||Issue No. 234||20 August 2004|
Interview: Trading Places
Safety: Snow Job
Politics: In the Vanguard
Unions: Gentle Giant Goes For Gold
Bad Boss: 'Porker' Chases Blue Ribbon
International: Cruising For A Bruising
History: Under the Influence
Economics: Working Capital
Review: Fahrenheit 9/11
Poetry: Bad Intelligence Rap
Satire: Osama Bin Manchu
The Locker Room
Tom Relieves Himself
System Screws Workers
Hardie Chiefs Dodge Findings
Asbestos sufferers and unions are demanding that the company postpone shareholder meetings, including the AGM, set down for the week before David Jackson, QC, makes his findings public on September 21.
Asbestosis sufferer, Bernie Banton, urged Australians to be wary of the line being run by new chair, Meredith Helicar, who stepped into the role after predecessor, Alan McGregor, received unfavourable mentions at the Inquiry.
"This company has a history of saying one thing and doing another," Banton warned. "The fight is not won because Hardies is so slick and slippery it is hard to deliver the knockout punch.
"Last week they got enormous publicity for saying all victims should be compensated. All their media, since, has back-tracked from that position.
"They have scheduled their shareholder meetings to cover up anything about their treatment of asbestos victims that may come out of the inquiry."
Helicar has been apologising all over town to asbestos sufferers likely to be dudded by the company' 2001 corporate restructure but continues to run her predecessor's line that only a state-run scheme will deliver a fair go.
Months ago the company was adamant it had no legal or moral obligations to Australians dying of asbestos-related diseases, beyond what was left of the $293 million it deposited with trust fund, MRCF.
Hardie had assured the Supreme Court and the sharemarket that Australian creditors would have access to $1.9 billion in partly-paid shares. Barely a year later, directors rescinded that arrangement, leaving a compensation hole estimated at $2 billion.
On the final day of the Jackson Inquiry, after copping a public relations flogging, it agreed to wider funding, conditional on a "statutory" scheme.
Unions and asbestos groups expect Helicar to seek shareholder endorsement of that stance in the days before Jackson's findings are released.
But Banton says veteran director Helicar's round of media mea culpas should be taken with a grain of salt.
"She had 12 years to be sorry," Banton said. "Now she is saying - all victims should be subject to a scheme -Hardie has been scheming against its victims since 1995."
AMWU secretary, Paul Bastian, said the proposal was what James Hardie had wanted from the beginning - the state to underwrite compensation payments to Australians killed by contact with its products.
"Hardies and their insurers want a capped statutory scheme because that is the best outcome for their share price," Bastian said. "That has been their position since day one. Their motivation has always been their share price, rather than the victims.
"James Hardie is not the victim in this scandal."
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