Monday, December 31, 2007

New year price hikes, as if on cue

ANYONE with an air conditioner should cherish the relief today because the cost of running it is going to rise substantially in the new year.

Like the fireworks at midnight, we could set our watches by the price rises that herald the new year, and along with electricity, the cost of public transport, toll booths and health care will rise.

Energy bills will be the most significant of the new year price rises for Victorian consumers.

On January 1, Victoria's three biggest energy retailers — Origin Energy, AGL and TRUenergy — will charge up to 17% more for power, after the drought, increased demand and renewable energy targets pushed the cost of generating electricity to record highs.

An average household paying $945 annually for its power bill is likely to pay $1106 for consuming 6500 kilowatt hours of peak and off-peak electricity. A larger family could face a rise of about $220 annually.

Riding trams, trains and buses will be more expensive in January, with the the cost of public transport in Melbourne rising by about 20 cents per trip, with a zone 1, two-hour full fare going from $3.30 to $3.50, and a zone 1-and-2, two-hour ticket rising from $5.30 to $5.50.

And you will not escape the price rises by taking the car, with Citylink passes set to rise by 4.5%, with an e-tag day pass going up to $5.97 and a 24-hour pass rising to $11.45.

Health too, will get more expensive.

The amount you have to spend to be eligible for the Medicare Safety Net — under which the Government picks up 80% of medical costs after you've spent a certain amount in a year — will rise by $9.80 to $529.30 for concession card holders and $19.70 to $1058.70 for general patients.

It will also be harder to qualify for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme safety net. The threshold for general patients will rise $82.80 to $1141.80 and for concession card holders it will go up $15.60 to $290.

The amount patients will have to contribute to the cost of subsidised medicines will go up 60 cents to $31.30 for general patients and 10 cents to $5 for concession card holders.

But it is not all bad news.

Several new drugs will attract subsidies from tomorrow, including Champix for those quitting smoking and Alimta for the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma.

And it will be easier to get eye treatment, with optometrists given the right to prescribe certain subsidised medications for the first time.


Friday, December 28, 2007

State funeral for Bernie Banton

Bernie Banton, the public face of the campaign against asbestos company James Hardie, has died, but his efforts have been hailed as a decades-long legacy for asbestos disease sufferers.

Mr Banton, 61, died at his Sydney home about 1am (AEDT) on Tuesday with his family by his side.

His wife Karen, brother Bruce, sister Grace and five children have accepted the NSW government's offer of a state funeral.

Mr Banton was diagnosed in August with peritoneal mesothelioma, an abdominal cancer caused by his exposure to asbestos when he worked for a subsidiary of James Hardie from 1968 to 1974.

He had already been suffering for years from asbestosis, a lung disease also caused by exposure to asbestos.

Despite this, he led the campaign to force James Hardie to establish a fund that would provide adequate compensation for all its employees suffering from diseases caused by their exposure to asbestos at its factories.

He was, NSW Premier Morris Iemma said, "a truly great Australian, a man who fought for others at a time when he should have been worrying about his own health".

"In November 2006, on the day we signed the final agreement to secure compensation for Hardie victims (workers in James Hardie factories who contracted diseases caused by asbestos), Bernie knew he'd achieved something special.

"That deal was worth $1.5 billion over the next 40 years for those who suffered and continue to suffer this dreadful disease.

"It would not have been possible without Bernie Banton."

Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd said he was "a fighter" who was "a symbol, a living symbol of what is right and decent and proper in the workplace relations of this country".

"Australia is going to be poorer for Bernie's passing - our whole nation will be poorer for Bernie's passing," Mr Rudd said.

Mr Banton was diagnosed in 1999 with asbestosis and ARPD (asbestos-related pleural disease), which reduced his lung capacity to 40 per cent.

He began to rely on an oxygen bottle, but he refused to let it slow him down, taking it with him everywhere he went as he campaigned for fair compensation from James Hardie for all its affected workers.

Estimates of future claims continued to rise, and the company was eventually forced in December 2004 to sign Australia's largest ever compensation settlement, worth up to $4.5 billion over 40 years.

In a statement, James Hardie expressed its condolences to the family of Mr Banton, acknowledging his work in raising public awareness of asbestos-related disease.

"The company acknowledges the significant contribution Mr Banton made to raising the awareness of asbestos-related diseases in Australia, and his role in the eventual implementation of the final funding agreement to compensate Australians with asbestos-related personal injury claims," the company said.

NSW parliament rose for a moment's silence and both sides of politics delivered statements praising him.

"Bernie courageously pursued justice for sufferers of asbestos-related diseases and their families, we all owe him a debt of gratitude," NSW Industrial Relations Minister John Della Bosca said.

Former ACTU secretary Greg Combet said Mr Banton had been a fighter for other people and a fighter for justice.

"I hope that people properly appreciate the importance of the settlement that was reached with James Hardie a few years back, because it was a very hard fight and Bernie contributed a lot," Mr Combet said.

"That's how he should be recognised."

Last Thursday, Mr Banton won a confidential payout as compensation for his terminal mesothelioma, including exemplary damages for what his lawyers called James Hardie's "contumelious" disregard for the health of its workers when they knew of the dangers of asbestos.

In 2000, he had been awarded $800,000 compensation for asbestosis.

And last month he succeeded in getting the palliative drug Alimta subsidised by the federal government for mesothelioma sufferers.

His brother Bruce said Mr Banton's funeral would probably be held on Saturday but details were still being discussed.

"One thing we will be asking is for instead of flowers at the service is donations for asbestos research and treatments," he said.

In a further tribute, the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute at Sydney's Concord hospital will also be named the Bernie Banton Centre.

In Melbourne, he was honoured at a commemorative service, part of Asbestos Awareness Week, to remember people who have died from asbestos-related diseases.


Victims of asbestos fight payout 'apartheid'

People suffering from pleural plaques through exposure to asbestos will soon be facing a postcode lottery to determine whether they qualify for compensation.

Pleural plaques are a scarring on the lining of the lungs, an asymptomatic sign of exposure to asbestos that does not of itself lead to more serious asbestos-related conditions. While about 1,800 people die of asbestos-related diseases each year in Britain, a number that is rising, some commentators have labelled plaques sufferers as 'the worried well' and the House of Lords recently ruled that the condition was not worthy of compensation.

'When people say those things, it's because they haven't had to live with it,' says Valerie Pask, a 55-year-old mother of seven from Nottingham who was diagnosed with plaques last year. Asbestos has left its mark on three generations of her family. 'I'll never forget my eldest brother in the final weeks before he died,' she recalls. 'He was unable to say more than a few words because his lungs were so congested.'

Valerie's brother died from mesothelioma, the cancer contracted from breathing in asbestos dust. Her father worked all his life as a lagger, fitting insulation at power stations. He died of heart disease in 1980, at the age of 65, with his death certificate recording that the condition was 'related to asbestosis'. 'My eldest brother, Brian, died at the age of 50 in 1987 and my next eldest brother, Michael, died in 1991,' she says. Three sons worked with their father. Two of them had their lives cut short by mesothelioma and the surviving brother was recently diagnosed with asbestosis. Her brother-in-law and sister-in-law, who worked with them, have both died of asbestos-related conditions, as did an uncle who worked in London.

But the tragedy doesn't end there. Valerie and her three sisters would clean their father's dust-covered overalls when he came back from the power stations, where he eventually became a site manager. 'He'd take his work clothes off in the conservatory and we'd beat them and get as much dust off as we could; otherwise our washing machine would get clogged up,' she recalls. Two of the four women have been diagnosed with plaques, as has one of their daughters.

In October, the Law Lords refused to overrule an appeal court ruling in January 2006 preventing plaques sufferers from claiming damages (in Rothwell v Chemical & Insulating Co). 'Proof of damage is an essential element in a claim in negligence and in my opinion the symptomless plaques are not compensatable,' ruled Lord Hoffmann.

That ruling will affect 'thousands who have faced emotional anguish since their diagnosis', says Adrian Budgen, head of the asbestos unit at law firm Irwin Mitchell. 'Plaques are a consequence of negligent exposure to asbestos. This exposure physically scars victims and is often a precursor to very serious and sometimes fatal disease.' Budgen, who is advising Valerie, adds: 'With a family history like theirs, you're going to be worried. She is a relatively young woman who has to live with this for the rest of her life.'

The Scottish government announced this month that it intended to reverse the Law Lords' ruling by introducing new legislation. 'The effects of asbestos are a terrible legacy of Scotland's industrial past and we should not turn our backs on those who contributed to our nation's wealth,' said Holyrood's Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill. 'Pleural plaques in anyone exposed to asbestos mean they have a greatly increased lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma. This will mean that people diagnosed with this condition will have to live with the worry of possible future ill-health for the rest of their lives.'

The Association of British Insurers calls the Scottish approach 'misguided'. Insurers are 'fully committed' to compensating claimants with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, says the ABI's Stephen Haddrill, but 'introducing legislation to overturn a unanimous Law Lords' ruling could significantly increase costs for Scottish businesses'.

None the less, insurers had been paying out for plaques for 20 years prior to the Rothwell case and payouts have been modest. Since the January 2006 ruling, 'full and final' damages, which settle the case once and for all, have been cut from £12,500-£20,000 to £5,000-£7,000.

There is a recent precedent for ministers in England and Wales stepping in to protect families from the courts when they overruled the House of Lords judgment by the Law Lords in the case of Sylvia Barker in 2006. In that case (The Observer, 5 March 2006), insurers argued that if there was more than one employer, compensation for mesothelioma should be split between them. As some have now gone out of business, this would have meant families missing out on part or all of their compensation. Ministers therefore amended the Compensation Act to protect families.

Campaigners are pessimistic about Westminster following the Scottish lead on plaques cases, even though the construction union Ucatt last week won a government commitment to review the Rothwell decision. 'It's going to look unjust if you have sufferers in Scotland receiving compensation and those south of the border aren't,' says Tony Whitson, chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK.

Campaigners point to a growing difference between England and Wales on the one hand and Scotland on the other, where the life-extending drug Alimta is more readily available for mesothelioma sufferers and where bereavement payments of up to £30,000 have been made by the courts (such compensation is fixed at £10,000 in England). Now it seems likely plaques sufferers will only get compensation in Scotland.

Valerie says: 'What makes me angry is that if you have a minor scar on your body you can get compensation. Thousands of people receive compensation for stress, but we get nothing. The scarring is inside me.'

She says she suffers nightmares and has been out socialising only four times since she was diagnosed 18 months ago. 'Employers knew the harm asbestos was doing and carried on using it because it was cheap,' she says. 'Thousands of people are affected now and will be over the next 20 years and it all could have been prevented. It's so wrong.'


Thursday, December 27, 2007

LegalView Blog Informs Readers of New Mesothelioma Cancer Treatment Center Being Built to Aid Mesothelioma Cancer Victims offers readers several mesothelioma resources including its continually updated mesothelioma blog. A recent blog post regarding mesothelioma offered readers an inside into a new mesothelioma treatment center that is to be built in Australia.

Denver, CO (PRWEB) December 23, 2007 -- LegalView, the number one source for everything legal on the Internet, recently updated its mesothelioma legal blog to inform readers and sufferers of mesothelioma about a new mesothelioma treatment center that will be built. The new center is scheduled to be open in a year, but, according to news reports, the treatment center's first goal is to ensure that every mesothelioma cancer victim will be able to access treatments available at the center.

Mesothelioma is a deadly and rare form of cancer that is inevitably incurable at the moment. While research continues to lengthen a victim's life as well as to ease the pain the cancer causes, there is still no way to 100 percent treat the cancer. Mesothelioma is usually caused by exposure to asbestos fibers that are breathed into the lung and essentially crystallize causing the development of cancer cells on the lining of the lung. It is typical that mesothelioma occurs anywhere from 10 to 40 years after initial exposure to asbestos. Many are currently being diagnosed with the cancer because of years of negligence by companies who knowingly endangered employees by exposing them to the deadly dust. If you or anyone you know has developed mesothelioma cancer, it may be in your best interest to contact a mesotehlioma law firm for more information.

The new mesothelioma treatment center is being built in honor of a local Sydney man who recently passed away. Bernie Benton was exposed to asbestos and began helping others dealing with the same plight. The mesothelioma treatment center will be one of the world's first asbestos research centers that focuses only on mesothelioma. Those suffering from mesothelioma cancer can find more information on this and other mesothelioma treatments at the mesothelioma information portal.

In addition to information regarding mesothelioma, also offers resources on several additional legal issues that are tragically affecting individuals throughout the country everyday. Readers will be able to find a traumatic brain injury law firm who specializes in helping brain injury victims with consultations and attorney referral services. Individuals who have suffered from a construction accident injury or an auto accident can find information on finding a construction accident attorney or auto accident lawyer through LegalView as well.