Australia has some of the highest rates of mesothelioma and asbestos disease in the world. Unlike the United States, such victims needn’t worry about medical care, since like most industrialized countries, Australia acknowledges health care as the right of every citizen However, asbestos victims in Australia suffer the same physical pain and life issues as their counterparts anywhere else in the world–and the emotions surrounding asbestos issues run just as strong. On 30 October, asbestosis victim and anti-asbestos activist Bernie Banton, along with a group of compatriots, attempted to present a petition to Australia’s Minister of Health (a position similar to the U.S. Surgeon General) calling for that nation’s government to provide subsidies for a drug treatment for asbestosis. The Minister of Health, whose name is Tony Abbott, later dismissed the visit as a “political stunt.”
He said that Banton had made “aggressive comments.” The next day, Abbott went on Australian television and issued a public apology, stating that he had called Banton to apologize personally: “I’ve said I’m sorry, he accepted that apology, and he very graciously said he was sorry for exploding… I am very sorry, I am very sorry for in any way impugning Bernie’s character or motives. He is a good bloke, he’s passionate about the cause it’s an important cause.” As for Banton’s “aggressive comments,” Abbot was philosophical about the subject, saying, “I don’t mind that because I’m a politician and I can take it.” He added, “Certainly I think that Bernie has been a fine advocate for people who have been cut down by asbestos-related diseases.” This is an election year in Australia. In light of politics, some folks Down Under had other things to say. One Australian bitterly remembers how that country’s Liberal Party (which would be considered right-of-center in the U.S.) “never let a person’s suffering stand in the way of profits… they allowed the sale of asbestos products to continue, crippling tens of thousands of Australians… why take responsibility for those they have crippled, when they can instead save the government PBS [Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme] money that can be used to fund tax cuts for the wealthy?” Sound familiar?