There are insufficient nurse to patient ratios in NSW. Our public hospitals face increased patient admissions, without the increased staff to meet the demand, putting patients’ lives at risk. In Queensland and Victoria, there is a nurse for every 3 patients in emergency and for every 4 patients in medical and surgical wards. In NSW, there is no mandatory requirement of a particular nurse to patient ratio, and this is what the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association is planning to campaign for in the run-up to the next State election.
However, this year the NSW Government has slashed the cap on electoral funding for third-party campaigners from $1.2 million $500,000 in the 6 months before an election. New laws also prevent unions from pooling their resources and imposes a 10-year jail term for anyone caught breaching the rule. The reforms were introduced apparently to reduce corruption and undue influence in electoral funding. However, they simultaneously silence unions and third parties such as the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association trying to campaign for safer hospitals.
A united group of 6 unions have challenged the legislation in the High Court, and will argue that the laws infringe their constitutional freedom of political communication. According to constitutional law expert Professor Anne Twomey, if the High Court finds that a $500,000 cap is too low to run an effective campaign and bring important matters to the attention of voters, then the Court will rule the laws unconstitutional. According to the General Secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, if you consider NSW’s population, $500,000 would barely cover distributing flyers to 10% of the population. Furthermore, the television campaign run by the nurses’ union in 2015 opposing privatisation cost more than $600,000.
The Court will also find the laws unconstitutional if the difference between the funding cap for third parties and political parties is disproportionate. Under the proposed laws, political parties will be able to spend up to 22 times more than third parties.
The six unions involved in the High Court challenge are the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, the Electrical Trades Union, NSW Teachers Federation, United Services Union, Health Services Union and Unions NSW. Their message is that the legislation will impact democracy and the silence the voices of workers throughout NSW, and that third parties such as the Nurses Union will not be able to bring important issues such as nurse to patient ratios to the voting public.
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