MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE - Turnbull Government: Australian Workers

20 June 2018

There has been much said by the members of the government about the aspirations of Australian workers. The term 'aspiration' has a few meanings. As a nurse, I know of its use in medical terms. To aspirate means to inhale a foreign object or fluid, and aspiration then means to have it sucked out so you don't die of a coughing fit or pneumonia or worse. I am tempted here to use an analogy to the government's use of this term but, in the interests of time and getting to the crux of the issue, I have resisted. 'Aspiration' is a broad term generally meaning a strong desire to have or do something. The example sentence given in the online Oxford dictionary is the sentence: 'I didn't realise you had political aspirations.' It is quite apt, really, given its overuse by the members of the opposite side yesterday, who seemed to want to narrow-cast the meaning to one thing and one thing only—the aspiration to be rich and politically powerful.

While there is nothing wrong with aspiring for wealth and, indeed, power and while we on this side believe workers should receive a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, there is so much more to the aspirations of our workers. Yesterday many of my friends and colleagues and, indeed, many of my constituents were hurt and outraged by comments by the Prime Minister that inferred that anyone working in aged care would automatically be aspiring to a better job. I have had direct connection with the aged-care sector, with the carers, the nurses, the cooks, the recreational officers and others who work in aged care. Indeed, in my first speech, I referred to the aged-care sector and those who work there. I spoke of those who rely on those wonderful people who dedicate their working life to their care. I said a society is judged by how it cares for its most vulnerable. Our elderly are indeed among our most vulnerable. The aged-care sector is screaming out for reform and resources, a call that has been ignored by this government—a government that used smoke and mirrors in the last budget claiming that money had been injected into the sector when there was not one cent of extra funding; it had merely been shifted around, reallocated. And then those opposite made claims that this is new funding. I say again: no few funding for the sector.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the unions who represent workers in aged care. In my state, there is the Health Workers Union, United Voice, and the ANMF, who value their members and the work they do. Over my years as a nurse and at the ANMF I worked with and met many of those workers over and over again. In my new capacity I was recently visited by a delegation of wonderful Health Workers Union members who were aged-care workers. They are tired, overworked, concerned and caring but adamant to make change. The Health Workers Union and the other unions are all campaigning for better funding, better wages and better conditions for nurses and carers.

Mr Deputy Speaker Hogan, do you know what those workers' aspirations are? Their aspirations are to be able to give better care to the elderly, the people whose lives have been entrusted to them. They hope for better staffing, better resources and better pay, but not one of the people who came to me said they wanted a better job. They love their jobs. They are dedicated. They get intrinsic rewards from ensuring dignity and quality of life. They aspire to make their residents' lives as comfortable and meaningful as possible, and they aspire to ensure that their residents have, at the end of their lives, a dignified death. That is the type of aspiration that the member for Wentworth and his colleagues perhaps do not understand. When they talk of aspiration and connect it to unfair tax cuts that favour the wealthy, they show their true colours. I'm not even sure that all wealthy people would agree with the Prime Minister saying they aspire to be wealthier. Many of us would have seen testimonials from the incredibly rich US citizens who decried the recent round of Trump tax cuts that favoured them above middle-wage earners or the poor.

Labor supports tax cuts that benefit our aged-care workers—tax cuts that mean they can have a little more to spend on life's needs and maybe even a few luxuries; tax cuts that we know will go straight into the economy, spreading their effectiveness even further and lessening inequality. Tax cuts for the rich who, let's face it, don't need them mean our aged-care workers lose healthcare services, have poorer quality schools and, importantly, have fewer resources to do their jobs properly. Tax cuts will exacerbate rising inequality.