James Hardie Industries "misled Supreme Court"
James Hardie Industries is continuing its push for a statutory scheme that would limit compensation to asbestos victims. Thousands of Australians who are victims of James Hardie asbestos will be denied justice unless the company is forced by law to properly fund their compensation. A NSW government inquiry into the cash-strapped trust which the company left behind when it skipped the country and set up its headquarters in the Netherlands three years ago, has been told Hardie chief executive Peter McDonald misled the Australian Stock Exchange. The trust has at best a $2 billion shortfall. Hardie claimed in 2001 that the trust was "a fully-funded foundation which provided certainty for both claimants and shareholders". Australia does not have a legal treaty with the Netherlands that would allow asbestos victims to pursue their rightful compensation. The inquiry has been told the company also misled the NSW Supreme Court over the trust, called the Medical Research and Compensation Foundation. The submissions by the prosecuting counsel said that Hardie "treated the plight of James Hardie asbestos victims with disdain" and that the company was "not merely unwilling to use funds to alleviate their plight" but that it "embarked upon a course of doing all it could to ensure" claims by victims "would go unsatisfied". The Australian Council of Trade Unions has demanded that the Howard Government take urgent action to ensure Hardie assets are available to compensate victims. "James Hardie should not be allowed to escape its moral and legal responsibilities to thousands of Australian victims of asbestos disease", said the peak union body's Secretary, Greg Combet. The ACTU wants changes to Australia's corporate laws to prevent companies evading their obligations, not only for compensation but for workers' entitlements as well. The ACTU has called on the Federal Government to: * Enter into a treaty with the Netherlands that would enable enforcement of Australian civil judgements * Reach a special arrangement with the Netherlands to ensure the assets of the Netherlands-based James Hardie Industries are available to asbestos victims * Amend Australian law, retrospectively in the case of James Hardie, to ensure holding companies are liable to the victims of their subsidiaries in the case of personal injury or death and that a corporate group can be treated as a single entity for the purpose of enforcing a judgment. * Reform Australia's corporations law so that the "corporate veil" can no longer be used by companies to avoid their legal liabilities to employees and the community for compensation or workers' entitlements.