The Guardian 16 November, 2005


The yawning gap

In the detention centres, run for profit by a private prison company, inmates are being tortured and children are being traumatised, scarred for life physically and psychologically. Meanwhile, National Australia Bank has suffered an unexpected cost blow-out in its three-year turnaround strategy and has predicted that a slowdown in the domestic economy will hamper earnings growth and force it to retrench more workers despite the announcement of a record net profit of $4.13 billion.

Such is the yawning gap, both economically and morally, that has grown under the Howard Government during the past ten years. The example above is a microcosm of the kind of nation this government has tried to turn us into. On a broader scale it is capitalism’s creed writ large: domination and submission; brute force against peaceful coexistence; cynical manipulation and exploitation; corruption and nepotism, secrecy and repression.

Control and organisation of the economy is of the essence. The Government is now carrying out a program of deregulation unprecedented in Australia’s history. Last month John Howard told a conference of business representatives that his Government will be pursuing public-private partnerships (PPPs) in increasing numbers, allowing for the private financing, construction, ownership and operation of such vital infrastructure as hospitals, prisons, schools, roads. Government departments rejecting the option of a PPP will have to give a please-explain.

A wholesale restructuring of the tax system is underway in which thousands of laws in the Tax Act are to be scrapped in order cull "complex and redundant laws", the ones hindering profit increases. Announcing the planned changes, Treasurer Peter Costello stated: "If we can get real breakthroughs in the reduction of paperwork, red tape and regulation, this is a very important economic reform." You can bet he will not be getting rid of the GST though.

Here is the chairman of the National Australia Bank, Michael Chaney, in response to the tax cost cutting proposals by Costello: "It is like any cost to business. It reduces productivity and we have to stop that for the sake of the economy."

The Government is now withdrawing from its social responsibilities … except the military, police, the judicial system and corporate welfare. In all other areas — education, welfare, health, Indigenous affairs — where the needs of people should be made a priority, funding cuts are the order of the day. Yet each day the Government spends $60 million of taxpayers’ money on the military, while those behind the razor wire at the detention centres have their lives wrenched away from them in the name of "security".

Pandemic danger

A flu pandemic is a global outbreak of disease that occurs when a new influenza virus appears in the human population, causes serious illness, and then spreads easily from person to person worldwide. A new strain of flu was identified among birds in 1997 and dubbed H5N1. H5N1 is considered the most likely source of a future flu pandemic. Although the virus is hosted by birds, it may be found in other species of mammals, including pigs.

The World Health Organisation warns that a human influenza pandemic could be ignited if the H5N1 virus mutates into a form transmitted between humans. "We do not know when it will come. But, we think that it will come", said Ian Simpson, WHO spokesman.

In August, WHO outlined a comprehensive response to the avian influenza pandemic threat. It recommended that countries strengthen national preparedness, reduce opportunities for a pandemic virus to emerge, improve the early warning system, delay initial international spread, and accelerate vaccine development. Every one of WHO’s recommendations relates to building a strong public health infrastructure.

But the Bush administration — like the Howard Government here — has yet to release any plan at all except the proposal that the military be used to enforce quarantines of bird flu victims. This raises the frightening image of soldiers cordoning off communities hit by disease, stopping travel and day-to-day activities.

Such proposals would truly endanger the population by taking the implementation of health measures out of the hands of public health departments, which have the necessary expertise to deal with it.

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