Interview: Out of the Bedroom
Industrial: Cloak and Dagger
Legal: The Fantasy of Choice
Politics: Labor Pains
Economics: Economics and the Public Purpose
Corporate: House of Horrors
History: Clash Of Cultures
International: Childs Play
Culture: Folk You Mate!
Review: Last Holeproof Hero
The Locker Room
Contract With Australia
House of Horrors
At James Hardie, a name synonymous with the deaths of thousands involved in the manufacture and use of its products, corporate objectives and profits were always first priority. Gideon Haig's book describes a company for which the human cost of manufacturing was an after thought, the price of doing business. He warns 'the Hardie story should remind us that commercial decisions have real, lasting and sometimes deadly human outcomes.'
Most would be aware of role the union movement, led by ACTU secretary Greg Combet, took in the campaign for justice after the company sought to strip its asbestos liabilities through a complicated restructure. This book also details the early years of James Hardie Industries, a company whose success was built on the manufacture of asbestos fibre cement; especially in the 50's when fibro began to make its indelible mark on the Australian landscape. And while the fibro dwellings that once defined Australian suburbia may be fading into history, the deadly legacy of James Hardie products hangs over our future.
The spectre of asbestosis and mesothelioma is never far from the book's narrative, as Haig parallels the rise and rise of JH with the growing evidence of the deadly properties of 'one of the worst industrial poisons of the twentieth century.' The personal stories of working men and women struck down by disease, interspersed through the book, impact with devastating effect.
Ex-CEO Peter MacDonald engineered a labyrinthine process to rid the company's responsibilities to asbestos victims through legal and financial restructuring that resulted in public outcry. It was largely the union campaign, led by Greg Combet and the iconic Bernie Banton, which resulted in a settlement that ensured victims of asbestos poisoning would be compensated in the future.
Hardie consistently ignored medical research, failed to actively investigate the long term health impacts of its products, resisted changing work practices or health and safety policies and was slow to warn workers and consumers when the dangers were known.
The company developed a reputation as a hostile defendant against claimants with only months or weeks to live. Eventually, it transferred asbestos liabilities from their parent company to under-funded subsidiaries in an attempt to limit the future compensation claims of asbestos victims.
Gideon Haig strips the respectable façade from a building company that was a stock market darling during the years it operated out of its Asbestos House.
You can find out more about Asbestos House by visiting www.scribepub.com.au <http://www.scribepub.com.au/
Asbestos House - The secret history of James Hardie Industries By Gideon Haig - Scribe Publications, 442pgs
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