The Guardian 1 June, 2005

Dingo bytes

In the Sydney Morning Herald last week a letter writer lamented that the Labor Party didnít understand that people want an alternative to the Howard government, not just a poor imitation of it. Unfortunately for true believers, right-wing Labor is no alternative. And in a speech to 400 chartered accountants in Melbourne last week, former right wing ALP hatchet man Graham Richardson showed why. Richardson held John Howard up as "courageous", saying "Even if we donít love him, we respect him." In case people missed the point, he ratcheted up the praise: "There you have John Howard Ö wandering the world and the country, doing pretty well. Heís on top, he looks on top, and he can be trusted Ė thatís what he keeps telling us." Richardson is currently being investigated over the use of Swiss bank accounts to conceal shareholdings. Maybe heís looking for some prime ministerial intervention.

The undermining of the public health system by the Howard government, in preparation for the destruction of Medicare, is bearing bitter fruit. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has published figures showing that commonly performed operations on average have risen for private patients by 25 per cent, with the same operations for public patients having fallen by 5 per cent. This is since the government began subsidising private health insurance companies five years ago with a taxpayer-funded rebate, now running at about $4 billion a year. Coronary-artery procedures to reduce the risk of heart attack are now 50 per cent more likely to be performed on private rather than public patients.

One of the responsibilities of Special Minister of State, Eric Abetz, is the Electoral Act, which includes the disclosure of political donations. He has announced he intends lifting the official threshold for disclosing political donations, from $1500 to $5000. Also the level of political donations at which a tax deduction can be claimed will rise from $100 to $5000. I say the "official" threshold because massive corporate donations to the likes of the Liberal Party are hardly ever fully disclosed and are in many cases donated through front companies i.e. money laundering and tax avoidance. The Liberal Party last year received $26.6 million from corporate donors. Even that looks a bit pale beside the $46.4 million the ALP received. Itís called the two-party system.

CAPITALIST HOG OF THE WEEK: is the former chairman of the National Crime Authority, Peter Faris, who is an advocate of legalising torture. The NCA was set up in 1984 to pursue organised crime. You might assume, then, that heís a highly trained criminal investigator. Instead it turns out heís a dangerous lunatic who says itís okay to "pull out the fingernail of a terrorist to save a couple of million lives" and who uses the Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry vigilante movies as models for crime fighting.

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