ADJOURNMENT - International Nurses Day

12 May 2020

I rise to speak today, which is 12 May, about International Nurses Day. It is 200 years since the birth of Florence Nightingale. It is the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. I'm sure that when the powers that be at the UN decided that this year would be called 'Nursing the World to Health' they had no idea what that would mean for hundreds of thousands of people affected by COVID-19. They had no idea that nurses, as critical as they normally are in our lives, would become even more critical as the frontline carers for us during this crisis.


Around the world, nurses have triaged patients in EDs; they have nursed and cared for people with the virus; they have gone into communities to educate them about COVID and to test people; and they have been there at the end, when people have died. They have worked around the clock, exhausted and fearless. It's estimated by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, the ANMF, that worldwide nearly 250 nurses have died as a result of their exposure to COVID-19 through their work—none in Australia, thank goodness. I have just come from a lovely vigil held by the nurses union recognising the sacrifice of those nurses who gave their lives during the crisis, and I thank the union for arranging that moving action.


Nurses are vital in our society. They advocate for their patients every day, and for the health system, for our hospitals and for our communities. And they make changes: changes that save people's lives, that improve the health system and our hospitals, and that hold our communities together. I loved being a nurse—I was a good nurse. I love being an MP, but I guess it remains to be seen if I'm good at it!


The skills I learned in nursing are absolutely invaluable in this role, because the jobs are in many ways similar. In my view, politicians would do very well to learn from nurses, because what better life experience is there than being a nurse? As a nurse, what you see in the job—what you do, who you meet, who you care for, whose lives you change, whose communities are the better for you and who makes it through because of you—makes you an amazing person. Think of the challenges faced and the satisfactions a nurse draws strength from. The sheer intimacy of their interactions with patients, often at their most vulnerable, are interactions that I believe prepare you for anything in a way that nobody else can claim. Nothing, in my view, gives you a better insight into the characters and complexities of life like nursing does and, importantly, the understanding of the difference you can make to others' lives.


One thing I know about nurses is that they don't differentiate with people. If you need care you get it. They are just as prepared to talk to or to interact with the President of the United States as they are with the grade 6s at a local primary school. My lovely landlady here in Canberra, Rose, is a retired midwife. She was telling me the other night that she worked in a large public hospital and that she has delivered babies for the rich and the very famous, and for the people of the poorest communities. Everybody got the same attention and care.


Nurses face awful challenges, but so much satisfaction comes from making a difference. And they do make a difference. My father-in-law died in the Canberra Hospital from the coronavirus, and I thank everybody for their condolences. It's made a big difference to my family and me. His wife and daughter were able to be with him when he breathed his last. This was no mean feat in an isolation unit, with so many barriers for that to happen. But happen it did, because the nursing staff there were determined for it to be so. We are forever grateful to those nurses who ensured that our Mike did not die alone—that he died with dignity and in peace.


I want to acknowledge nurses and carers in aged care, who are dealing with enormous challenges and issues. We know you're doing the best with what you have, and we hope that the problems faced in aged care reinforce the fact that the aged-care system does need a vast overhaul, with a focus on the need for skilled registered nurses, adequate staffing numbers, better pay for those workers, and transparency and accountability with respect to government funding. Our oldest Australians deserve no less and nor does the workforce. Nurses are the most loved and trusted people on the planet. They are great listeners, empathisers and carers, but they are also skilled clinicians. They're adept at their craft and all the scientific and technological aspects that go with that. They can manage alone or in teams, they can cope with the intimate and the big picture. They keep it real. They are advocates and change agents. Becoming an MP has been a lot like being a nurse, but without the clinical stuff, of course. Ultimately, I see my role here in this place as being an advocate and a change agent. I thank goodness every day for my experience as a nurse; it’s stood me in good stead. I thank goodness every day for our nurses and midwives. Happy International Nurses Day!