Now this is a tricky situation. The AFR today reports that
one
of the architects of James Hardie’s outrageous attempt to dodge its
asbestos liabilities, corporate lawyer Peter Cameron, has died after a
brief battle with cancer. Cameron only resigned from the James Hardie
board five weeks ago at which point your cynical correspondent produced
the following:

James Hardie is another classic example of a company which hasn’t
exactly been open and transparent in its dealings and the resignation
of director Peter Cameron two weeks ago was just the latest
example.

Cameron was a partner of Allens Arthur Robinson, the law firm
which came up with the disgraceful restructuring designed to dodge
asbestos liabilities, and his fingerprints were all over it. The evidence given to the Jackson inquiry in 2004 made
his position completely untenable.

Cameron should have been booted off the Hardie board straight away, but
instead his fellow directors tolerated his ongoing presence for another
18 months and then he finally resigned on January 19 – “for health
reasons” – just a few months before he would have faced re-election.

I called the James Hardie spindoctor James Rickards this morning and asked
for some more detail on Cameron’s condition, but was abruptly told: “It
is not appropriate to comment on a director’s health”.

Clearly the health reasons were absolutely genuine so apologies for my
cynicism but I did at least call the spinner for more detail. There’s a
macabre irony in all of this because James Hardie products have been
the biggest industrial killer Australia has seen in the past 100 years.
Cameron and former James Hardie chairman Alan McGregor were both up to
their ears in the cynical restructuring but both were then struck down
with cancer within a couple of years.

McGregor chaired James Hardie from 1995 until his resignation on 11 August 11
2004, but on that occasion the company came straight out and said he had lymphoma cancer. He died in February 2005.

A similar situation was the trigger for the biggest bollocking I’ve
ever received over a Crikey item. In March 2003, a Walkley Award winning
ABC insider produced an item which said Monica Attard had been moved on
when she was a co-host of The World Today. Truth be known she was diagnosed with a serious illness. Don’t believe anyone who says the new Media Watch host doesn’t have a feisty streak because my teeth are still spinning.

Peter Fray

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