Bob Carr may be forced to appear at the NSW Independent Commission
Against Corruption this afternoon hoping he will be let off with a
black mark and a spank over some intemperate comments he made last
month about his putative succesor, Craig Knowles.

Craig himself is at the same ICAC hearing giving evidence about
allegations concerning his behaviour to a group of whistleblowing
nurses.

It was Bobby’s comments in defence of Craig that got him into trouble
with the Commissioner, former NSW Supreme Court Judge, John Clark.

He criticised the Premier who twice withdrew the comments, but has not
apologised to the nurses directly. ICAC could make a finding of
contempt but it seems if there is a case, it will have to be referred
to the NSW Supreme Court.

It will be a very different Premier than the vainglorious figure who
stood at his lecturn, with asbestos victims, their families and trade
unionists gathered around him yesterday as he declaimed loudly against
James Hardie and its sins.

Bobby produly issued Hardie with a deadline of 5pm Tuesday (not today as suggested by news Ltd website stories).

This is a quote from last night’s ABC PM story by reporter Karen
Percy. “So I want Meredith Hellicar to convene a press conference
before close of business today and say James Hardie can do no other but
to accept our moral, our legal, our ethical obligation, to set aside
money we made from the manufacture and sale of asbestos products, to
look after the victims, now and in the future.”

Of course that deadline came and went like so many of Bobby’s utterings on James Hardie.

Who can forget him being taken apart on Lateline a few months ago by host Tony Jones?

http://www.crikey.com.au/business/2004/08/05-0002.html

Well, today Bob was a bit more silent and it was the NSW Opposition who
provded the spark with a latter from James Hardie offering to allow the
NSW Government to check the now controversial acturarial figures of the
Medical Foundation(set up to handle the asbestos claims in 2001). The
Government declined, leading to NSW Opposition Leader John Brodgen to
ask why? (http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200409/s1204235.htm)

Given what’s now known, I suppose you can’t blame Carr for not taking
up the offer. But you have to remember that in 2001, the fix was in
with former ALP Senator and State Secretary, Stephen Loosely lobbying
the government on Hardie’s behalf (for a fee of almost $50,000), as was
the key ALP-linked corporate affairs company, Hawker Britton.

So there was no incentive for the Carr Government to be proactive on
Hardie, a situation the company was very grateful for at the time.
Now Bobby Carr is standing back and setting deadlines and ruling out
government-led discussions to try and settle the issue of compensation
once and for all.

This is what PM reported last night:

“Premier Bob Carr says James Hardie must come to a
negotiated settlement directly with the Australian Council of Trade
Unions and other victims groups.”

BOB CARR:” No, no. There is no alternative to James Hardie reaching an
agreement with the victims – present and future – and with the ACTU.
There’s simply no alternative to that.

“And we will… I mean, if they were to hold out, you’d have every
government in Australia, every state government in Australia, and if
there’s a change of government nationally, a federal government I
daresay, joining a boycott and initiating international action that
would make the operation of this company quite untenable. Quite
untenable.

“They won’t be able to operate here or overseas if they stand out
against the full force of this report and the views of the victims.”
Well, that’s a load of hot air said for media consumption and nice
sounding grabs for the likes of PM and the various commercial and ABC
television news programs. As a basis for getting some sort of process
underway to resolve this, it is extremely silly.

This is no defence of the collection of responsibility shirkers at
James Hardie. But they do have a point about limiting legal costs and
trying to set up a structure that enables compensation to be paid.

Talk of boycotts, such as from Mr Carr and his South Australian premier
Mike Rann, are not very clever. Can they say what happens if Hardie’s
business starts shrinking and it struggles to meet the payments? The
public, ie the various governments, including the one led by Rambo
Carr, will have to pick up the tab.

And their administration of the Workers Compensation schemes is not
anything to boast about. Nor is the performance of unions or the legal
profession in the same context.

Talk about preserving the ‘common law right to sue’ is all well and
good, but it can also be code for nice fat fees for us, please, from
the lawyers, and a justification to avoid paying out any compensation
by Hardie and its lawyers.

Its a pity Bob Carr doesn’t realise this and start the process to bring
Hardie together with the unions and the victims groups to start framing
a compensation mechanism that is speedy, generous and will last.

The contrast between Bob at his press conference yesterday and Bob this
afternoon, should he have to front the ICAC, will be quite telling.
http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/09/22/1095651360331.html

Peter Fray

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