The Guardian 22 June, 2005

Dingo bytes

The user-pays system the Howard government has foisted on the nation’s universities is making students sick — literally. Malnourished students are going to doctors with symptoms of scurvy and some students are so desperate for money that they are participating in dodgy medical trials. A Senate inquiry into student income support has noted that they have been forced to put more energy into simply surviving than into their studies. The inquiry has been told that illnesses in a number of cases were the result of some students trying to live on $30 a week. Cut backs to the Youth Allowance and Austudy are also adding to the problem. Said National Union of Students president Felix Eldridge: "There’s no doubt that student nutrition is disadvantaged by the fact that many of the live in poverty".

And while on Senate inquiries, a month ago a Senate estimates committee looking into the operations of the Department of Immigration, after hours of prodding and prying, finally got Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone to admit that the Department needs a "cultural change". The committee was set up in response to the fact that over 200 Australian citizens have been locked up in immigration detention centres with the hundreds of innocent asylum seekers the government has incarcerated. Yet last week in the Queen’s Birthday honours the secretary of the Immigration Department, Bill Farmer, was awarded an Order of Australia medal. And public servant Paul Mills copped a Public Service Medal for being "instrumental in shaping Australia’s practical response to the influx of unauthorised boats between 1999 and 2001". In other words, the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. In this system the jailers and torturers are held up as pillars of society.

Public-private partnerships, or PPPs, are an expedient path to privatisation. The taxpayers subsidise the development of infrastructure and guarantee profit levels — hospitals, roads, schools etc - and the private sector runs them for profit. Big business laves them. Here’s the head of Macquarie Bank, Bill Moss: "When we look back we will judge the success of the current governments across Australia by the degree they embrace the philosophy of PPPs". All the state Labor governments have taken to PPPs like dogs to a bone. The Carr government in NSW clearly determined that Mr Moss will judge it the most successful, has even introduced legislation to prevent community groups from having any say in them.

CAPITALIST HOG OF THE WEEK: is the Australian Wheat Board. Anchored in the Persian Gulf are three shiploads of Australian wheat bound for Iraq, Australia’s fourth largest wheat market. They have been there since April because Iraq found that the wheat was contaminated with iron filings. The Wheat Board is pushing for a bigger share of the market, with the USA pressuring the Iraqi authorities to buy more of the American "liberator’s" grain. Like the other parasitic corporations in Iraq, the privatised Wheat Board is there to make a profit-killing among the carnage.

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