Wednesday, April 21, 2010


This is my Crikey Blog following this article

“Now that the rugby scrum of COAG is over and the dust is settling, it is becoming more clear that areas like mental health and aged care may not have done as well as advocates for these services would have liked. This process has been huge, and has been struggling to meet big goals. Despite what some commentators have said, the $5.4 billion is welcome in a system that desperately needs the money. The focus on increasing hospital beds is welcome if we are ever to get the pressure off Emergency Departments. But where are the extra doctors and nurses and allied health staff coming from to staff these beds - a very critical issue if we are to get better outcomes? And will these staff have sufficient skills to ensure quality of care?
Mental health advocates have every right to cry foul over this deal. Once again, mental health services have been treated as the poor relation. Is that because too much effort was put into taking advice from a small range of medical organisations throughout the process? Probably, I think. Governments and politicians must realise that health services are a complex, multi layered beast, and that there are many more professionals and professional organisations that should be consulted when changes are mooted . Community mental health teams in NSW are very run down and struggling along on minimal resources, doing the best they can. EDs are coping every day with mental health patients who should not be there, or not be there for as long as they are. Memo to politicians - mental health is just as important as physical health, perhaps even more so. Pay some attention to Ian Hickie and Patrick McGorry and the author of this article. Mental health services need more resources, now !!!”

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Keneally says 'I do' to Rudd's health deal

Emma Rodgers, ABC

April 20, 2010, 10:20 am

New South Wales Premier Kristina Keneally is willing sign up to the Commonwealth's plan to overhaul the nation's health system, after extracting a range of concessions from the Federal Government.

After a meeting with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd this morning, Ms Keneally announced that NSW is willing to hand over a third of its GST to the Commonwealth so it can fund a 60 per cent takeover of public hospitals.

NSW Government sources say Ms Keneally approved the plan after Mr Rudd agreed to hand over $686 million to pay for implementation costs of the proposal.

It is also understood Mr Rudd has guaranteed that the GST funds are only spent on hospitals and that New South Wales gets a say in how the money is spent.

It is believed the funds will be put into some kind of state pool for distribution.

Sources say Mr Rudd will also allow for block grant funding for small rural and regional hospitals.

Ms Keneally's decision moves Mr Rudd closer to clinching a deal as Council of Australian Governments (COAG) talks begin for a second time today.

But he still faces major resistance from Victoria and Western Australia who are ignoring pressure to capitulate and allow the deal through.

Speaking before she went into the COAG meeting, Ms Keneally said the states and Commonwealth are likely to get an agreement today.

"We are in a position to be able to have the Commonwealth retain a third of our GST for direct funding of hospitals for NSW," she said.

"We have also been able to progress discussions with the Prime Minister and with the Commonwealth of the governance arrangements of a fund, as well as appropriate safeguards around the GST.

"It is in my view these things enable us to be in a position to support that the Commonwealth will retain the GST, but with these important safeguards in place and with the right governance arrangements around the operation of a fund."

The states have been arguing for a pooled fund to distribute Commonwealth and state funds to hospitals and today Ms Keneally urged resistant states to reconsider their position.

"I would just encourage all of us as first ministers to consider what's in the best interest of our states... but also what's in the best interest of national health reform," she said.

But Victorian Premier John Brumby and Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett are holding out on surrendering their slice of GST.

And Mr Brumby also wants more money on the table for hospital beds.

Fronting the media together before the COAG meeting started, the two said they were willing to put a third of their GST revenue into a funding pool.

Mr Brumby says he has shifted in his negotiating position by dropping his demand that hospitals funding be spilt evenly between the states and Commonwealth.

"We've given a bit. I hope the Prime Minister can give a bit," he said.

"I always said today would be harder. I think it's hard to tell actually how today will turn out."

Mr Barnett says they are offering the Prime Minister exactly what he wants.

"It is within the Prime Minister's grasp to achieve his reform very quickly," he said.

Friday, April 09, 2010


Red News Readers,

I wish that commentators would stop saying that all opposition to Rudd’s moves on refugees and asylum seekers comes from the Left of the ALP. The ALP has modified its policy on refugees and asylum seekers several times at State and National level since 2001, at State and National conferences of the ALP. Those improvements to policy were not achieved by the Left alone. They were supported across the party by all factions and non factional delegates. They were vigorously promoted internally in the ALP by members from all factions. And that is the problem that Kevin Rudd now has – selling what he doing inside the party, where a broad cross section of the party does not agree with these measures, and have voted for policy that contradicts what the leadership of the party in power is now doing.

Jenny Haines

Government changes rules for asylum seekers

Updated 9 minutes ago 9th April 2010

The Federal Government has announced an immediate suspension of all new asylum seeker claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, as news emerged that an asylum boat with 70 people on board sank off Christmas Island early this morning.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans says the Government has decided to implement the suspension due to changing circumstances in both countries.

The news came as the Government released details of the rescue of asylum seekers from a boat which was intercepted last night 73 nautical miles east south-east of Christmas Island.

The Government says some of the asylum seekers ended up in the water but were rescued by crew from HMAS Wollongong.

"Just after 2am (AEST) the engine failed on the vessel which began to flounder," a statement from Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said.

"The transfer of passengers to HMAS Wollongong commenced immediately. Approximately 16 passengers were transferred immediately however some passengers abandoned the vessel.

"Passengers were rescued from the water by the crew of HMAS Wollongong.

"HMAS Wollongong is now proceeding to Christmas Island with the passengers for security, identity and health checks. Defence will provide an operational brief on the matter this afternoon, at a time to be advised."

The Federal Government has been under pressure from the Coalition after a spike in boat arrivals last year and this year.

The Coalition blames softened Government policy for the rise but the Government says it is due to international "push" factors.

More to come.

Saturday, April 03, 2010



James Hardie lied. The company executives knew for decades the dangers of asbestos. They knew from the 1930s onwards that asbestos caused cancer. But there was money to be made, big, huge, overwhelming profits. When there are such profits to be made, what’s a few dead workers to these executives? Very few of the executives of James Hardie were prepared to set aside a greater return to shareholders by implementing effective safety measures in the workplace. Trouble is, there is no way to safely handle asbestos. It should never have been developed commercially in the way it was. Workers at the asbestos factories at Camellia were often covered in the stuff. They lived in it, breathed it, ate it for lunch. While they worked there they developed asbestosis. Years later they died of mesothelioma, a vicious lung cancer that only gives sufferers a short time between diagnosis and death. There is no cure.

In amongst all the emerging suffering from asbestosis and mesothelioma, the company executives plans were to keep marketing asbestos for profit, and adopt a so called harm minimisation strategy and Matt Peacock does the corporate world, and unions, and law firms a great service in setting out in intricate detail how the executives of Hardies lived in a world of denial or at least part denial, while they rolled out ineffective measure after ineffective measure, to try to protect their workers from injury and death.

Bernie Banton, one of the most famous people who worked at the factory at Camellia is now dead. He died of mesothelioma in 2007 after living for years with asbestosis. Bernie became the public face of the campaign for justice from the manufacturers and processors of asbestos at the urging of Matt Peacock, when Matt first met him for a radio interview. When Bernie worked at the factory at Camellia, he became a Delegate for the Federated Miscellaneous Workers Union. Bernie was critical of the autocratic leadership of Ray Gietzelt, and sympathetic to Frank Shanahan, who was planning a challenge to Gietzelt’s leadership. What Bernie didn’t know was that Shanahan was backed by the National Civic Council. Shanahan lost the election against Gietzelt, and went on to develop mesothelioma. He died a painful death.

The Missos had a number of union officials who were appalled by safety standards at the Camellia factory. One official, Doug Howitt related to Matt Peacock an account of his visit to the Camellia factory:-

“We went into the teasing room, where they used to empty big bags of asbestos into an oblong funnel. There was a bloke tipping it in. He had his head in it! He was covered in asbestos! I virtually accused Hardie’s of being murderers, I was so upset. Fancy letting a bloke work like that! I said get him an air line respirator, but they were adamant he would not wear it. I said get this man a respirator or sack him if he refuses. Perhaps I should not have said that, but I did my block. I was party to this murder. What could I do?”

When Howitt went back to the Missos Office to report these events to Gietzelt, Gietzelt told him to mind his own business, and from that day Howitt was frozen out of any union dealings with the company.

Ray Gietzelt and Ray Palfreyman of Hardies were frequently in touch. They were jokingly referred to as the “two Rays”. Palreyman would report back to Gietzelt after frequent overseas trips to attend asebestos industry conferences. On one occasion, Hardies sought Gietzelt’s help in silencing Frank Roberts, the Editor of the Australian Worker’s Union newspaper. When Gietzelt met Matt Peacock, he described the dangers from asbestos as “minimal, absolutely minimal risk” Gietzelt denied that many union members had died of asbestos exposure, “if it had been a lot, I would have heard about it.” Gietzelt had the opportunity at the Opera to raise any concerns he may have had about asbestos with the Chairman of James Hardie for 23 years John Reid. Asked by Matt Peaock whether Gietzelt ever discussed the issue with Reid, he said :-

“I wouldn’t have raised that with him no. It wouldn’t have been protocol for me because if I had raised that with him, as a member of the board (of the Opera House Trust), it would rather indicate that I’m sort of holding him responsible.”

Despite Gietzelt, there were a succession of union officials who were very disturbed about asbestos and its dangers, Doug Howitt (FMWU), Frank Shanahan (FMWU), Frank Roberts (AWU), Ray Hogan (FMWU, Victoria), Theo Meletis (FMWU, Victoria), Vic Fitzgerald (FEDFA), Stan Fleming (FEDFA), Tom Cook (AMWU), Alf Hinton (AMWU), Barry Robson (MUA), and more latterly, Paul Bastian (AMWU), Andrew Ferguson (CFMEU), Greg Combet (ACTU) and many, many other conscientious officials and members of unions whose members handled or were exposed often unwittingly to asbestos and its deadly dangers.

Matt tells the whole awful story about Hardies, and the other companies that manufactured asbestos, Wunderlich, CSR, and others. But Hardies went on to do the what should have been an unthinkable corporate crime, they moved to the Netherlands, and left behind a company that had insufficient funds to meet the compensation claims that were inevitably going to come if over the next 20 to 50 years. And the leading members of the Hardie’s Company knew that the Australian based company was underfunded. They were trying to cut and run from their legal responsibilities to fund compensation for the victims of asbestos. This was where all hell broke loose, and the campaign went public with Bernie Banton as the public face of the victims, and Greg Combet, then ACTU Secretary, as the negotiator on behalf of the unions. Even Bob Carr, who was sceptical of the campaign at the beginning, seemed over time to not only be politically involved but personally affected by the plight of the victims and their terrible stories of suffering. As a result of the public campaign, and the Banton/Combet negotiating team, a number of deals have been struck with Hardies, and there have been a number of court decisions that have made Hardie’s commit to meeting their liabilities, but even today, stories still appear in the media that alarm victims and their support groups, about the future viability of compensation funds.

This is a wonderful book. It tells the story of Hardie’s and asbestos as it is, warts and all. Those who did what they did and said what they said are reported faithfully. No relevant party’s role is covered up. Matt obviously did an enormous amount of research and he has written the book in an easily readable style. Asbestos victims and their families have been given a voice through this book. Those who admirably fought to have asbestos victims recognised and compensated are rewarded. Matt deserves the thanks of all .

Jenny Haines