There are some decisions that really should be worked out with a hell of a lot more thought and consideration. Freezing public sector salaries after the budget last month is one of them. Now we face the prospect of nurses striking for better pay and conditions and frankly it is baffling and mean spirited to curtail the earning potential of our most vital professionals. 

The public health sector is bizarre. The people who heal us; who tend to us when we are ill, hurt, or dying seldom get the recognition or reward that they deserve. Even stranger, is that this wage freeze comes during a pandemic and after months and months of hard slog and dedication in the face of incredibly trying conditions. Thanks for saving us, here’s your reward.

I have friends who are doctors, and nurses, or who work to support health professionals. The pay is nowhere near what other professionals earn and the hours are horrendous. Why do we demand that those who perform such essential duties work hours that most of us could not manage? Why are doctors and nurses tired from long shifts where they make life and death decisions? We don’t ask lawyers or accountants to do that. We don’t require that sports people stay on the field for 12 hours and still perform at elite level. So why do we demand that of health professionals?

Anyone who has spent any time in a hospital as a patient or as a visitor of relatives, friends, and loved ones will witness the rarest devotion and care and professional standards. It is humbling and life affirming. It is inspiring.

Seemingly we had money to burn during the various lockdowns since March last year. And don’t get me wrong, most of it was both necessary and appreciated. The economy would have been hugely damaged if it hadn’t been dispensed, as would people’s lives. Even still, there were a number of companies that took those subsidies, posted substantial profits and refused to pay back them back – millions of dollars in total. So why can’t we make money available for those in the public health sector, as well as the others affected, such as teachers, border workers, and midwives?

Sure, the government does not have a massive money tree to satisfy every public need or requirement but it does have a responsibility to ensure pay equity for those who work to provide vital services. If the mean spirited, austerity moves continue we will see movement to the private sector and fewer people choosing public health as a vocation. If we have $355 million available in our budget to renovate McMurdo Station in Antarctica, then we surely have money to ensure the sustainability of those who actively choose to heal us.

The pandemic changed us and it allowed us to focus on what mattered and what didn’t. Slipping backwards to punitive austerity is not the right move. It is not the wise move. It is plain silly. We need to do what is right.