Bid to gag nurses and midwives’ voice
New electoral funding laws are aimed at silencing the collective voice of workers such as nurses and midwives in the run-up to the March 2019 state election.
General Secretary Brett Holmes told annual conference that the state government’s electoral funding laws show that NSWNMA campaigns on issues such as hospital staffing have had a big impact on the voting public.
The laws severely restrict the amount of money third-party campaigners such as unions can spend in the six months before an election, including on television and radio campaigns.
Previously, third parties could spend up to $1,050,000 but the laws impose a new cap of $500,000.
“When you consider the population of NSW (7.5 million), that’s barely the cost of distributing a flyer to six per cent of the population,” Brett said.
“The NSWNMA is not politically aligned but I can assure you, the new electoral funding laws will further impact our democracy and the voices of workers everywhere in NSW.”
He said the cap would “drastically affect our ability to continue to communicate our issues, such as safe staffing ratios, to the public from the position of the workers inside NSW health facilities”.
Unions combine for High Court challenge
He said it was unclear how a court would interpret issues-based campaigning versus political campaigning.
“Our campaign for ratios suddenly becomes vulnerable to increased fines and penalties if we mention an election, a vote, a candidate or a political party and spend one cent over that $500,000 cap.
“For some politicians, it’s only when they fear the loss of their job that they really start to care and listen – which is why the lead-up to elections is such a significant time for us to get our message out there.
“We don’t intend to be silenced and are fighting this attack on democracy in the High Court.”
The NSWNMA has joined five other unions and Unions NSW in filing a High Court challenge to the laws.
The unions will argue the laws infringe the implied freedom of political communication in the Commonwealth Constitution.
The laws even threaten union leaders with up to 10 years’ jail for “acting in concert” during an election campaign to pool their resources and exceed the expenditure cap.
Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey told Fairfax Media the laws could stop unions sharing the cost of airing TV advertisements during election campaigns, working together on joint campaigns with a common logo, and sharing research and polling data.
“Working people have always pooled our resources to make sure our voice is heard as we simply don’t have the resources of an AMP or a Commonwealth Bank, or a Malcolm Turnbull for that matter,” he said.
Professor Anne Twomey, a constitutional law expert at the University of Sydney, told Fairfax Media the new laws “significantly reduce the capacity of third-party campaigners to be heard” during an election campaign.
She said the laws allow a political party to spend up to 22 times as much as a third-party campaigner.
Brett told conference delegates: “If you want things to change in your workplace then we must convince politicians and their political parties to change – or change the politicians.
“No politician changes policy or gives commitments unless they are convinced that the voters support what you want. That’s no easy ask but we can do it.
“Politicians are increasingly finding ways to silence the voice of unions like ours. What they can’t limit or restrict is your voice as a volunteer and a member of the community, a voice in your workplace, a voice with your family and friends.
“Every time you have a conversation you have an opportunity to influence.
“If you want ratios on every shift in city and country and if you want ratios legislated in aged care then you will have to do a lot more than simply hold strong views about what improvements need to be made.
“You will have to get active in your workplace and get fellow members to join you in the community to encourage voters to hear your voice.”
Letters to the Editor
Share your thoughts on this article or anything else important to you as nurses and midwives by sending a Letter to the Editor.
Four letters are published in the Lamp each month and the letter chosen as Letter of the Month will win a gift card. Please include a high-resolution photo along with your name, address, phone and membership number. You can submit your letter by emailing the Lamp: email@example.com