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September 2004   
F E A T U R E S

Interview: True Matilda
Former senior bureaucrat John Menadue coordinated the group of 43 calling for truth in government; and now he has bigger fish to fry.

Politics: State of Play
Are all political parties the same? Workers Online tries to cut through the jargon to compare the major parties' approaches to key policy areas.

Industrial: Capital Dilemmas
Public Private Partnerships amount to privatisation by stealth. Or do they? Jim Marr investigates.

Unions: Rhodes Scholars
Tim Brunero discovers how the Electrical Trades Union is doing its best to ease the national apprentice crisis.

National Focus: Rennovating the Lodge
Noel Hester previews how unions will be fighting the federal election - on the ground and online.

International: People Power
Over the next four years there is a real potential a major struggle will take place for workers´┐Ż rights and the creation of truly democratic unions in China., writes Andrew Casey

Economics: A Bit Rich
Who Gets What? Why? And So What?, Frank Stilwell reviews the BRW's Rich List

History: Mine Shafts
It's 25 years since Nymboida passed the baton to United, writes Peter Murray

Safety: Sick Of Fighting
Former RAAF engineers could be sitting on a health time bomb, Tim Brunero reports.

Organising: Building a Wave
Community groups, unions and social movements all practice organising, wrties Tony Brown and Amanda Tattersall.

Poetry: Anger In The Bush(es)
How dare any Liberal suggest that the Prime Minister is a lying rodent! Resident bard David Peetz reports on the outrage that this slur has justifiably caused.

Review: The Battle Of Algiers
Tim Brunero writes The Battle of Algiers is a coldly objective, almost scientific anatomy of revolution.

Culture: The Word On The Street
Phil Doyle reports on how the Australian working class experience lives on through the words of the remarkable Geoff Goodfellow.

C O L U M N S

The Soapbox
Hail to the Metro-Sexual!
If the cultural shift required in the workplace to give greater security to working families was broadly accepted the ACTU would not be locked in an adversarial Work and Family test case argues Sharan Burrow.

Politics
The Westie Wing
In his latest missive from Macquarie Street our resident Parliamentary commentator, Ian West, walks us through issues around the PBS.

Postcard
How Bush Lost His Wings
Tracking the National Guard Career of the Fatuous Flyboy from New Haven, Jeffrey St Clair.

The Locker Room
The Name of the Game
Phil Doyle wonders whether we are barracking for the sponsor or the team.

Postcard
Women to Women
APHEDA-Union Aid Abroad is working to create opportunities for Palestinian women living in Lebanese refugee camps.

E D I T O R I A L

Interest Overboard
A tired, ageing government tries to scare the electorate into re-electing it on the basis of a lie. Sound familiar? Yep, John Howard is going to the polls again.

N E W S

 Sprung: Howard Liberal with Truth

 Yanks Demand Racism

 The Greening of Labour

 Mums Move to Ease Squeeze

 Flying Kangaroo Goes to Water

 Health Warning for Bank Robbers

 Heritage Goes to Waste

 Freespirit in Hiding

 Offensive Toilets Threaten Pupils

 Telstra Dials Workplace Acquiescence

 P-Plate Nightmare for Young

 Free Loaders on Notice

 Funny Money Raises Interest

 Privatisation Debate Energised

 Activists What's On!

L E T T E R S
 Gold Gold Gold for Neolibs
 Co-operating At All Costs
 Fan Mail
 All Good Except You
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Politics

The Westie Wing


In his latest missive from Macquarie Street our resident Parliamentary commentator, Ian West, walks us through issues around the PBS.

Time and again we see big corporations barricade themselves behind a fortress of cynically designed loopholes, which must be dismantled to achieve justice for workers and their families in NSW. The PBS is a case in point in relation to the price of everyday medicines.

When the Bi-Lateral Trade Agreement with the United States--there's nothing 'free' about it--was recently accepted by the Federal Parliament, we all knew that it was being entered into with Australia as the "Little Brother" [Australia less than 2% versus USA with 25% of world GDP].

Watching that debate, I realised that the desperate attempts to erode our $5 billion per year Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) were another example of how global corporations affect the way NSW and other Australian states operate and the everyday lives of workers, consumers and taxpayers.

It may be a familiar story, but the detail and breadth of the corporate rort is difficult to comprehend, I think that's why they succeed. Legal loopholes and mechanisms are abused to protect the interests of the largest corporations in the world, usually against the intent of the original laws.

We saw this happen most recently with James Hardie Industries, shifting its assets out of the country to protect them from the dust diseases liabilities in the hope that the taxpayer will eventually bail them out, again.

And now it comes up with an eleventh-hour offer that looks so much more generous, but in reality still seeks to limit James Hardie's liability and form a statutory scheme to pay future cost with taxpayer money. The Inquiry set up by the NSW Government examining James Hardie's Compensation Fund is due to report on 21 September.

How many times have we seen a company go bust and then disappear with the assets without paying the creditors, many of them employees?

The shelf companies, off-shore trusts, phoenix companies, limited liabilities, patent extensions and so on make a joke of the buzzwords-- "competition", "regulation", "accountability", "flexibility", "transparency", "openness", "merit" etcetera.

It's an example of the worst type of hypocrisy from the big corporations, enough to put Johnny Howard to shame.

That's why I see the PBS as an important barrier to this behaviour, because it is the type of institution that protects the public from corporate cowboys overseas. Federal Labor's policy on this is a good one, since it seeks to preserve the PBS, like it's sibling Labor institution, Medicare, in the public interest.

The PBS is the envy of many governments in the world, including some states of the USA. That makes it a target of trade agreements.

The US Trade Act explicitly states that American trade negotiators seek the "elimination of government measures such as price controls and reference pricing which deny full market access for United States products."

It makes me proud to see the PBS as being such a target for the corporate bullies in the massive US pharmaceutical industry. They can't just waltz in, dominate the market with one product and charge what they like for it.

The big pharmaceutical companies are still able to charge too much, because of the fortress of legal loopholes that they have built up by themselves or with the help of ethically bankrupt conservative governments, especially in Australia and the USA.

These corporate cronies allow abuse of the legal system to engage in 'evergreening', which I've heard makes up 75% of patent cases in the US. The patent-holder can register a patent for a number of characteristics of a drug to keep ownership for as long as possible. The patents can even cover the molecular structure of a pill's sugar coating!

This prevents generic drug manufacturers getting the right to produce the drug at a substantially reduced cost, after the original patent-holder has had a 20-year competitor-free period during which all profits return to it.

The other trick is the endless logjam of injunctions in the American patent courts that allow big companies to produce their product when their patents have expired. This behaviour is clearly against the spirit of fair play, competition and a free market that the Tories love to bang on about.

The point is that here, in the state of New South Wales, everyone is affected by these actions. Each year, Australian public hospitals purchase more than $1.1 Billion of pharmaceuticals and Australians consume $10 Billion of pharmaceuticals.

Some of the 6 Australian generic medicine manufacturers are based in NSW and they contribute to the $2.2 Billion of annual exports and 30,000 employees across Australia. Each generic medicine that is allowed through the PBS reduces the cost of the medicine to the taxpayer by 30% on average.

Two drugs, for cholesterol problems and for depression, are nearing patent expiry. If generic brands are available it could save Australia $900million. Fortunately this is possible due to Labor's amendments to the Australia- US Bi-Lateral trade agreement.

The big money involved here has ramifications for all governments, consumers, taxpayers as well as the big corporations. What we have to ensure is that it is regulated properly to prevent abuse by a few greedy schoolyard bullies.

I've seen rave reviews of a newly released film, The Corporation, looking at the corporation as a legal entity with interviews with Michael Moore among many others. Check it out at http://www.thecorporation.tv/

And for my spin on What's On in NSW Parliament, go to Ian West's Online Office at http://www.ianwestmlc.com.au/new.html

I am interested to hear feedback and ideas--you can contact Antony Dale or myself at Parliament House on (02) 9230 2052 or email me at [email protected].


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