Interview: True Matilda
Politics: State of Play
Industrial: Capital Dilemmas
Unions: Rhodes Scholars
National Focus: Rennovating the Lodge
International: People Power
Economics: A Bit Rich
History: Mine Shafts
Safety: Sick Of Fighting
Organising: Building a Wave
Poetry: Anger In The Bush(es)
Review: The Battle Of Algiers
Culture: The Word On The Street
The Locker Room
Co-operating At All Costs
All Good Except You
The Westie Wing
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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