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 Goes Asexual
Road Rage At Work
Democracy In Action
The Westie Wing
Asbestos has been floating around for years now, dodged as an issue by corporations and governments as much as possible. It involves long-term liabilities and billions of dollars in compensation.
The challenge is for all tiers of government to pierce the corporate veil in the interests of the workers, the victims of work injuries as well as the companies who trade honestly.
The recent news obviously surrounds the inquiry into the James Hardie Group's Medical Research and Compensation Fund (MCRF), which shows that the unions are still deadly serious and this time they will not settle for stalemate.
The NSW Government set up the Commission of Inquiry into the MCRF to investigate whether the fund would cover the company's liability, especially the way in which the parent company was shifted to the Netherlands.
That inquiry is due to report on 21st September and it would be inappropriate to pre-empt the findings before then.
However, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that the corporate greed that assumes the taxpayer will underwrite any liabilities that companies don't want to be responsible for is still alive and well.
What's more, the support network of advisers on legal matters, actuarial matters, lobbyists and so on that feed off the ill-gotten gains of these unconscionable corporations is seriously in need of dismantling.
That's where the levels of government come in to regulate this behaviour. It's true that far too often, governments need a prod to get them going and that's where the unions are doing an excellent job at the moment.
In the meantime, the CFMEU, the AMWU and the Asbestos Diseases Foundation launched the idea of Asbestos Certificates as a safety provision in the conveyancing process, much like a building inspection.
On the day of the launch, along with Andrew Ferguson, I was honoured to accompany a number of people affected by asbestos-related diseases, to meet with several Sydney Mayors.
The Mayors were being asked to find alternative sources for the products their Councils were currently purchasing from James Hardie Industries until the issue of compensation for their injuries is resolved.
The Mayors were very receptive to the cause and committed to asking their Councils not to allow the use of James Hardie products on any Council sites unless contracted to do otherwise or if alternative products are unavailable.
It was indicative, in the space of an afternoon, that commitments can by made by elected representatives that can make a real change.
Along with a number of my parliamentary colleagues I will be supporting a motion in the next Caucus at the end of August that the Labor Government opposes the establishment of a statutory fund or limiting liabilities of any company that caused asbestos-related diseases. In the meantime, I'll be writing letters to this effect, as will many of my colleagues.
Furthermore as a state government, we must lobby the Federal government to introduce appropriate corporate law reform to prevent companies from shifting their assets to avoid liability.
After all, these claims will not be going away soon. Estimates put the peak year of asbestos disease claims being 2012 and taking a long time to decline.
The liabilities will fade just as slowly and unless they're properly managed through rigorous corporate laws, the measure of the cost to the taxpayer will be just as unpredictable.
It's only fair that the Government should act as soon as appropriate and that the victims of asbestos must be fully compensated by the company responsible.
Under no circumstances must these companies be allowed to transfer their liabilities onto the public purse.
This is the resolution that Labor Mayor of Canada Bay City, Angelo Tsirekas, successfully put to Council on 3/8/04:
1. THAT Council condemn the actions of James Hardie Industries NV in
the strongest possible terms for its attempts to avoid funding ABN 60
Pty Ltd as proposed which would in turn provide funding for the
legitimate claims of asbestos victims.
2. THAT until such time as James Hardie complies with its funding
proposal, the General Manager is asked to:
(a) request that all existing contractors working on City projects do
not purchase or use James Hardie products;
(b) require all new contractors not to use James Hardie products on
City projects; and
(c) direct City staff not to purchase any new James Hardie products
except where an existing City contract requires the use of James Hardie
products, or there is no alternative product available.
3. THAT Council refer the above to the Local Government Association for
debate at the forthcoming conference.
4. THAT the General Manager write to the State Member urging the State
Government to adopt a similar policy.
Some links that provide more information on the above are the Special Commission of Inquiry into the MRCF http://www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/lawlink/Corporate/ll_corporate.nsf/pages/MRCF_index
And for my spin on What's On in NSW Parliament, go to Ian West's Online Office at http://www.ianwestmlc.com.au/new.html
I am interested to hear feedback and ideas--you can contact Antony Dale or myself at Parliament House on (02) 9230 2052 or email me at [email protected].
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