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Issue No. 210 27 February 2004  

Rock Of Ages
The Howard Government’s response to Australia’s aging population - to make them work longer and harder – is a small minded response to a mind-blowing problem, a perversion of the discipline of demography.


Interview: Trading in Principle
AMWU national secretary, Doug Cameron, a key figure in the Labor movement, discusses the big issues - from Mark Latham to Pavlov’s Dogs.

Unions: While We Were Away
While Workers Online was washing sand from between its toes and enjoying an Indian summer at the cricket, there was a reality show chugging relentlessly away in the background, Jim Marr reports.

Politics: Follow the Leader
Worker’s Online tool man, Phil Doyle, dives into the ALP’s Darling Harbour love-in and nearly drowns in treacle.

Bad Boss: Safety Recidivist Fingered
The CFMEU has come up with a killer nomination to kick off our 2004 hunt for Australia’s worst employer.

Economics: Casualisation Shrouded In Myths
British academic, Kevin Doogan, sets the record straight on casualisation and warns unionists about the dangers of scoring an own goal

History: Worker Control Harco Style
Drew Cottle and Angela Keys ask if it's worth rememberinng the 1971 Harco work-in.

Review: Other Side Of The Harbour
The 1998 maritime dispute threatened to tear many a family apart but Katherine Thomson's Harbour tells the tale of at least one that it brought back together - albeit reluctantly, writes Tara de Boehmler.


 Siren Sounds on Asbestos "Scam"

 Youngsters Taken For A Ride

 Costello Necks Young and Old

 CFMEU Backs Redfern Jobs

 Della to Save Christmas?

 Time for Global Zone Out

 Equant's Pyramid Jobs Scheme

 Unions at Unis

 A Bridge Too Far

 Men Score Mat Leave

 Strikes Rock TAFE, Unis

 Health Maters To The Barricades

 Prison Officers Strike Back

 Activists Notebook


The Soapbox
Dog Whistlers, Spin Doctor and Us
John Menadue argues the "better angels" of the Australian character are having their wings ripped off by an ever-expanding group dedicating to keeping the public at arms length from our decision-makers.

Something Fishy In Laos
Phillip Hazelton fishes around in Vientiane, Laos, and looks at the impact of Bird Flu on those relying on feathered friends for survival.

Magic Realism
Phil Doyle discovers that literature and sport may have more in common than you would think

The Westie Wing
Trickle, flood or drought? Workers friend Ian West, MLC, is wet, wet, wet on the issue of bilateral Free Trade.

 We Make Mistakes
 Taking The Piss
 Dear Mark
 Tom Goes Off I
 Tom Goes Off II
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Siren Sounds on Asbestos "Scam"

Allegations that building materials giant, James Hardie Industries, has turned its back on tens of thousands of dying Australians will be tested by a high-powered Inquiry announced in Sydney this week.

NSW Premier Bob Carr bowed to vigorous union campaigning when he announced former federal court judge, David Jackson QC, would head an inquiry to be armed with Royal Commission powers into circumstances surrounding the failure of trusts established by James Hardie to inherit asbestos-related liabilities.

Those mechanisms have been lashed by AMWU secretary Paul Bastian as a "sham", designed to deny compensation to thousands of dying workers and their families.

The controversy goes back to 2001 when a complex reshuffle saw the building materials giant set up, and fund to the tune of $293 million, something it called the Medical Research & Compensation Foundation. That body was to bankroll separate funds, AMABA and AMACA, to which James Hardie transferred liabilities to many of the 40,000 Australians expected to by killed by asbestosis or mesothelioma by 2020.

Shortly afterwards, the parent company completed its reorganisation by relocating, for legal purposes, to the Netherlands.

Bastian called the reshuffle an "act of corporate bastardry", and immediately called on State Government to set up an inquiry.

"First, they tried to sanitise the name of James Hardie from a product responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of workers and, second, they set out to quarantine themselves from any further litigation," he argued.

"We are not going to tolerate that. We will always hold them accountable."

The AMWU said the company knew the effects of asbestos and profited by tens of millions of dollars from continuing production.

NSW Labor Council, the AMWU, MUA, ETU and CFMEU became key players in a campaign to "unmask" what they claimed were the "real" reasons behind the reshuffle. They wrote to James Hardie Industries and politicians, organised rallies and pickets.

Late last year dozens of sufferers of asbestos related illnesses confronted shareholders outside a meeting in Sydney. They had tracked the rescheduled venue after James Hardie switched location from the plush, inner-city hotel it had originally advertised.

The company denied evading its responsibilities. It argued its Medical Research & Compensation Foundation would "manage James Hardie's asbestos liabilities and related litigation, compensate sufferers of asbestos related diseases and fund medical research to find treatments for these diseases".

The issue resurfaced last year when AMWU and MUA officials blew the whistle on lobbying efforts by insurance giant ALLIANZ to move compensation responsibilities to the public purse.

Not long after, it was revealed that the fund established by James Hardie faced an $800 million shortfall and that the parent company had refused to guarantee future liabilities.

James Hardie says its products are responsible for only 15 percent of asbestos claims in Australia but media analysts estimate the total bill, even on today's values, will top $6 billion.

Bastian confirmed this week his union would prepare a submission to the Jackson Inquiry and work closely with both the MUA and Asbestos Diseases Federation of Australia to ensure affected workers are heard.


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