she said.
Mitchell said: "People power is everything in this campaign. We have to educate ourselves about these issues. Small steps now will lead to big changes in the future.”