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At the latest round of regional conventions two frequently debated aims of the draft five-year strategic directions were "that NZNO oppose all forms of inequality and injustice" and "that NZNO take the lead in advocating for working women". It's a happy coincidence that discussion about NZNO's strategic direction and the parliamentary elections are occurring simultaneously, since the issues are not unrelated.

There are obvious parallels between NZNO's striving for equality and justice and its intent to advocate for working women. The majority of nurses and caregivers are women. All of you are affected by being part of a feminised profession, with unfair wages and less-than-ideal working conditions, which affect your health and, in turn, the health of the people you care for. Through the pay equity campaign in the public sector, you have begun to help the public and the policymakers make the link between gender inequality and material outcomes, and the shift toward greater equity and justice for women workers.

In relation to inequality and injustice in general, everyday you see the results of poor housing, unemployment and reduced access to education, health and social services. Everyday you advocate for equality and justice in striving to achieve better health outcomes for your patients. NZNO, as the organised, authentic and influential voice of nursing, is in a prime position to take that advocacy to the next level. The indisputable fact of its size, ability and authority affords NZNO the possibility and the responsibility to act as a vehicle for social change. Many of you have argued that we should have been advocating for equality and justice years ago, particularly as it affects health and woman workers. Not to do so represents a failure of professional obligation.

Last week a national poll suggested that a majority of potential voters in the upcoming general election favours tax cuts. Tax cuts inevitably mean that public spending will decrease and there will be a change to the direction of the past six years. Of the respondents who favoured tax cuts, more than 50 percent continued to do so even if that meant a reduction in spending on public services. So what, you might say, has that got to do with you, with NZNO and with our strategic direction?

To think about the implications of a change in policy direction, we need to caste our memories no further back than to the Labour Government reforms of the Roger Douglas era and subsequent social and health reforms of the immediate past National Government. The reforms were based on the flawed logic that health, education and social services could be successfully run on market principles. The associated deregulation of almost every thinkable entity and activity, severely threatened the health and future of a sizable portion of the population, including large numbers of children, by denying their parents rights to fair pay and employment, and by denying some New Zealanders the right to universal and good quality education and health.

At its May meeting, the board of directors endorsed NZNO's election priorities and asked for an analysis of progress since the publication of NZNO's 2001 pre-election priorities. Policy analysts Eileen Brown and Sharon Clair have provided this for you (p20-24) to make your own judgements against the major parties' responses and track records.

In 1999, NZNO received considerable criticism for telling its members how to vote. I can understand this, since one should assume that voters are cognisant with the issues and will make their judgements based on this. Moreover, it would be foolhardy to assume everything that is in the best interests of NZNO and its members en masse, is in line with everything that is in the best interest of individual voters. However, nurses, midwives and caregivers witness every day the impact of particular governing philosophies, and are only too familiar with the link between inequality and injustice and poor health outcomes. This is why you support the inclusion of seemingly radical new aims in the strategic plan and this is why your vote in the upcoming elections will be important.

This issue of Kai Tiaki New Zealand offers a number of thoughtful articles to supplement your decision-making. I encourage you to share these articles with friends and family, good people who do not come so closely into direct contact with the effects of inadequate services and are therefore less inclined to think about them as often as you do. Encourage them to also put health and other crucial public services at the top of their voting agenda.
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Publication:Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand
Date:Jul 1, 2005
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