The Guardian 24 August, 2005

Hardie tries to dodge responsibility

Asbestos victims have renewed protest action against James Hardie as the company delays paying compensation while it pursues tax loopholes to minimise the payment. The stalling tactic has put the future claims of victims, including workers and members of a North Coast Aboriginal community, in limbo and raised fears the company will walk away from last year’s $1.9 billion settlement.

Announcing a massive quarterly profit of $74.1 million, James Hardie CEO Louis Gries admitted the company was holding off making payments to victims while seeking a ruling from the Australian Tax Office that the compensation be tax deductible.

Tax deductibility, apart from letting James Hardie dodge taking full responsibility for its previous criminal behaviour would mean that taxpayers foot a large part of the bill.

Those comments prompted protest action outside the James Hardies shareholders’ meeting, with victims putting formal questions to the Hardie CEO about his intentions.

Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) State Secretary Paul Bastian says victims are calling on Hardie Chair Meredith Hellicar to reject the position of ex-CEO Peter McDonald and accept full moral responsibility.

"We want an unequivocal statement from James Hardie that they will not cut and run", Mr Bastian said.

"We want a statement from the CEO and the Chair of the Board that James Hardie is committed to full compensation of asbestos victims. We also want them to withdraw support for increased compensation to directors until all victims have been compensated."

New Premier Morris Iemma said that he will maintain pressure on the company.

"This is absolutely immoral that they would enrich their profits while they fail to give a commitment to the NSW government, the NSW people and victims of asbestos", said Mr Bastian.

"We need to remind them that the NSW trade union movement is fully behind this and that our resolve is rock solid. The last time we campaigned on this their share price plummeted and their reputation was destroyed. They need to be reminded that this can be turned on if they don’t give justice to the victims."

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