Tasmanian Labor-Greens Government slashes health care

About 150 mental health workers and supporters rally in Hobart, October 10.

The Tasmanian Labor-Greens coalition government has forged ahead with savage cuts to the state’s health services, causing anger, frustration and despair in the community. More than 7600 people have been languishing on the elective surgery waiting list. Yet the government said on October 4 that it would cut elective surgery by $58 million over the next three years.

This will cause 130 health jobs to be lost and wards to be closed in all the state’s big hospitals. It is possible that only emergency cases will be dealt with in future.

The October 13 Hobart Mercury said a union meeting of about 120 nurses at the Royal Hobart Hospital on October 12 passed a no-confidence motion in the health minister and called for the cuts to be reversed.

Australian Nursing Federation state secretary Neroli Ellis said: “Nurses are in shock at the depth of the cuts that are happening … At this stage it appears that we’re going to be losing 20 surgical beds within six weeks … The hospital announced today around 50 positions of all sorts, doctors, nurses, support staff and allied health will go.”

The October 14 Advocate said more than 300 people gathered at the North West Regional Hospital at Burnie on October 13 to protest against plans to cut costs by closing down the Surgical West ward, cutting mental health funding and reducing elective surgery. Robin Strugnall, a nurse at the hospital, told the crowd that people’s lives will be put at risk. “We will fight this,” she said. “We will remain united and strong and relentless. We have a voice, let’s use it.”

More than 150 mental health workers and supporters rallied in Hobart on World Mental Health Day on October 10 to protest against cuts to mental health services. Many grassroots clinical positions are not being filled due to “vacancy control” measures and the Emergency Crisis and Assessment Team has already been disbanded. Management also plans to hand some parts of the service to the community sector to try to cut costs. The cuts have caused excessive workloads and long waiting lists for people needing care.

Cassy O’Connor, a Greens minister in the government, was booed along with the Labor health minister Michelle O’Byrne when she spoke at the mental health rally. She tried to distance the Greens from the budget, but did not condemn the cuts, saying: “This is not a Greens budget … this is … a Labor-Greens budget. it is what it is,” the ABC reported.

She defended O’Byrne: “She has courage and she’s telling the truth.”

O’Connor and Tasmanian Greens leader Nick McKim said the Greens would have considered going into debt if the Greens had control over the budget, but maintained support for the cuts.

In a media release the day the budget was released, June 16, McKim said: “Just as the Greens supported previous Labor and Liberal minority governments when tough remedial budget action was required, we have rolled up our sleeves to take on a similar responsible role once again … The Greens welcome the move to a new fiscal strategy.”

The government and the Liberal opposition supported the budget when it passed through parliament.

The Greens’ ratings in the polls have dropped from 27% in February last year to 18% at the end of August.

In federal Parliament on October 12, independent MP for Denison Andrew Wilkie condemned the cuts to frontline services, saying the state government “has virtually abandoned its fundamental responsibility for public health care”.

He joined the calls from the Australian Medical Association for the federal government to take over the state’s health system. In what some say is an admission of incompetence, Tasmania’s health minister has also appealed to the federal government to do this but the request was refused.

Public housing has also been targeted. A third of public housing will be handed over to the community sector by 2014 and jobs are already being shed in the Housing Department. The government has trimmed the maintenance budget and plans to abolish 38 jobs, 17% of the department’s workforce, the Mercury said. There are now 2972 people on the public housing waiting list.