The Guardian 14 February, 2007

Dingo bytes

In her column in the Sydney Morning Herald last week Federal Labor MP Tanya Plibersek made some telling observations about the state of Australia’s dental health. More than half a million Australians are on the waiting list for public dental care: people who simply can’t afford private dental treatment. The constitution gives the Commonwealth responsibility for "medical and dental care", but the Howard Government says dental services are a responsibility of the states. Not only that, but Howard abolished the $100-million-a-year Commonwealth Dental Scheme set up by the previous federal Labor government. Oral health is of fundamental importance: dental services should be part of Medicare’s universal provision. Not surprisingly, Howard has been busy white-anting Medicare as well.

Also not surprisingly, health professionals have challenged the National Heart Foundation’s decision to award McDonald’s a nutritional tick of approval. The Australian Medical Association said the respected red tick, which indicates to consumers a healthy, low kilojoule, well balanced meal, had been "hamburgled" by McDonald’s, noting the extensive fast food purveyor’s menu is high in fats, sugar and salt. Doctors have also warned that the fast food chain’s healthier image might entice more people to decide to eat at McDonald’s. In other words, it’s free advertising.

The citizenship test for aspiring Australian citizens proposed by the Howard Government has "very strong" community support according to John Howard. Under legislation due to be introduced later this year, those applying for citizenship would have to pass a test that assessed their English skills and knowledge of Australian culture and values, including mateship. Howard must get his measurement of community support from the Returned Services League, the Country Women’s Association and the rabidly racist One Nation Party — they’ve all put up their hands in support of it. The WA, ACT and NT governments warned that such a test might not be compatible with Australia’s international human rights obligations. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission noted that the test could have "a discriminatory impact on the basis of language and national or social origin". Monash Council didn’t dance around the subject either, accusing the Government of having a "hidden agenda aimed at discouraging certain groups from entering the country".

CAPITALIST HOG OF THE WEEK: is BHP Billiton, which last week posted a record 41 percent rise in first half profit to US$6.2 billion. Meanwhile, at BHP’s Mount Arthur coalmine in the NSW Hunter Valley, the company is hedging at paying its workers a $10-a-week rise. It was just 12 months ago that it paid the state government $100 million for the right to explore for coal in the Liverpool plains area, $96 million above the real price of $4 million! Something’s rotten in the state of NSW.

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