From today’s Crikey!
The NSW hospital crisis and an ALP hackette
Alex Mitchell writes:
In today’s front pages is the story of a female emergency patient miscarrying in the toilet of Sydney’s dysfunctional Royal North Shore Hospital after being neglected by staff for several hours. In the hot seat is the new director-general of the Health Department, Deborah Piccone. She is the first nurse to rise through the ranks to become DG.
Her recently announced appointment became a foregone conclusion when her predecessor, Robyn Kruk, was promoted from NSW Health to become director-general of the Premier’s Department. Piccone and Kruk are both longtime loyalists of Premier Morris Iemma and, following his election victory in March, he rewarded them with two of the State’s top public service jobs. (Michael Coutts-Trotter, husband of federal Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek, was handed the other one – director-general of the Department of Education).
Piccone is an ALP hackette from way back. Graduating as a nurse in the late 1970s, she quickly became a leading figure in the NSW nurses’ union but suffered a setback when she stood unsuccessfully for the position of general secretary in 1995. A Labor right-winger, Piccone has been an associate professor with the College of Nursing, CEO of the Corrections Health Service, CEO of the Sydney South West Area Health Service and the South-East/Illawarra Health Service before her spectacular elevation to the top of the nation’s largest Health Department and its $10 billion-a-year budget.
Following a spate of patient deaths at the Campbelltown and Camden Hospitals in the early 2000s, Piccone was called to give evidence before three separate inquiries – the Independent Commission Against Corruption, a NSW Upper House all-party committee and the official investigation headed by Bret Walker SC – with no skerrick of wrongdoing found against her. On June 2, 2004, then Opposition Leader John Brodgen moved a no confidence motion against Cabinet minister Craig Knowles, the former health minister who was then Infrastructure and Planning Minister.
According to Hansard, Brogden told MPs in the course of the debate:
Brogden: During the week commencing December 9 (2002) Associate Professor Deb Piccone, that good old Labor girl who we fear is now the Acting Director of the Macarthur Area Health Service and who has now been put in charge to plug any leaks and holes and to keep the situation under control.
Attorney-General Bob Debus: Are you seriously saying that?
Brogden: Absolutely. I am questioning her integrity on this matter.
Debus: As long as we have that clear.
Brogden: Absolutely. If the Attorney-General wants to know whether I have any confidence in Deb Piccone’s ability to do her job he should be under no illusion: The Opposition has no confidence in her ability.
The current Liberal Leader Barry O’Farrell has not altered the Opposition’s jaundiced view of Piccone, the former union official who has been promoted to dizzying heights to serve the Iemma administration on $350,000-a-year.
Ironically, Piccone and her factional ally, Brett Holmes, general secretary of the NSW Nurses’ Association, have just imposed a paltry 2.5 per cent pay rise for 2007-08 on the nursing profession, which will accelerate the slump in frontline morale. After just a few months in the job, questions are already being asked about whether Piccone will last the course.
The answer is probably that she’ll stay as long as Iemma remains Premier.