Is Mount Isa the new Wittenoom?

If someone were to ask me for a single, definitive reason as to why I lean left rather than right, I think I would say that, for all its flaws, the union movement never killed anyone in order to make a buck. Unlike companies such as CSR and James Hardie or the big tobacco companies, who, in spite of knowing full well that their respective products were deadly, suppressed the information and continued selling them. In the case of CSR, this in the end led to the WA mining town of Wittenoom being left as a ghost town, with an estimated 1 in 3 of those who passed through the town either developing, or by 2020 set to develop an asbestos related disease. CSR’s blatant disregard for life in the pursuit of the almighty dollar was immortalised in Midnight Oil’s protest anthem Blue Sky Mine (young-uns and overseas readers who’ve never heard it, check it out), and has come to be seen as a hallmark of corporate immorality in Australia.

You’d think corporate Australia would learn. But now, news has come out today that the operations of miner Xstrata in the Queensland town of Mount Isa are responsible for elevated lead levels in the blood of local children, according to an independent study. This is in spite of previous denials by Xstrata and the Queensland Government that naturally occurring lead was responsible for the elevated lead levels. Needless to say exposure to lead is not a good thing, with it having the potential to cause damage to vital organs and to retard growth in children. In 2008, when the Queensland Health report came out detailing the high levels of lead in children’s blood, Xstrata denied the correlation between their operations and the high levels. Now that this independent report is in the public domain, it is time for Xstrata to outline what they know, and to look to alter their practices in order to minimise the exposure of the children of Mount Isa to dangerous lead.


6 thoughts on “Is Mount Isa the new Wittenoom?

  1. edward eastwood

    Hear, hear. Workers compensation, Occupational Health & Safety, sick leave, holiday pay, penalty rates, maternity leave or paid parenting allowance, and equal pay for women were all issues hard fought for by unions on behalf of their membership. Many, especially those who lean toward the Right seem to think that they were granted through the munificence and benevolence of employers – they were not, and the above examples only serves to prove it! As far as multinational corporations are concerned, its bugger you and your kids – we’ve got to make a profit, and if we can’t; well we’ll take our business offshore, and you and your kids can get on the best way you like!
    All hail the mighty dollar!

  2. redearthbluesky

    Well, we know that union members have made death threats. Whether they acted on them is another matter. We also also know the White Australia Policy was a union initiative that was resisted by free enterprise at the time. Of course, I wouldn’t say that using the history of organisations is the best guide for deciding who to vote for. In the 1980s, Hawke changed the direction of the Labor Party so that instead of Unions and free enterprise being at war, they worked co-cooperatively for win-win outcomes. Under Hawke, the Labor Party was a very different organisation than what it was under Chiefly and very different to what it is today under Gillard.

    Look at a company report today and you will also see that just as the union movement has changed its tune, so has free enterprise. 20 years ago, company reports were all about the dollar. These days, the bulk of the reports concern sustainability,which covers ideas such as treating workers well so they stay,ensuring a fair price for suppliers so they don’t go bankrupt, and having good corporate governance so the major shareholders don’t rape the company.

    It is important to keep in mind history and the flaws of history because it is usually only via recognising those flaws that positive change occurs.

  3. ramblingsofapoliticsstudent Post author

    Certainly; hence I started with the premise that the union movement is not without its sins, but as the other commenter noted, we have a much better society for its existence. I feel that they still play a very important part in workplace relations today.

    As to corporate social responsibility, certainly, corporate culture has changed and I don’t deny that many companies make genuine efforts to be responsible citizens. But still, you look at the actions of some resource companies, large pharmaceutical companies, even the investment of Woolworths in poker machines and one cannot help but be a bit cynical about some companies pledges.

  4. redearthbluesky

    But you don’t vote for a company, you vote for a political party whom are influenced by a variety of stakeholders. Personally, I think we have a better society for the work of Christians and stores like the Salvation Army but I am not religious and I would never vote for Fred Nile.

    Don’t agree with you that our resource companies should be ashamed of anything. We owe so much of our prosperity to these companies and we have a lot of unionists earning a great living working in our mines. Holding asbestos against contemporary companies is like holding thalidomide against doctors. Look at the past to see what can go wrong, not to hold it against people who have not done wrong.

  5. Pingback: Mining and lead poisoning in Australia | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  6. Pingback: Mining and lead poisoning in Australia | Ώρα Κοινής Ανησυχίας

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