Inside the system

Billionaires rough it for ‘No cash November’

Mining billionaire Twiggy Forrest has launched “No Cash November”, a philanthropic challenge where often high profile participants pledge to live only using their credit cards for a month. The challenge is part of Twiggy’s crusade to promote a “cashless welfare” system for “all vulnerable Australians”. But it is particularly aimed at Aboriginal communities and extending the BasicsCard imposed under the NT Intervention.

The cashless challenge will see participants “learning the process and possibilities of a cash free life” according to its website. Nev Power, CEO of Twiggy’s mining company Fortescue Metals Group, jumped on board, with the challenge of spending his $2 million a year wage using his credit card alone.

Under the actual Healthy Welfare Card scheme proposed by Forrest’s GenerationOne initiative, welfare recipients would be prevented from purchasing alcohol, gambling or withdrawing cash. But those who sign up for “No Cash November” were free to keep enjoying gambling and booze. GenerationOne CEO Jeremy Donovan described his “challenges” during “No Cash November”, reporting, “One of the frustrations is the min spend of $10. I had to purchase lots other items as shown to be able to get the water I wanted” alongside an image of a small pile of health bars and chocolates. This only shows how far removed from the lives of people on welfare these super-rich executives are. This whole stunt is nothing but a revolting exercise in telling the poor how to live their lives.

‘Unprofitable’ Ebola vaccine sat on shelf for years

A TRIAL Ebola vaccine sat on the shelf for years because treating Ebola, a virus most prevalent in poor parts of Africa, was not considered profitable. There have been regular outbreaks of the deadly virus since the mid-1970s.

The vaccine, VSV-EBOV, was shown to be 100 per cent effective in monkeys, which are considered to be a good surrogate for humans. But the cost of human trials was not considered justifiable by the pharmaceutical giants.

The vaccine was created almost ten years ago by researchers from Canada and the US. Thomas W. Geisbert, an Ebola expert from the University of Texas Medical Branch and a developer of the vaccine, said, “There’s never been a big market for Ebola vaccines…So big pharma, who are they going to sell it to?”

The cost of getting a new drug to the market can be hundreds of millions of dollars. But that is about what Tony Abbott is spending this year on bombing Iraq, and a fraction of the cost of excess ammunition that the Pentagon plans to destroy this year alone.

Britain abandons Mediterranean rescues

BRITAIN HAS refused to support search and rescue operations to prevent migrants and refugees drowning in the Mediterranean. The announcement came as the official Italian rescue operation Mare Nostrum ended in November, having rescued around 150,000 people in the last 12 months.

Despite the scale of the Italian operation it is estimated 2500 people still drowned in this period. The replacement EU mission, Triton, will have about a third of the resources and will not include search and rescue across the Mediterranean, just patrols within 30 kilometres of the Italian coast. But Lady Anelay, the British Foreign Office minister, announced the government won’t even support this paltry effort. Echoing the words of Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison she declared rescues, “an unintended ‘pull factor’, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing”. No doubt Britain is hoping a few more deaths will send the right signal.

Murdoch’s hypocrisy on inequality

Rupert Murdoch used the chairman’s speech to the G20 at the end of October to warn the world’s financial elites of the pitfalls of “greater inequality” in the West. He pronounced a moment of “great global reckoning” as the “ladder of generational progress” was now increasingly under threat.

By way of solutions, alongside predictable calls “for government to get out of the way”, Murdoch took aim at corporate tax evasion, naming Google as a particular culprit. Google’s tax evasion is indeed criminal, but a report published by the Tax Justice Network found Murdoch’s own companies paid the Australian Tax Office only 1.1 per cent on pre-tax profits totaling $5.54 billion between 2004-2013. This egalitarian achievement was made possible by complex financial manipulations through 146 subsidiaries, including 25 in the Virgin Islands and 19 in Mauritius—both notorious tax havens.

Brisbane Airport bans climate ads

Brisbane airport has vetoed World Wildlife Fund advertisements calling for action on climate change. The campaign simply featured the slogan “Climate change is #onmyagenda” alongside photographs of local people. The airport claimed it does not allow political advertisements. But they had no objections to running ads for energy multinational Chevron.

The Chevron campaign has saturated the airport and promotes their LNG projects through the slogan “Make Australian gas benefit all Australia—I agree”, with stories about how the local community, business and workers benefit.

LNG projects in Queensland have drawn opposition from environment groups due to the potential for damage to the Great Barrier Reef. The successful campaign at James Price Point in WA stopped an LNG project planned there.

Chevron doesn’t sell much of its gas to customers in Australia, so the ads were aimed purely at shoring up public opinion around LNG to ensure Chevron’s massive gas projects in Australia are not threatened by public opposition.

Hospital cuts thousands off waiting list

A total of 24,149 people were cut from the Cairns Hospital outpatient specialist waiting list between November 2013 and October 2014 without seeing a specialist.

According to Dr Sandy Donald from the Together Union, three patients had contacted them in the last two weeks with letters advising them to make contact to avoid being cut off, “These people had received that letter after the last date to contact the hospital. When they tried to ring the number—one tried 12 times—they could not get through.” In October Premier Campbell Newman announced the “best ever” waiting list results for Queensland.

Research and writing by Adam Adelpour

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