International Nurses Day | SPEECH


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 12:35 :09 ): I rise to wholeheartedly support the motion by the member for Fisher, as I know my colleagues will as well. I also believe that it is very important to have as many people as possible from as many different working backgrounds in our parliament. It is tremendous that we have nurses among us as a broad group of decision-makers. I think that is very good.

I am fortunate enough to be married to a nurse, as are many of my colleagues. I am very lucky in that way. I have no medical training and I do not pretend to know the ins and outs of her profession, but I do know a bit about the impact that working as a nurse can have on people. My wife proudly says that she is a hospital-trained nurse, and she does not mind that that clearly gives her age away. She thinks that they are by far the best nurses, and there are people in the gallery who can make a much better, more informed decision on that than I can. However, she certainly holds that view very strongly.

Nursing is an incredibly broad profession, as the member for Fisher mentioned, and there are many opportunities to pursue when a person starts a career as a nurse. That is very important and should be encouraged. It is an honourable profession and it is a complicated profession. It is not only complicated with regard to the actual medical work but it is also complicated at a personal level. Nurses need to be simultaneously nurturing and also, at any moment, may have to give second-by-second intense medical care. I think that would be a very hard thing to do. To have that genuinely nurturing way about you knowing that you might have to spring into action at any point in time would be a difficult thing for most people. Care, of course, includes a short-term, a medium-term and a long-term component.

Nurses develop relationships with their patients; they develop relationships with doctors. I am talking about working, professional relationships. You need a wide range of working, productive, useful relationships to work well as a nurse, regardless of the workplace that you might be in. One of the difficulties is that you develop these working relationships and you know that the medical care will not always be 100 per cent successful. People do die or, if they do not die, maybe they do not recover exactly the way in which people hope they would. Most people do, and that is fantastic. However, there is another sort of complication, from my perspective at least from the outside, and that is how difficult it would be at a personal level, aside from the medical care required to be a nurse.

Unfortunately, occasionally it is a dangerous profession. I think about the risks that are sometimes faced in metropolitan emergency departments. I think about the risks faced by many nurses I represent in parliament who work on their own in remote locations, and the member for Fisher mentioned Gayle Woodford. Totally separate from the obvious fact that a tremendous person died under tragic circumstances at work, this is something that flows through to families, communities and districts. Just to digress a little, Gayle Woodford and her family were long-term Leigh Creek residents, a township I am very close to and know well. They had moved away recently. She passed away in the member for Giles’ electorate, and I know that that has had an impact on him.

Many people have been affected, all the way through to local Aboriginal people who quite understandably feel great shame about the way she died. There are risks in everything we do, but nurses (and some other professions of course) put themselves in risky situations at times and they know that. There is not one outback nurse, not one metropolitan ED nurse who does not know that there could be some sort of unforeseen risk that day at work. It rarely happens; it very rarely happens, fortunately. It should really happen less, but I think it is important to acknowledge that it does happen.

The average age of nurses is of concern. I do not think anybody in this chamber, including in the gallery, would mind me saying that. The average age of nurses is too high. There is absolutely nothing wrong with older, more senior nurses who give great care, but it is important that we get more people coming through the profession so that the profession can always be here and that we have a wide range of people with a different range of skills, outlooks, social understanding and that sort of thing offering nursing care.

It is important that government—Liberal, Labor or whoever it happens to be—is very cognisant of the fact that we need to encourage more people to come into the nursing profession at earlier ages. Importantly, we need to encourage more people to stay in the nursing profession as well. That comes back to the comment I made before about being hospital trained. The reason I mention that is that my wife (and I am sure she is not alone) has a strong view that hospital‑trained nurses stuck at their profession far more often and far longer than university-trained nurses.

I know that is a very broad generalisation, and I am not suggesting that all of a sudden we must change from one automatically back to the other, but I think it is very important, given that so many nurses are public servants—not all of them but so many of them are—that the government has a responsibility as an employer to make it a profession that will encourage people to enter it and encourage people to stay in it.

Also, increasing the areas of responsibility that professional nurses can engage in—for example, being nurse practitioners and that sort of thing—is incredibly important. Opening up the doors for the right nurses with the right qualifications and the right capacity to take on more responsibility will make the profession more rewarding for those who are in it and no doubt attract more to enter it and to stay in it.

The last thing I would like to say is thank you: thank you to nurses. It is the last of the four points in the motion of the member for Fisher, and I would like to say very directly and very genuinely, thank you to nurses, who care for all of us.