Russell Chenu, James Hardie’s Chief Financial Officer, writes: Re. “James Hardie’s $378m tax avoidance scam” (Friday, item 5).  I hope Chris Seage was more thorough in his past life as an ATO auditor than he was with Friday’s piece on James Hardie. In his rambling attack on the company Mr Seage fails to report that the ATO has acknowledged the company has a reasonably arguable position when issuing the amended tax assessment, which is why it has reduced the penalties by 50 per cent. The company strongly believes its tax position will ultimately prevail. Mr Seage makes a series of further sweeping allegations, all of which are incorrect. The facts are:

  • The compensation fund is not for Hardies’ “workers”, the vast majority of which are covered by workers compensation insurance should they ever become claimants. The fund will compensate workers’ wives or children, tradespeople and others who came into contact with asbestos products manufactured by former company subsidiaries.
  • Hardie was not critical of the ATO during the recent negotiations, either publicly or privately.
  • Peter Costello never courted company executives regarding the compensation fund, in fact quite the opposite. He told the company, like any other tax payer, they should discuss the matters with the ATO and that there would be no special deals for the company.
  • Taxpayers are not “largely funding” the compensation fund, James Hardie is. All contributions paid into the fund are made by James Hardie. The recent tax rulings addressed tax leakage from a fund established solely for asbestos claimants.
  • The company did not relocate to the Netherlands to avoid compensating asbestos claimants – a point thoroughly dismissed in the Jackson Commission Report, and a fact continuously lost on publications such as Crikey.

For Mr Seage’s benefit both company statements issued to the ASX on the amended tax assessment matter, the first of which was released more than six months ago, are available on our website.

Danny O’Brien writes: Re. Victorian election. “If The Nationals win Morwell I will eat my Crikey t-shirt,” Charles Richardson has said at least twice. I hope Charles likes the taste of cotton. After the last election, Crikey put the Nationals survival down to Labor preferences and said it was a “dead-cat bounce”. Labor preferences not needed this time and in Rodney where they preferenced the Libs, Paul Weller won anyway. A 1.1 per cent swing statewide and 9 lower house seats (up from 7)… this dead cat must have had 10 lives.

Charles Richardson responds: Well, we all make mistakes. Morwell certainly doesn’t look good, so my t-shirt may have to make the sacrifice. Perhaps I can have it with one of Crikey’s Reliable Sauces.

Lisa Crago writes: Re. “How Peter Garrett trashed his moral authority” (24 November, item 10). Now, why would Peter Garret want the Labor party in Victoria to have the balance of power? Might have something to do with the fact HE IS IN THE LABOR PARTY. Now as far as Oquist touting “watch now for Garrett to be rolled out in the NSW election,” Bob Brown has been rolled out for so many state elections that he looks thinner every time I see him. May I respectfully suggest, he who is without sin cast the first stone. I keep waiting for Mr Oquist to “get his hand off it” long enough to write something intelligently political for Crikey. Still waiting. If I wanted to read a whingeing Green rant, I would subscribe to his blog.

John Carney writes: I contend that Peter Garrett may not have trashed his moral authority. One only has to look at the US Presidential election of 2000 to see how his decision to join the ALP and campaign on its behalf is sensible. In the race of 2000, Ralph Nader, a well known conservationist, was a presidential candidate. He achieved a relatively small number of votes, but his impact was monumental. It is certain that some of his supporters would have voted for Al Gore if not for Nader’s presence on the ballot paper. Gore would have won. Greens in Australia have effectively acted like Nader. For example, in the 1995 Queensland election, they directed preferences in some seats to the Liberal and National parties. The ALP lost some of those seats. Due to the closeness of the election, one can say the Greens effectively brought down a Labor government and installed a very reactionary government led by the National Party. It showed scant regard for the environment, or other key concerns of the Greens. History would suggest that ALP governments are on the whole more sympathetic to environmental issues than are conservative governments. So Garrett may simply be acknowledging the reality that Australia has a two party system. It may have its faults. Maybe the ALP is not as green as he would like. But voting for a green alternative may hasten the planet’s destruction. Garrett may be voting not just with his heart, but with his head as well.

John Kotsopoulos writes: Jaryd Fletcher (24 November, comments) has to be kidding. Why should Kim Beazley bother to get his boots dirty kicking John Howard on the nuclear issue when every Liberal leader and Peter Costello are doing it for him? The poor old dear has been left swinging in the breeze by his own side because he does not understand that the nuclear option does not work without carbon trading, something he continues to rule out. The wedger has been wedged himself on this issue and I am surprised that even an ardent Howard hugger like Mr Fletcher has failed to notice this.

Bill Cushing writes: Re. “Are the ABC’s production politics putting it in the outhouse?” (24 November, item 17). The faith of Guy Rundle in the ability of public sector organisations  to run themselves efficiently (and even effectively) is truly touching. Those of us who have actually worked for such bodies know a whole lot  better, however. Especially those who have ever succeeded (against the odds) in actually getting anything worthwhile done. The fundamental problem was summed up years ago by Bill Cole, then Chairman of the Commonwealth Public Service Board (a body whose demise, by the way, opened the door for the wholesale politicisation of today’s Senior Executive Service; witness the Tampa imbroglio and now AWB): “… The objective of the Public Service is to be accountable, not to be efficient…” With the modern-day proliferation of auditors, ombudspeople, administrative appeals tribunals, the political correctness industry and the “sorry” brigade, and other assorted busybodies, this is all the more so. Indeed, it amazes me that anything useful ever gets done at all with the drag of all these value-subtracting hangers-on. Rundle, by the way, is not adding much value to Crikey, either.

John Richardson writes: Re. State of the Planet (24 November, item 15). Thanks to the Worldwatch Institute for highlighting the dismal performance of China in the carbon emission stakes. But of course, while China might have lots to do to clean up her act, she is still doing a better job than our “special friend” the US, the world’s single biggest CO2 polluter. For those who don’t know, Texas is the number one CO2 polluter in the US and ranks as the world’s tenth largest greenhouse gas emitter. And whilst John Howard is busy spruiking the benefits of Australia going nuclear, in an effort to moderate the forecast growth of our CO2 emissions by 20%, Texas power giant TXU is busy constructing 11 massive new dirty coal-fired power plants, which will generate 9,000 megawatts of electricity & an additional 78 million tons of CO2 each year for the next 50 years: almost as much as the highest annual level of emissions ever generated by Australia. Sort of makes one wonder what’s the point?

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected]. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name – we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

Peter Fray

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