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Issue No. 248 26 November 2004  

Australian Idols
It was a week for the little people as Casey won Australian Idol and Rebecca beat the railways. In entertainment and politics it was a young woman from the burbs who ran rings around the pros.


Interview: The Reich Stuff
Robert Reich has led the debate on the future of work � both as an academic and politician. Now he�s on his way to Australia to help NSW unions push the envelope.

Economics: Crime and Punishment
Mark Findlay argues that the present psychological approach to prison programs is increasing the likelihood of re-offending and the threat to community safety.

Environment: Beyond The Wedge
Whether the great forestry divide can ever be overcome or whether it is best sidestepped for the sake of unity and sustainability in other areas is up for debate, writes Tara de Boehmler.

International: The End Of The Lucky Country
Linda Weiss, Elizabeth Thurbon and John Mathews show us How To Kill A Country

Safety: Tests Fail Tests
Nick Lewocki from the RTBU lifts the lid on the shonky science behind RailCorp testing

Politics: Labo(u)r Day
John Robertson lets fly at this years Labor Day dinner

Human Rights: Arabian Lights
Tim Brunero reports on how a Sydney sparky took on the Taliban and lived to tell the tale.

History: Labour's Titan
Percy Brookfield was a big man who was at the heart of the trade union struggles that made Broken Hill a quintessential union town writes Neale Towart.

Review: Foxy Fiasco
To find out who is outfoxing who, read Tara de Boehmler's biased review of a subjective documentary about corrupt journalism.

Poetry: Then I Saw The Light
Brothers and sisters! Praise the Lord! Brother George has saved the White House from an invasion by infidels, writes resident bard David Peetz.


 Helicar Fingers Victims ... Again

 Rabbits Sick of Clover

 What a Banker

 Pack Up and Go Home

 Pratt By Name

 Horror at the Hacienda

 Women Wiped for Bush Jobs

 Veteran Fights Bullet

 Tunneler Survives Death Trap

 Bathurst Three Face Court

 Chullora Cuts Struck Out

 Bully Breaks Heart

 Southern Cross Flies High

 Activists What's On!


The Locker Room
In Naming Rights Only
Phil Doyle has Gone to Gowings

The Soapbox
Homeland Insecurity
Rowan Cahill tells us how the Howard Government�s appointment of Major-General Duncan Lewis to head up the national security division of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has received little critical comment, until now.

The Westie Wing
New proposed legislation in NSW provides a vital window of opportunity for unions to ensure they achieve convictions for workplace deaths, writes Ian West.

 Regarding Pee Poles
 Pee Pole Shame
 Latham Is A Scapegoat
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Helicar Fingers Victims ... Again

James Hardie has marked Asbestos Awareness Week with another two-fingered salute to Australians dying from contact with its products.

It announced, this week, that it would reward disgraced former CEO, Peter Macdonald, with a $77,000 a month consultancy.

A special commission of inquiry found evidence Macdonald had broken trade practices and corporations laws during James Hardie's three-year campaign to rid itself of liabilities to asbestos disease sufferers.

In the wake of those findings, James Hardie softened Macdonald's resignation with a $10 million severance package.

Unions NSW secretary, John Robertson, labelled this week's announcement by company chair, Meredith Helicar, "appalling and insulting".

"Only James Hardie could do this in Asbestos Awareness Week," Robertson said. "Everything they do reflects how far out of touch their directors are with the expectations of the Australian community."

Macdonald and chief financial officer, Peter Shafron, were key architects of a scheme that saw James Hardie relocate to the Netherlands..

To facilitate its 2001 corporate restructure, the company told the NSW Supreme Court it would leave partly-paid shares worth more than a billion dollars in Australia for the benefit of creditors.

That arrangement was cancelled at a secret meeting of directors, leaving thousands of asbestos disease sufferers without access to compensation.

As a consultant, Macdonald will make in a months the average amount sufferers are awarded in compensation for their lifetimes.

Whether or not victims of Hardies' products ever see that compensation is now subject to negotiations between the company and the ACTU.

Secretary Greg Combet said, last week, negotiations were "heading for crisis" unless the company removed "unfair and unreasonable conditions" and immediately bailed out MRCF, the foundation it created to compensate victims.

MRCF directors are considering liquidation because James Hardie is playing hardball over promised funding. The foundation needs an immediate injection of $85 million to meet existing claims but says James Hardie directors are making that conditional on receiving indemnities against legal action.

The Hardie situation was exposed, and brought to a head by a relentless union campaign, spearheaded by the AMWU's NSW branch.

Secretary, Paul Bastian, said no amount of Helicar spin-doctoring could alter the fact that James Hardie had set out to "rob" victims and their families.

He pointed that at the time of the restructure, Macdonald had given assurances the company would "fully fund" victims but that when MRCF's $2 billion shortfall had been made public, the California-based CEO had denied "legal or moral" responsibility.

Bastian said there was only one option open to the company. It must deliver on its original promise by putting sufficient money into MRCF, and it must do it now.

"Australians have to ask themselves, how low can a company go?" Bastian said. "Is it possible to sink any lower than Meredith Helicar's James Hardie?

"I don't think so."

AMWU Spreads Pinkies

Meanwhile, NSW is on the brink of becoming the first state to institute a "pink slip" that would alert householders to the presence of asbestos.

Following the lead of councils, including Holdroyd and Ashfield, the state ALP caucus has adopted a policy that means dwellings will have to be subjected to asbestos audits before being sold. It is expected to become law next year.

The plan was devised by the AMWU to try and stop home owners and renovators being added to the thousands of Australians contracting asbestos-related lung diseases every year.

It requires vendors to undertake asbestos audits and have properties containing the killer fibres added to a register that would alert buyers, and future occupiers, to the whereabouts and condition of the product.

MP Paul Lynch estimates the audits could be done for as little as $150 by qualified assessors.

More than half the homes built in Sydney since the 1940s are believed to contain asbestos products. Entire suburbs, especially in the west, sprung up when asbestos was a standard construction product.

Asbestos is understood to be safe while it remains intact but becomes a health risk when it breaks or starts to crumble. Medical experts say that inhaling one asbestos fibre can lead to asbestosis or incurable mesothelioma in later life.


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