Aussie student nurses: funding frozen


AUSTRALIA’S Federal Government has quietly decided to freeze university funding for regional nursing and other students, warns Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union (QNMU).

In a decision made without consultation or a Senate vote, the Turnbull Government recently froze funding for university placements and effectively put an end to the career aspirations of regional students nation-wide.

QNMU Acting Secretary Sandra Eales said the decision to freeze funding for university placements would affect all prospective students – particularly those living outside the city. Eales said under the two-year freeze, smaller universities in regional areas would be less likely to absorb the cost of funding new placements.

She said as a result, the career aspirations of regional students including future nurses would suffer greatly as a result. She said the decision could create a shortage of nurses in regional Australia and impact the long-term health and wellbeing of entire towns.

Eales stressed: ‘This decision makes it impossible for student nurses to train, learn or provide future care for the regional communities where they live. There is no doubt this freeze, decided silently in the comfort of Canberra, will directly and adversely impact the hopes, dreams and future of young people and communities throughout regional Australia.’

Students who study nursing in regional Queensland often go on to work in their communities. The decision to freeze funding for 2018 and 2019 university placements at 2017 levels, could force many prospective nurses and other students to abandon their career plans. The decision was made public on December 18.

On December 19, ABC news quoted Universities Australia acting Chief Catriona Jackson as stating: ‘Let’s be absolutely clear a freeze is a cut, and this is $2.2 billion worth of cuts to universities. They are freezing funding for student places. If they are not funding a place, it is very, very, very difficult for a university to offer a place. This is the way it’s always been.

‘This is a freeze on places, so if universities want to expand numbers – and a number of regional universities do want to because they’re in an area of growing need for university degrees – then they will not be able to do that next year.’

Central Queensland University (CQU) Vice-Chancellor Scott Bowman said without Federal funding, student fees would not even cover the cost of student nurse hospital placements. He said: ‘We’re gobsmacked. The Government has talked about improving higher education in regional Australia and they’ve just put a steamroller through it all. Even if the communities we serve need nurses, we won’t be able to train them because the student fees won’t even cover the costs of clinical education that we have to pay hospitals.’

QNMU’s Eales said the Federal Government’s decision was unkind and dangerous – and indicated the career aspirations of regional students were less valid or valuable than those in metropolitan areas. She said: ‘Regional students in Yeppoon deserve the same opportunities as those in Sydney’s Point Piper, where Malcolm Turnbull lives. I believe segregating students’ access to education dependent on where they live is grounds for serious debate and reversal of this decision.’

• Turnbull Government minister Michaelia Cash has lost her Federal Court bid to block access to ‘key documents’ relating to raids by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on offices of the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU).

The Western Australian senator’s fight to prevent the release of the documents – which union lawyers believe contain communications between her office and police in the lead-up to the raids – has heightened suspicions about the operations being politically motivated. In October 2017, the AFP conducted raids in Melbourne and Sydney on behalf of the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC), the independent regulator of unions and employer associations.

The investigation relates to whether donations to GetUp and federal Labour campaigns in 2006 were authorised under union rules. The payments were made when opposition leader Bill Shorten was the union’s secretary. The ROC confirmed in a statement that the raids were launched over concerns about evidence being ‘concealed or destroyed’.

The union applied to the Federal Court for the raids to be declared invalid, and for items seized to be held from the ROC. It also sought access to documents relating to the raids, with a view to establishing that they were politically motivated.

The Labour Party questioned the politicised nature of the raid, noting that a full force of media organisations attended the AWU offices to witness the operation. Labour front bencher Anthony Albanese accused Cash’s office of leaking details of the pending raids to the media. He described the conduct as ‘an extraordinary intervention in the process’.

Cash initially denied that any leak originated from her office, telling the Senate Estimates Committee she was unaware of the raids until they unfolded on television. It was later reported that journalists from two news unnamed outlets had been tipped-off by Cash’s office an hour before the raids. It was later confirmed that Cash’s staff indeed advised the media of the pending raids.

Cash’s senior media officer, David De Garis, admitted in the senate that he leaked the information. De Garis later resigned. Senator Cash sought to prevent the AWU from issuing subpoenas relating to the raids and subsequent political fallout, arguing that only the period up to the ROC’s decision to formally investigate AWU donations to GetUp were relevant. The AWU contended that the subsequent communications, from the date of the raids on 24 October until 31 October, could reveal the underlying agenda behind the investigation.