||Issue No. 264||20 May 2005|
Interview: Fortress NSW
Unions: Fashions Afield
Industrial: Pay Dirt
Politics: Infrastructure Blues
History: Big Day Out
International: Making History
Economics: The Fear Factor
Review: The Robots Revolt
Poetry: The Corporation's Power
The Locker Room
BHP Gets Decision to Die For
The AMWU and Asbestos Victims Association of South Australia are demanding urgent state government action in the wake of BHP Billiton’s challenge to a former employee’s right to gain compensation through the NSW Dust Diseases Tribunal.
Thousands of South Australians, infected while working at BHP or James Hardie, could be ruled out of quick, relatively low-cost, compensation by a High Court decision that forces Trevor Schultz to seek redress through the South Australian Supreme Court.
BHP unsuccessfully challenged Schultz's right to access the Tribunal through the NSW Supreme Court but succeeded on appeal to High Court of Australia.
"This could be a major blow to South Australian asbestos sufferers and their families," Victims Association secretary, Terry Miller, warns. "BHP has obviously run this case because it believes it will have to pay victims less.
"The other serious problem is time. Many asbestos disease sufferers don't have a lot of it and the South Australian court system is clogged up.
"Traditionally, we have had access to the NSW Tribunal but there is a big question mark over that now. We have been trying to get our own Dust Diseases Tribunal set up for some time and this makes it urgent."
There are more than 600 new mesothelioma cases diagnosed in Australia every year and South Australia has the second highest per capita rate of asbestos disease in the world.
The majority of mesothelioma sufferers die within 12 months of diagnosis.
Miller fears the BHP "victory" could impact on thousands of South Australians who suffer a range of asbestos-related conditions.
Just last weekend, former BHP Whyalla employee, Bill Ewins, died, after successfully running his compensation claim through the Supreme Court.
He had been awarded nearly $200,000 but never saw the money.
"It's some small consolation to actually see the cheque and know your family is provided for," Miller said. "It gives a lot of our members a sense of closure."
He described NSW's Dust Diseases Tribunal as "not perfect but still world's best practice".
It's advantages, he said, included its speed, relative informality, and the size of payouts awarded to victims and their families.
"Because of BHP's actions we need urgent change and that's what we've told the government."
BHP Billiton more than doubled its half-year profit to last December to an Australian record of more than $3.5 billion.
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