EDITORIAL

End corporate terrorism: Time to stop business getting away with murder

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Deadly dust. Asbestos is a mineral which should have been left in the ground. Its crystal structure causes it to break down into incredibly fine, sharp fibres which penetrate cells in the lungs and stomach, leading to scarring and causing mutations that become cancers. James Hardie was the leading source of this poison.

Cut and run. The James Hardie group went overseas, leaving remaining subsidiaries stripped of assets. A so-called medical research and compensation fund (MRCF) was set up using shonky statistics and false accounting.  This despicable scheme means that victims and their families would get nothing, and the cost of treatment and palliative care would fall upon Australian taxpayers and our already crumbling public health system.

Broad conspiracy. The New South Wales government set up a public enquiry into this scam. It’s now preparing its report. Across the country, not only Hardie directors, but a large slice of the corporate legal, accounting and other “financial experts” are reviewing their indemnity insurance. Access Economics, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Allen Arthur Robinson and a number of other companies had a hand in the fraud. Even the Murdoch press is saying that this is the most deadly corporate scandal in Australia’s history.

Make them all pay — now! Victims of the asbestos atrocity should not have to go to the courts to obtain justice. The Commonwealth and the states need to take immediate action to seize James Hardie’s assets in order to fund a publicly managed MRCF. More than that, every one of the individuals and companies who devised, implemented or signed off on this grubby deal should also face jail and the forfeiture of assets.  Everyone involved knew they were adding to the misery of some of the most vulnerable people in the community — many of whom face the terrifying prospect of death by slow suffocation. This naked greed and viciousness must not go unpunished.

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