Save SA Services

Privatisation has failed our community and governments must take back control 

Ahead of a hearing before the Select Committee on the Privatisation of Public Services in South Australia, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (SA Branch) will be urging the Government to take back and expand control of our public health services.

“If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything it is that the public health sector is the frontline shield in the fight to protect the community,” ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM said.

“It was just last year Premier Marshall was forced to backflip and rule out privatising SA Pathology, saying it had ‘stepped up to the plate during the coronavirus pandemic and provided South Australians with a world-class COVID-19 testing service that has reduced the spread of the virus and saved lives’.

“And yet they don’t seem to learn their lesson, continuing to outsource public health services - recently awarding a contract for a CBD based mental health service to an Arizona based firm,’’ Ms Dabars said.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (SA Branch) has long campaigned against the privatisation of our public health services in many forms, from the expensive outsourcing experience at Modbury Hospital (1995 - 2007), through to the more recent public private partnership (PPP) model used for the redevelopment of the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

“It cannot be clearer: privatisation of health care services doesn’t work. It fails the community both in service delivery and economically,” Ms Dabars said.

The privatisation experience in Australia (at least seven failed hospital ventures including Modbury) shows public investment is the most efficient and cost- effective way to deliver health care.

Only last week the Mt Gambier Private Hospital announced it was closing down after entering into voluntary administration. Services were saved after the Limestone Coast Local Health Network confirmed the private care services would transition into the city’s public health system from August 21.

“The history of privatisation in Australia has shown that the public ends up paying more for less, because to make profits companies always go for the cheaper option; cutting staff, cutting quality of staff, scaling back services, charging more, crying poor and begging for government bailouts when things inevitably go pear-shaped,’’ said Ms Dabars.

“When you put essential services into the hands of private operators the principle of profit becomes the overarching motive, as opposed to the principle of care or service to the community.’’

Tom Reddington, Public Services International Sub Regional Secretary for Oceania, says following a nationwide public inquiry into the privatisation experience in 2017, that the weight of evidence against privatisation is overwhelming.  

“Unequivocally the message was that privatisation had failed and governments must take back control,’’ he said. “For communities, privatisation meant great loss and anguish: bus route cuts, rising electricity bills, TAFE closures, disappearing jobs and apprenticeships, underfunded fire services in a warming climate and the fear of ending up in a private aged care facility. Communities are ready to rebuild a democratically accountable public sector to provide the essential services, infrastructure and institutions for them to flourish.’’  

Mr Reddington’s comments are supported by many other experts including economist Dr Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor from School of Business at Western Sydney University.

“In almost every instance, privatisation has diminished effective public budgeting, driven down wages, reduced the accessibility and quality of services, increased inequalities, and even resulted in human rights violations. It never occurred to privatisation advocates that wage cuts are not an efficiency gain; they increase inequality, driving debt and depressing aggregate demand,” Dr Chowdhury said.

However, whilst supporting a strong public health service the ANMF also recognises the complementary role that the private health sector, private hospitals in particular, play alongside our public services.

“Private health care services are an important supplement to our public health system. Private hospitals in South Australia have largely undertaken elective surgery and provided acute medical and other specialist roles that augment the capacity of public hospitals,” Ms Dabars said. “However they are no substitute for our public health networks.”

The ANMF (SA Branch) supports a well-resourced, publicly owned and operated health system as key to ensuring the health and wellbeing of our community. We support universal access to health care services as a fundamental right of every Australian, not a privilege. Health is a public good with shared benefits and shared responsibilities.  

We oppose various models either suggested or applied that have the effect of eroding public ownership and management of our public health services and the infrastructure that supports them.
As a consequence, we continue to seek the following commitments from the Marshall Government:

  • Oppose any further privatisation or outsourcing of public health services, whether for delivery or management or for the development of physical infrastructure. This extends to the commissioning of new services and to the non-renewal of currently contracted out services wherever possible.
  • Commit to an expansion of public services to meet the health (including social health) needs of the community.
  • Commit to resourcing and providing appropriate publicly employed staffing levels that ensure a quality public health system that meets the needs of our community.

Click on the link below to read:
Submission to the Select Committee on the Privatisation of Public Services in South Australia

Video statement coodinated by PSI (Publice Services International).

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