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Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Page: 113

Mr TUCKEY (9:24 PM) —I rise having informed my party room of my serious concerns about a piece of legislation, the James Hardie (Investigations and Proceedings) Bill 2004, that is specific to one corporate entity, being enacted in this parliament. I have no objection to removing the corporate veil. I have no objection to people, our regulators, knowing all the facts. But, if it is reasonable for a single company because of the hysteria associated with this particular issue, it is reasonable for all companies, all individuals and anybody else. If those are the new rules in the judicial system, that is fine. I have heard the member for Parramatta quoting an inquiry where, of course, the rules of evidence were not involved. There was no cross-examination. I remind this House that in every legal case one QC loses; they are not both right. But suddenly, on the report of a QC, a single inquirer or investigator, if you like, it is decided in this House—the ultimate democracy of Australia—that a company are guilty, they are crooks and, collectively, including their shareholders, they set out to kill Australians.

I did not come to this place for that type of attitude. I live in reasonable proximity, as the Western Australian area goes, to the Wittenoom Gorge where this asbestos product was produced. I know quite a lot about it. I had close friends who in fact transported the product in its raw state and who died from the various asbestos diseases—I will not try to pronounce them all. The reality is that I also know people in that country who got killed driving a truck carting iron ore. Looking at the challenges that confront us as a community and the things that kill us, I went to the Parliamentary Library and I asked them `What happens in our society? What are the risks we take every day in our employment, in our social activities and by other means?'

I found the annual road fatalities by state and territory from 1981 to 2000. The figures were: in New South Wales, 561; in Queensland, 322; in my state of Western Australia, 179; and for Australia, 1,715. I tried to get some evidence of how many people were thought to have died of tobacco related diseases. The best they were able to provide me with was the estimated deaths caused or prevented by the active smoking of tobacco in Australia in 1992 according to condition. It appears that the net total deaths caused by tobacco for males was 13,357 and, for females, 5,063. The totals for all conditions were 66,000 and 57,000, and the percentages caused by tobacco were 21 per cent and 8.8 per cent. I have just referred to motoring deaths and tobacco related deaths. This government, as have previous governments, still taxes the activities that led to those deaths. We condone them and we tax them.

I also thought, considering I have some understanding of history, about what asbestos cement, as we knew it, delivered in terms of the public good over the 40-odd years that the member for Parramatta chose to speak about. The cost of housing was an issue that arose at the last election. I know well the electorate of Blaxland where, for instance, a recent Labor Prime Minister was raised. I had a sister who lived in that region on one occasion and I visited her. Every house was fibro asbestos sheet. Consequently I found figures on the materials of all household dwellings for 1999. The figure for fibro asbestos cement in New South Wales was 278,500 households or 11.5 per cent of the total housing in that state. I found that in Queensland 151,000 houses—11.3 per cent of the total—were similarly constructed and in WA 68,900 houses, or 9.5 per cent, were similarly constructed.

In those years, which I remember well, people chose that housing because it was the economic alternative to bricks and tiles, which were la creme de la creme of shelter and which many people could not afford. It also created huge employment in what was known then as the cottage-building industry. Various figures have been quoted. I thought the member for Parramatta had researched the subject well but the reality is that what she told us was that we should arguably have known 100 years ago not to let anybody in Australia manufacture or build houses associated with asbestos.

We are all well aware of the great value of hindsight. The cases were isolated and, in those early years, the world had a somewhat different attitude to workplace-related fatalities or illnesses. I well remember photographs appearing in the West Australian newspaper of goldmining workers sitting with their mouths on machines which helped them with the problems that they experienced as a result of underground mining activities. We know all this but suddenly this parliament and a substantial component of the Australian community have decided to pick on one company which, in my view, provided more public good—unfortunately, we now know, unwisely—than hurt to the Australian people.

I have pointed out just how many Australians have been killed by using other forms of dangerous products. I cannot give you the number of people that get killed walking across a crosswalk. Before we attack and dance on the grave of the corporate entity, I want to know where the regulators stand. If the member for Parramatta is correct, where were the government regulators in New South Wales, Western Australia and Victoria? Who allowed it to happen? Why are they not part of the process of compensation? We do these sorts of things. As I said, we have a fairly relaxed attitude to things like tobacco, alcohol and driving cars.

As you may remember, Mr Deputy Speaker Wilkie, I had the attention of the Western Australian community years ago when I drove a Lamborghini into the trees. Fortunately, I did not kill myself or my passengers. What I want to know is why, in the modern culture of Australia, I was so silly not to sue them for selling me the motor car. After all, I was obviously incompetent to drive it. I did not do that. And I will not. When is Australia going to take a view about hindsight? When is Australia going to stop ambulance-chasing and when are we going to stop picking, as we are on this occasion, on a single corporate entity that we want to blackguard in hindsight?

I also want to take this opportunity to talk about what I think I have learnt from the debate that has been publicised in the media and what I have learnt from watching certain representatives of the company speaking on television. I understand the great dispute to be about the means by which the people who have suffered this tragic disease might be compensated. The comments by the member for Parramatta were quite interesting in that regard. She is worried about those who might die before they get the money. That is a common response. It does not matter how much pain you suffer, whatever the circumstances of your disability, as long as you get some money, it will be all right. The pain goes away after you have banked the cheque. It does not. I foolishly put a car into the trees. I thought it was my fault. It was a single-car accident, and I still limp and suffer personal pain every day. I do not think that was anybody's fault but my own.

I have almost reached the well-advertised age of survival of three score years and 10. I don't know; asbestosis might kill me. I have certainly dealt with the product over many years. I still live under an asbestos super six roof, which is asbestos cement. I have to tell you a couple of things I will not do or expect my children to do. I do not expect them to go running around to find out whether my cancer was caused by passive smoking, which I did for many years as a hotel keeper. I do not want to think that they would go out and say that they need to get money.

If I were 25 or 30 or 40 and, like the duty shadow minister at the table, just starting a family and I as a breadwinner—

Dr Emerson —What's that?

Mr TUCKEY —That's okay. You have got a problem. You don't understand what I am talking about.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Wilkie)—Order! The member will direct his remarks through the chair.

Dr Emerson —You have got a problem—a big one.

Mr TUCKEY —Yes, I have got a problem about justice and you only talk about it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The member will direct his remarks through the chair.

Mr TUCKEY —If somebody loses their life—

Dr Emerson —I hope you're not speaking on behalf of the Liberal Party.

Mr TUCKEY —Nobody agrees with me on this issue but me, and you don't have to, because you don't count. The fundamental issue here is where Australia is heading in the process of ambulance-chasing.

Dr Emerson —Are you speaking on behalf of the Liberal Party in the James Hardie case?

Mr TUCKEY —I have never spoken to anybody in James Hardie—

Dr Emerson —On behalf of the Liberal Party.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Rankin will have his opportunity to speak shortly.

Mr TUCKEY —and I have told my party room my views on this matter. The difference between my position and that of members of the Labor Party is that I do not get punished if I express these views in this, the centre of democracy. I want to say that, if money is the cure of all problems and somebody loses their life because of the gross and deliberate negligence of a party—whatever that might be—and there are children to be supported and things of that nature, I agree with compensation, cash compensation, a payment to support the people disadvantaged. But say I am 70—three score and 10—and I have got, as I have, three grown children, one nearly as old as the interjector, who have good jobs and who have kids that they are putting through school and I do not contribute to their support. If the negligence of somebody causes my death, why should they get money? They don't need it. Who should be paying for it—some self-funded retirees who happen to be shareholders of the corporate entity? There is an issue in the Labor Party that only the directors, only the chief executives, make money out of corporations like James Hardie. Nobody thinks about the self-funded retirees that make their contribution. I think it was Friedman, the well recognised economist, who said, `There is no such thing as a free lunch.' We think you can pursue people and get money for what is often minimal injury.

Dr Emerson —There is no such thing as a free death either.

Mr TUCKEY —No, I have talked about death. Death is something we all confront and hazard is something we in our society all confront. Sometimes that is in our youth and when we have clearly defined responsibilities to others, and that is when money counts. Why should someone who will die of something in the next few years get large financial assistance and leave it to their kids, who are all okay, who are in good jobs and who are not going to die? That is the point I want to make; it is a point of logic. There is a difference when we are talking about a young person who has family responsibilities or whatever. Then there is the issue of pain and suffering. I know about that: I have suffered it all my life, I think it is overrated.

Mr TUCKEY —Of course, the interjector has not. I hope his kids are okay. But the reality is that we have got to a point where my party has promoted a piece of legislation to pursue a single company. I support the principle, provided it applies to all companies. I want the members of this parliament to ask themselves: why does money fix everything? It is fine for the ambulance chasers, the plaintiff lawyers. We are saying all these things about how we are going to chase these people overseas. I have been listening to radio broadcasts about the 20th anniversary of Bhopal. It is tragic; the circumstances are horrible. To this day international litigation has not resolved it. I heard a radio interview of an Indian woman who lost her husband and a couple of kids. She said, `Yes, we got compensation.' I think she mentioned a figure of $40,000. The lawyers got $20,000, someone else got $10,000 and her family got $10,000.

From my reading of the media, I understand that Hardie says, `Okay, we apologise. We lacked hindsight. We want to enter into a statutory response.' Maybe part of that response is to say, `Let us look at your age, let us look at who you are obliged to support and let us work out how much money you need, as you depart this world, to look after your dependants, presuming you have them.' That has been rejected by the ACTU. Why? Let us get down to the detail of that. They want to keep the plaintiff lawyers, otherwise known as the labour lawyers, in the scheme of things, when historically—and Bob Carr has said this—they get up to 70 per cent of the outcome. Money may or may not be the appropriate response. This legislation, which is appropriate in making sure the villains are properly addressed, should apply to all companies or to none. Why we are in here saying, `Hardie is guilty' as legislators, not judges, I do not know. (Time expired)