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Motion: International Nurses & Midwives Day

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. S.G. Wade:

That this council—

1. Recognises the World Health Organization declaring 2020 the 'Year of the Nurse and the Midwife';

2. Recognises both International Nurses Day and International Day of the Midwife;

3. Recognises the courage, hard work and compassion of nurses and midwives in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic; and

4. Thanks nurses and midwives for their outstanding service in hospitals, homes and the community to protect and maintain the health and wellbeing of all South Australians, year in year out and during the COVID-19 pandemic


The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:13): I rise on behalf of the Greens to support this motion and to recognise the vital and important work of nurses and midwives in our state and around the world. I know that you, Mr President, like me have nurses close to us in our family. My aunt is a nurse and a midwife and used it to travel the world, most notably in the Middle East, so I always saw it as a very glamorous profession when I was growing up, although I know that the reality is far from that.

This year, of course, has been dubbed as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. I do not think anyone realised at the start of this year just how true that would become. Let's not forget that in the past week, we also had the International Day of the Midwife on 5 May and International Nurses Day on 12 May. I would also like to acknowledge that last night we were all invited to light a candle in honour of nurses who have lost their lives in saving lives, in treating and caring for patients with COVID-19 around the world.

This year we have so much to thank nurses and midwives for. Nurses in particular have been at the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic has highlighted the difficult and invaluable work that nurses do and just how much we rely on them. Nurses and other healthcare professionals have been heralded as heroes, and quite rightly, but they have been challenged like never before. Many have stepped up to take on new roles and training, and it has been great for nurses to have the opportunities to upskill and provide even more support than normal during this public health emergency.

It is also important to remember that nurses have been on the front line of providing health care and have played a significant role in public health advocacy well before the pandemic. Nurses and midwives are often the first, and sometimes the only, point of care in their communities, and they play a vital role in providing health services. Their work is usually hidden and in the background. It has now been thrust into the limelight, and we have seen an incredible outpouring of gratitude from the public.

But applause does not pay the bills. You cannot eat praise, nor does it help when our front-line healthcare providers face misdirected anger and often abuse. We cannot forget or ignore the fact that, while we are thanking nurses and midwives here, words are not enough. Most nurses in Australia earn below the average Australian wage, even if they work full time. On International Nurses Day, whilst publicly singing their praises, the New South Wales government froze nurses' pay during the pandemic. Moving forward, we need to ensure that nurses are properly compensated for their valuable and vital work and that they have safe working conditions.

We also need to ensure that front-line workers, such as nurses and midwives, during the pandemic are protected and that they have access to adequate PPE but also that should they become sick they do not fall through the cracks. We cannot ask them to choose between their health, their essential work and their ability to put food on the table.

While we are recognising the capability and importance of nurses during this pandemic, on the advice of the World Health Organization, we should be looking at other recommendations that they have made in regard to nurses and midwives and their capabilities in providing care. For example, let's talk about the WHO's recommendation on a broader range of health practitioners being enabled by law to provide abortion services.

In 2003, WHO's safe abortion guidance recommended that abortion services be provided at the lowest appropriate level of the healthcare system. The recommendation was that mid-level health workers can be trained to provide safe early abortion without compromising safety. It includes as mid-level providers midwives, nurse practitioners, clinical officers, physician assistants and others. Yet, 17 years later, we still lag behind in action on this recommendation. I hope that while we celebrate the capability and service of nurses and midwives here we remember that we could be enabling them to provide more accessible care to women and girls around our state right now. I hope that soon our laws will catch up with best health practice.

I would also like to reflect, as other speakers have done, on the theme of this year's International Day of the Midwife, that theme being 'Midwives with women: celebrate, demonstrate, mobilise, unite—our time is now!' This is being used as a rallying call for midwives to be part of leading and demanding political action for a gender equal world.

According to the International Confederation of Midwives, 'We are the feminist profession.' Midwives use their voices to speak up in community discussions around female genital mutilation, child marriage, contraception and sexual reproductive health rights. We need to ensure that we are listening to their voices on gender equality, particularly coming up to recovery from this pandemic, where reports and data are already showing us that women are bearing the brunt of the impact of this virus.

I am glad to have this opportunity today to recognise and reflect on the enormous positive contribution to our communities and our collective health that nurses and midwives make. I thank them for their tireless and selfless dedication and service, and tell them we will continue to fight for your rights at work and for fair compensation, just as we will continue to listen to your voices. Now more than ever, we are aware of the vital work that you do and respect your expertise.


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