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Issue No. 239 24 September 2004  

Moral Victories
The release of the Jackson Inquiry into James Hardie may represent the completion of one chapter of Australia’s largest corporate scandal, but it is by no means the end of the story.


Interview: True Matilda
Former senior bureaucrat John Menadue coordinated the group of 43 calling for truth in government; and now he has bigger fish to fry.

Politics: State of Play
Are all political parties the same? Workers Online tries to cut through the jargon to compare the major parties' approaches to key policy areas.

Industrial: Capital Dilemmas
Public Private Partnerships amount to privatisation by stealth. Or do they? Jim Marr investigates.

Unions: Rhodes Scholars
Tim Brunero discovers how the Electrical Trades Union is doing its best to ease the national apprentice crisis.

National Focus: Rennovating the Lodge
Noel Hester previews how unions will be fighting the federal election - on the ground and online.

International: People Power
Over the next four years there is a real potential a major struggle will take place for workers’ rights and the creation of truly democratic unions in China., writes Andrew Casey

Economics: A Bit Rich
Who Gets What? Why? And So What?, Frank Stilwell reviews the BRW's Rich List

History: Mine Shafts
It's 25 years since Nymboida passed the baton to United, writes Peter Murray

Safety: Sick Of Fighting
Former RAAF engineers could be sitting on a health time bomb, Tim Brunero reports.

Organising: Building a Wave
Community groups, unions and social movements all practice organising, wrties Tony Brown and Amanda Tattersall.

Poetry: Anger In The Bush(es)
How dare any Liberal suggest that the Prime Minister is a lying rodent! Resident bard David Peetz reports on the outrage that this slur has justifiably caused.

Review: The Battle Of Algiers
Tim Brunero writes The Battle of Algiers is a coldly objective, almost scientific anatomy of revolution.

Culture: The Word On The Street
Phil Doyle reports on how the Australian working class experience lives on through the words of the remarkable Geoff Goodfellow.


 Delta Parties Like It’s 1994

 Shot In The Arm for Dealers

 Corporates Vote for AWAs

 Mind Game for the Discriminating

 Electrolux "Try On" Rebuffed

 Cultural Revolution Purges Howard

 Xerox On The Blink

 Billions Hidden Behind the Veil

 Customs Crosses the Border

 Toolbox Gimmick Threatens Awards

 Cleaners Clean Up

 u r brkng t law

 Unions Join Power Surge

 Vulnerable Lose Shot At Life

 Activists What's On!


The Soapbox
Hail to the Metro-Sexual!
If the cultural shift required in the workplace to give greater security to working families was broadly accepted the ACTU would not be locked in an adversarial Work and Family test case argues Sharan Burrow.

The Westie Wing
In his latest missive from Macquarie Street our resident Parliamentary commentator, Ian West, walks us through issues around the PBS.

How Bush Lost His Wings
Tracking the National Guard Career of the Fatuous Flyboy from New Haven, Jeffrey St Clair.

The Locker Room
The Name of the Game
Phil Doyle wonders whether we are barracking for the sponsor or the team.

Women to Women
APHEDA-Union Aid Abroad is working to create opportunities for Palestinian women living in Lebanese refugee camps.

 I Say I Say I Say
 I Say I Say I Say II
 Vote Early, And Often
 No Surplus Of Generosity
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Moral Victories

The release of the Jackson Inquiry into James Hardie may represent the completion of one chapter of Australia’s largest corporate scandal, but it is by no means the end of the story.

The spin at the Top End of Town is that Jackson's recognition that there is no legal barrier to Hardie quarantining its liabilities to asbestos victims presents the company with a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card.

The market seemed to follow this line in the days immediately following the report's release, pumping the share price up - although to nowhere near its original level.

But far from being an admission of defeat, the Report has become a call to arms for all those who believe that the terms 'legal' and 'moral' have different meanings.

The outcome of this battle of principle will depend on the next round of negotiations between Hardie and the union movement - who are taking a position of national leadership which the conservative forces are carefully ignoring as they continue their puerile IR scare campaign.

So what's on the table? Hardie is pushing hard to limit its long-term liabilities by establishing the sort of statutory fund that NSW workers have become familiar with through the state's workers compensation scheme.

Experience shows that payouts are limited by such a scheme, with claimants being 'processed' by insurers rather than have their stories heard by courts of law.

Court payouts will inevitably be higher, allowing Hardie to argue that anything more generous would itself be illegal - a breach of their directors fiduciary duty to maximise profits.

In arguing this legal red herring, unions need to show that copping out on compensation will carry its own financial implications that would harm the company's share price.

That's why the mooted consumer boycott is so important - to the extent that it keeps Hardie's share price low it presents a cogent fiduciary argument to meet compensation in full, even beyond their strict legal liability.

The Carr Government is leading the way threatening a boycott of Hardie products, other states have followed suit, dozens of councils have stepped up to the plate. But ultimately, any impact in Australia will be small beer - this is only about 10 per cent of Hardies' total market.

The real question is whether international pressure in the key US and European markets can gain sufficient steam to shift the company.

James Hardie shapes as the first significant international consumer campaign of the 21st century - the question yet to be answered is: can consumers place such pressure on a global company that it makes economic sense to act morally.

It's a tough ask - but if it succeeds in moving James Hardie even a little beyond its black letter legal obligations it will be a vindication of the moral weight of the collective.

Peter Lewis



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