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Issue No. 229 16 July 2004  
E D I T O R I A L

The Sins of Our Fathers
The James Hardie story unfolding before the NSW Government Commission of Inquiry is not about business, it is not about politics, it is not even about the law.

F E A T U R E S

Interview: Power and the Passion
ALP's star recruit Peter Garrett shares his views on unions, forests and being the Member for Wedding Cake Island

Unions: Tackling the Heavy Hitters
Tony Butterfield became a State of Origin gladiator at the unlikely age of 33. Even that, Jim Marr reports, couldn’t prepare him for the knock-down, drag-em-out world of modern IR.

Industrial: Seeing the Forest For The Wood
Proposals to flog off NSW’s forests have raised eyebrows and temperatures amongst some of the key players reports Phil Doyle.

Housing: Home Truths
CFMEU national secretary John Sutton argues for a radical solution to the housing affordability crisis.

International: Boycott Busters
International unions have issued a new list of corporations breaching ILO sanctions to do business in Burma.

Economics: Ideology and Free Trade
The absurdities of neoclassical economic assumptions has never stood in the way of their being trotted out to justify profiteering and attacks on the rights of citizens. The AUSFTA is the latest rort we are supposed to swallow, writes Neale Towart.

History: Long Shadow of a Forgotten Man
Interest in JC Watson's short time as Labor's first Prime Minister should not detract from his more substantial role as Party leader, writes Mark Hearn

Review: Chewing the Fat
As debate rages in Australia about Fast Food advertising, Julianne Taverner takes a look at a side of the industry that Ronald McDonald won’t tell you about in Supersize Me.

Poetry: Dear John
Workers Online reader Rob Mullen shares some personal correspondence with our glorious leader.

N E W S

 Noose Tightens on James Hardie

 ‘Payback’ in Mildura

 Beware of Expensive Imitations

 Death Law on Tassie Books

 Boss Goes Off Prematurely

 Goats Clip Security

 Vale Frank Altoff

 Gnarly Break Hits FoC

 Forgecast Reneges on Millions

 Workmates Back Whistleblower

 "Thuggery" from AIDS Chiefs

 Keystone Cops In Timber Town

 Waste Work Binned

 Activists What’s On!

C O L U M N S

Politics
The Westie Wing
As the NSW Labor Government sells its first budget deficit in nine years, the real concern for the union movement is the devil in the detail, especially when it comes to procurement agreements, writes Ian West.

The Soapbox
Rubber Bullets
Labor's IR spokesman Craig Emerson launches a few characteristic salvos across the Parliamentary chamber

The Locker Room
Tears After Bedtime
Phil Doyle says that it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye

Postcard
Postcard from Vietnam
APHEDA's Hoang Thi Le Hang reports from the north of Vietnam on a project being fund by Australian unionists.,

L E T T E R S
 Supersize Hypocrisy
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Editorial

The Sins of Our Fathers


The James Hardie story unfolding before the NSW Government Commission of Inquiry is not about business, it is not about politics, it is not even about the law.

It is a story about morality and how an organisation that committed heinous crimes is trying to duck responsibility.

James Hardie is not the victim of market fluctuations, mismanagement or even the sort of fraud that has landed the heads of Enron in the dock. James Hardie sits alongside the tobacco industry, Union Carbide and Exxon as a company that profited from human misery.

Let us be blunt. James Hardie is in its current position because it perpetrated a crime of massive proportions, knowingly selling products that killed for years and years, ignoring and even suppressing the evidence to maintain its profits.

Tens of thousands of Australian have died premature and painful deaths because of this crime; tens of thousands more are expected to in the years to come.

If James Hardie was a person, not a corporation, it would be facing murder charges, not manslaughter. The evidence suggests the cover-up was conscious, calculated and ongoing.

While these sins were committed decades ago by managers no longer with James Hardie, the damage is ongoing.

The concern must be that the very values that allowed James Hardie to flog asbestos products long after it knew it was deadly, still pervades a company prepared to shift resources offshore so victims will die penniless deaths.

The architects of this plot should not be allowed to hide behind corporations law, fiduciary duty and boardroom decisions, they should face the force of law and be exposed for what they have become - criminals.

This is not just some bag-snatcher skipping town, it is the equivalent of a mass-murderer breaking out of jail - and yes, you do have to wonder about the wardens as security seemed pretty light at the time.

And James Hardie's solution to the current predicament? A statutory scheme that would cap payouts to victims and presumably be underwritten by the taxpayer.

You only need to turn to New Zealand where such a scheme is in place; payments average $A90,000 for claimants whose lives are cut short. Ninety thousand dollars, just two years average salary. Now think what the reaction would be if a multiple murderer were sentenced to two years. There would be justifiable outrage.

So what should we do with corporations that kill? Unlike a certain Leader of the Free World we don't believe in capital punishment in Australia. We believe in rehabilitation and reparations in the hope that some good will ultimately come from the crime.

We do not wish James Hardie failure or collapse - in fact, we want it to thrive; not just so it can continue to compensate the victims of its crimes, but so it can stand as an ongoing reminder of what happens when a corporation puts profits above morality.

But current shareholders in Australia and abroad need to know what they are buying into - a company with debts to settle that no profit forecast or share price can justify walking away from.

If people are to maintain confidence in our justice system then James Hardie can not be allowed to get away with its Amsterdam Solution; it must continue to pay as long as lives are ruined by the sins of its fathers.

Peter Lewis

Editor


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