Dispute over Beazley’s appendix explanation

WHAT a week it has been in politics. As the WA Government faces increasing criticism for the failing public health system, the appendix of Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley’s daughter Hannah became the most talked about body part in Australian politics. Mr Beazley told Labor Caucus last week about his daughter’s appendicitis and the problems she had getting a bed at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. The story broke that Hannah had been refused treatment at the public hospital last month and was forced to seek treatment at St John of God Hospital in Subiaco.

Mr Beazley was branded a liar by Liberal Party heavyweights such as Health Minister Michael Wooldridge when it was revealed Hannah had received appropriate treatment at Sir Charles Gairdner and had chosen to go to St John of God herself. His other faux pas was his statement that he had only revealed his daughter’s story to Caucus. It later emerged that he had used the story to illustrate a point about the poor standard of Australia’s health system at a political function.

BUT Mr Beazley’s indiscrete utterances were soon forgotten when it was revealed Liberal Small Business Minister Ian Macfarlane was having trouble with the GST. Mr Macfarlane’s electorate council of Groom claimed input tax credits it was not entitled to for a political fundraising function it ran. Labor Treasury spokesman and senior mauler Simon Crean jumped at the chance to call for the sackings of both Mr Macfarlane and Treasurer Peter Costello when it was revealed the two ministers had been aware of the tax breach for some time.

HOWEVER the political swords hanging over Beazley, Macfarlane and Costello soon disappeared when yet another boatload of asylum seekers arrived off Christmas Island – this time on Norwegian freighter the Tampa. Prime Minister John Howard refused to allow the ship to offload the 438 refugees it had rescued from their stricken vessel, 75 nautical miles north west of Christmas Island. The ship was heading from Fremantle to Singapore but was forced to head for Australia after the boat people used threats to stop the captain taking them to Indonesia on Sunday night. The Tampa now lies in a diplomatic no-man’s-land just outside Australian waters off Christmas Island. Ironically, the Tampa was directed to rescue the boat people by Australian sea rescue authorities. Christmas Island has been threatening to sink under the weight of the arrivals.

WOOLWORTHS shareholders started the week with a smile. On Monday, Australia’s biggest grocer posted a 17.6 per cent rise in net profit to $428.4 million in the past financial year. And with overall sales up 10 per cent in the first eight weeks of this financial year, the fresh food people are predicting another double-digit net profit gain in 2001/02. Woolworths’ WA supermarket division performed strongly in 2000/01, boosted in part by the $21 million acquisition and rebranding of four Advantage supermarkets 13 months ago.

SHARES in Perth-based Q-Vis jumped 30 cents this week after the news was released that the laser vision correction group had received approval to sell its Quantum 213nm refractive laser in Europe. Europe is the second biggest refractive surgery market in the world, and the Quantum 213nm is the first and only one of its kind to be approved. The announcement was made at the release of the company’s results for the last financial year, which showed an operating loss of $8.7 million.

THE bill for the HIH collapse just keeps getting bigger. Further investigations into the insurer’s ruin have indicated losses of $5.3 billion, $1.3 billion higher than previously estimated. The announcement came after the insurer was wound up in the NSW Supreme Court this week and sparked fears of massive blowouts in government rescue packages. As the biggest creditors to HIH, federal and state governments are likely to be hardest hit by any jump in costs. KPMG liquidator Tony McGrath said it would be at least 12 months before liquidators could give accurate estimates of creditors recoveries and up to 10 years before creditors received final payments.

AUSTRALIA may soon see the creation of a new super power in funds management if the proposed $80 billion merger between National Australia Bank and AMP goes ahead. If successful, the merger is likely to see a marriage of AMP’s fund management products and NAB’s distribution network, resulting in more than $125 billion under management. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia is currently the market leader with more than $100 billion under management, followed by Colonial. The merger could spark more activity within the financial services industry. There have been reports of ANZ Banking Group coming under pressure to make an acquisition to boost its weak funds management presence.

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