The Guardian 16 March, 2005

Dingo bytes

The Federal Treasurer has told mining giant BHP Billiton that, if it gets the go-ahead for the $9 billion take over of Western Mining Corporation, it will be required to rip the guts out of the huge uranium deposit at Olympic Dam in South Australia. "We are quite optimistic", said BHP head Chip Goodyear.

A report by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians reveals that around 7000 disadvantaged Australians die prematurely each year. Between 1998 and 2000 there were some 19,000 premature deaths of people aged 25-64 that were attributable to socioeconomic disadvantage, says the report, Inequality and Health A Call to Action. "Compared with other developed nations, Australia has failed to reduce these inequalities", it states.

And while on the subject of reports on the poor, the Consumer Law Centre in Victoria has put one out documenting the unequal charges for services and household goods paid by the well-to-do and those on low incomes. Called Do The Poor Pay More?, it reveals that those on lower incomes are hit by such things as late payment fees and interest rates on credit cards because they are less able to avoid them. The poor also get caught up in credit schemes, such as the one at retailer Harvey Norman, which contains a 12-month, interest-free term: the hook is if it's not paid off in the allotted time the customer is hit with a 29 percent interest rate plus monthly account-keeping fees.

The Howard government is arguably the most secret and unaccountable we've ever had, and as it moves toward having control in both houses as of July 1 it is making sure that public accountability is given the boot completely. The federal Auditor-General has actually written to PM Howard telling him that budget cuts to his department will affect his ability to keep a check on government agencies. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has told the Auditor-General's office that its budget allocation will be cut by millions of dollars in the coming financial year. The letter gives an indication of one area the government doesn't want monitored, saying that "at the same time as we are being asked to do more work, for example in relation to Defence, we would have to cut a long-standing audit program".

CAPITALIST HOG OF THE WEEK: is ASIO. The question is who's the terrorist? It was revealed last week that the former Qantas baggage handler, Bilal Khazal, who has been accused of having terrorist links, had in fact been working as an informant for ASIO, and may still be employed by the secret police agency. This little connection is contained in documents submitted during his bail hearing in the NSW Supreme Court last year when the Court noted that Mr Khazal had "continued to cooperate and assist" ASIO and the Federal Police over a period of 11 or 12 years.

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