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Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Page: 128


Mr PEARCE (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (10:39 PM) —The James Hardie (Investigations and Proceedings) Bill 2004, bill will facilitate a thorough and effective investigation by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, ASIC, in relation to the matters arising out of the James Hardie special commission of inquiry in New South Wales. It will also enable proceedings that may arise from these investigations to be brought by either ASIC or the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, the DPP. The transactions that will be the subject of ASIC's investigation are complex and were the subject of extensive legal advice and assistance. Materials documenting this advice may offer critical evidence as to the purpose and nature of certain transactions. Such evidence may be unavailable from any other source.

It is the government's view that ASIC must conduct a comprehensive investigation into the conduct of the James Hardie group, including its directors, officers and advisers. The investigation of possible contraventions of the Corporations Act may be impaired if ASIC and the DPP cannot obtain and use material obtained by the special commission that is subject to claims of legal professional privilege. This bill will expressly abrogate legal professional privilege for certain materials, allowing their use in investigations of James Hardie and any related proceedings. This means that authorised persons including ASIC and the DPP will be able to obtain materials that would otherwise be subject to legal professional privilege and use them for the purposes of James Hardie investigations and proceedings.

The government place great store in ethical behaviour by corporations. We do not condone or support companies that restructure their affairs to avoid their legal liabilities to the victims of their products. That sort of behaviour is unconscionable and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The government remain of the view that James Hardie should honour its obligation to compensate those victims who have a legitimate claim against the company for asbestos related diseases. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.