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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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Billions Hidden Behind the Veil

Mark Latham and John Howard are being urged to block companies like James Hardie, Patrick Corporation and Metro Shelf from using limited liability to dud Australians of billions of dollars.

Unions are leading the pre-election charge for corporate law reform after James Hardie Industries was found to have shuffled assets amongst subsidiaries in a bid to deprive dying people of $1.5 billion.

Hardie's strategy to defeat people who contracted lung diseases from its products was similar to that used by Patrick, Metro Shelf and to, some extent, Ansett to deprive employees of entitlements.

"All these companies have structured their affairs so their liabilities and their assets are in different places," ACTU official George Wright said. "The law needs to be changed to stop innocent people from losing out.

Wright dismissed business sector claims that changes to limited liability would stop companies operating effectively.

"There are provisions for getting behind the corporate veil in the US," Wright said. "It doesn't mean the end of capitalism."

Unions want the corporate veil lifted when workers entitlements are pinched or Australians are deprived of legitimate compensation.

They raised their demands after a commission of inquiry lambasted James Hardie's ethics and morality before concluding that, under current law, little could be done to curtail its behaviour.

Institutional shareholders celebrated by pushing the company's stock up by more than 10 points.

The Jackson Inquiry remained largely silent about possible changes to Corporations Law that could stop the sort of behaviour if found objectionable.

Paul Bastian, the force behind chasing James Hardie to ground, said Commissioner Jackson's recommendation to allow the veil to be pierced in cases of injury or death did not go far enough.

"James Hardie is just the latest in a litany of cases where the big end of town has used this strategy to avoid its obligations," the AMWU secretary said.

"We certainly support the call for people like James Hardie's victims but it must be extended to workers who have been cheated of their entitlements."

NSW Premier Bob Carr has written to Howard and Latham urging them to formulate proposals for corporate law reform.

The Jackson Inquiry found James Hardie had underfunded the trust established to meet its asbestos liabilities by $1.5 billion.

Commissioner Jackson raised the possibility of legal action against Hardie's CEO, Peter Macdonald, and chief financial officer, Peter Shafron.

Macdonald was found to have knowingly misled the stock exchange while James Hardie, itself, was found to have breached the Trade Practices Act.

Jackson was highly critical of Macdonald for announcing that the company's asbestos foundation would be fully funded. He described the statement as "false in material particulars and materially misleading."

Jackson also produced damaging findings against actuarial giant, Trowbridge, saying there could be grounds for it to be sued for more than $30 million.

The findings came after months of hearings into James Hardie's corporate restructure that eventually saw it move to the Netherlands after assuring the NSW Supreme Court it would leave $1.9 billion worth of partly-paid shares in Australia. That arrangement was cancelled at a secret directors meeting a year later.

Carr rejected Hardie's plan for a statutory compensation scheme and called on it to negotiate a settlement with unions and victims groups.

Bastian called for Macdonald and Shafron to step down or be sacked before negotiations began.

The bottom line, he said, was that James Hardie must "fully fund" compensation for people who contracted lung diseases from contact with its products - now and into the future.

If James Hardie chooses to fight that through litigation, he said, governments should contest its moves in every court.

"We want James Hardie to come out of this but James Hardie is going to have to pay. Unions and victims will be relentless in pursuing James Hardie and if that means its share price has to fall by another 40 percent, then so be it," Bastian said.

"At the moment, they are spending $US1 million a month on legal fees to defend the indefensible. If they want their share price to improve there is only one way to do it - pay up and move on."


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