Lisa Fitzpatrick

In 2012 Lisa Fitzpatrick was Secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation (Victoria Branch) (ANF (Vic), a position she has held since 2001. Her tenure has been characterised by stability within the Branch, and the increasing strength of the union as both an industrial and a professional body. As Branch Secretary, Fitzpatrick has overseen an expansion in membership from 30,464 in 2001 to more than 60,000 in 2012.

Lisa Fitzpatrick at final meeting of Respect our Work Campaign, 2012

Lisa Fitzpatrick at final meeting of Respect our Work Campaign, 2012, courtesy of Archives of the Australian Nursing Federation (Victorian Branch) Library.

Born on 14 December 1961, Fitzpatrick was raised in Ballarat. She was not from a trade union background. Her mother was apolitical and her father was a supporter of the Democratic Labor Party. From an early age, she was passionate about becoming a nurse. She undertook her training at Prince Henry’s Hospital where she became interested in union issues and was elected Senior Job Representative. In 1986, she was elected to Branch Council, under the leadership of Branch Secretary Irene Bolger, at the time of the historic 50-day nurses’ strike. When the position of Branch President became vacant in 1990, Belinda Morieson (the Branch Secretary who succeeded Bolger) supported Fitzpatrick in taking up the role. In 1997, Fitzpatrick became Recruitment Officer in the ANF(Vic) and, a year later, she became an Organiser. After Morieson stepped down as Branch Secretary, Fitzpatrick was elected unopposed in December 2001.

Fitzpatrick followed the leadership style of Morieson, using her personal qualities to guide and encourage Council in the development of strategies and structures that continued the transformation of the ANF(Vic) into a highly effective organising union. Fitzpatrick retained Morieson’s program of maintaining nurse-patient ratios by a program of rank-and-file mobilisation in the form of hospital bed closures and cancellation of elective surgery. The ratios became a central part of the log of claims that formed the basis of the negotiation of enterprise bargaining agreements. She also continued the process of the decentralisation of the union’s organisational structures. A shift in focus continued to take place with the development of democratic, membership-based decision-making at all levels. Job Representatives are central to union organising and the union's organisational roles were created or adapted to recruit, train and support this role.

Fitzpatrick also adopted important innovative measures. The Belinda Morieson Program is a specialist training program open to men and women, which allows committed Job Representatives to work ‘in house' at the ANF(Vic) Branch. Fitzpatrick stated that the purpose of that program was to ‘give priority to people that we think have got potential or have expressed an interest in coming to work for the Federation’. By 2009, the main function was to identify and provide the skills for Job Representatives to effectively carry out their organising role. In response to administrative demand as a result of growing employee numbers, two corporate-style organisational roles were created. In 2009, a Marketing Manager was appointed. Although the office-holder was not a nurse and previously worked in private enterprise, all his staff were drawn from a spectra of specialist nursing roles. In the same year, a Human Resource Manager was also employed. Following business practices, the brief was to implement and refine the Federal ANF’s newly formulated ‘benchmarks’ which specified performance indicators for each role within the union’s organisation. The Victorian Nurses Health Program was set up in 2006, largely as a result of the lobbying of Fitzpatrick, to treat nurses and nursing students experiencing substance abuse and mental health issues. In 2012, the ANF(Vic) retained an active role in the administration of the program.

Fitzpatrick began her career in the ANF(Vic) in 1986. The 1986 strike brought about gains for nurses but there were divisions within the profession as some nurses were reluctant to withdraw their labour. In 2012, however, under the leadership of Fitzpatrick, as well as forcing bed closures and cancellations of surgery, members withdrew their labour in rolling stoppages. Nurses voted to ignore Fair Work Australia’s order to suspend their action, risking individual fines. This action was effective and popular with nurses. The state government was forced to increase wages and also retain, and in some circumstances improve, nurse-to-patient ratios. The 1986 context had provided insufficient support for sustained strike action. By 2012, circumstances had changed.

James L. Tierney
The University of Melbourne

Archival Sources

  • Interview with Lisa Fitzpatrick by James L. Tierney, 22 December 2009
  • Interview with Lisa Fitzpatrick by James L. Tierney, 23 December 2009