It is a pity that all those mealy-mouthed business leaders,
such as Hugh Morgan of the Business Council, don’t have the guts to talk
honestly about what they really feel about James Hardie.

One way or another.

That the board’s performance has been bad, that the decision
to pay out the contracts of former Peter Macdonald and CFO, Philip Shafron, was
wrong, and the explanation misleading in the extreme, and the hardball approach
to negotiation is both bad politics and as short-sighted as the original
decision to try and shuffle off the asbestos liabilities and decamp for places

Hugh Morgan’s comments on the ABC radio yesterday morning
defending the payments as having to be made for legal and contractual reasons
were also wrong, selective and just plain rubbish. He should look at this
comment from Terry McCrann – Directors may need to put on asbestos suits.

The stuff on Fosters is interesting, but McCrann’s Hardie comments are spot on:

When it all blew up a few weeks back, there was
absolutely one thing that the board collectively, and the chairman
Meredith Hellicar in particular, should have recognised they could not
allow to happen.

And that was for Macdonald to walk out the door with a big cheque.

It doesn’t matter what the contractual obligation was, or whether even
accepting the asbestosis scandal/disaster Macdonald had been a net
positive for Hardie, he could not walk out the door with a big cheque.

He did. And that alone means that not one of the current directors can now survive this.

Do an AMP. Write him a cheque for $1 million and say `sue us’. Write
him a cheque for $1 million and say `we’ll get back to you when all the
evidence is in’. Put him on indefinite leave.

Do anything but write him a big cheque – even if, again, it mightn’t actually be `that’ big.

The issues between Hardie and News Corp, where McCrann has
been ‘on song’ for HMV Murdoch, are
vastly different. And to his credit McCrann recognises that.

It is a pity that Hugh Morgan and others in the business
community are blind!!

But what do you expect from a man who for years has refused
to recognise that business can be wrong even if
‘legally’ in the right?

Here is a good summary of the yesterday’s events from the ABC : Unions urge PM to step in to Hardie dispute

Perhaps Hugh Morgan and others in the business community who
still wonder if James Hardie is being hard done by should read this transcript
from the 7.30 Report on the ABC last night.

Those comments from Ian Hutchinson, a MRCF director at the
end of the story, while understandable from his point of view, are courageous.

“I just thing it’s a total disgrace and a black mark on
corporate Australia” is a pretty
fair summing up of the disgraceful way James Hardie board and management,
including the current directors, and many of their peers in other companies
have reacted to this crisis.

If corporate Australia doesn’t watch it then it could very
well find a set of laws passed at state level (by Labor Governments) than
significantly re-regulate parts of business activity, especially in work and
occupational health areas where the states have total control.

If that happens, then it will be the actions of the Hardie
board and the Hugh Morgans that have helped. All Morgan and others have to do
is to say what Hardie has been doing is wrong and not good for business.

Why is there this reluctance to bag the Hardie board and
management by the rest of corporate Australia
and by politicians like Federal Work Place Relations Minister Kevin Andrews who went to water when
asked about Hardie on Business Sunday on Sunday? Gutless!

Hardie issued a statement late Monday, again, promising the
earth, the moon and the sky to the foundation, but took a few mean snipes,
which were refuted effectively in the 7.30 report item later in the night.

Here is the Hardie statement and comments by the new CFO as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Hope Russell has HIS contract all fixed up with a suitable
exit strategy!

>But as to why the rest of corporate Australia
is not bagging the board, there’s a good comment piece in The Australian by
Robert Gottliebsen – Directors’ drama gets personal.

It’s not so much a why but a backgrounder as to the dynamics in and around the
board. There’s a link to Westpac, there’s a stronger link to Telstra and the
Reserve Bank and National Foods. The Westpac link is through Dr Llew Edwards,
who chairs the MRCF and who was a director of Hardie. The other links are
through Don McGauchie, the newest board member of Hardie and the new chairman
of Telstra.

Pressuring Westpac when it reports its profits for 2004 on
November 8 should be a priority of Sydney
finance media, and likewise for Telstra shareholders at the forthcoming annual

Westpac and Telstra should be asked to declare their hand on

And finally the press conference yesterday for the
Foundation was a bit of a feeding frenzy, as was the rush by Bob Carr, the NSW
Premier to remain in front of the cameras.

Carr’s performance and dial a quote is becoming sickening
and so is the non-questioning attitude of the media. Surely someone in the Sydney
media will have the nous to work out that if Hardie and the Foundation cannot
agree on a deal, then the NSW Government will come under pressure to provide
some money, or a scheme to meet the ongoing costs.

It does have a role to play in accepting some
responsibility. Both from the gutless role in 2001 when it ran dead on the
shift of domicile after being lobbied by Labor ratpackers, Hawker Britton and
former ALP Senator and secretary, Stephen Loosely, the veteran Sydney go-between
and facilitator.

As well there was the non-action by Governments Labor and
Liberal over the decades about Hardie plant in Sydney and the safety issues
surrounding asbestos.

And that of course brings in the unions and their
culpability, something the guns for hire lawyers at Slater and Gordon and
Turner Freeman do not want mentioned, it seems!