Australian Government Fighting Its Own People on Asbestos?

It’s not just in the U.S. that those who are suffering the debilitating effects of asbestos exposure have to fight not only corporations who all too often place profits ahead of people’s health and well-being, but also have to battle the very government which should be working to protect its working citizens. Last fall, we reported that Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme finally offered to provide an expensive palliative drug to mesothelioma sufferers. Called Alimta, this product of the Eli Lilli carries a price tag of $20,000 per patient for a six-week course of treatment. Much of this change of heart was due to the efforts of the late Bernie Banton, a mesothelioma victim who fought his government for years over this very issue on behalf of Australia’s asbestos victims. Bernie Banton is probably turning in his grave. According to an article appearing in a recent issue of the Melbourne Herald Sun, the government of the Australian state of Victoria has been using a “private legal firm” in its efforts to deny the claims of asbestos victims–even going so far as to blame the victims for contracting the diseases.

Asbestos victims in Victoria who are suing their state’s government are those who worked in industries that had been run by the state before these were turned over to private corporations. These victims worked for public electric and water authorities, public hospitals, and public schools as well as private industries. The majority of these claimants are of advanced age and in the final stages of their diseases. They are seeking compensation for their pain, suffering and non-compensated medical expenses; these claims average $200,000 AUD. According to Stephen Plunkett, a compensation lawyer, the government is still liable for these claims even though it sold the State Electric Commission (SEC) to a private interest several years ago. According to Plunkett, it’s easier to prove that a particular employee suffered asbestos exposure while working for the SEC than to prove that the asbestos was manufactured by a particular company–one of the difficulties that American lawyers encounter when representing asbestos victims.