A leading Australian asbestos lawyer is supporting calls by the Australian Council of Trade Unions for James Hardie to step up and ensure asbestos victims receive full and timely compensation after the compensation fund announced it was anticipating a funding shortfall in 2017.
Senior asbestos lawyer Joanne Wade said James Hardie Industries had an obligation to ensure that the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund could continue to pay compensation to victims of asbestos diseases in a full and timely manner.
“As a result of the AICF’s anticipated funding shortfall, it is proposing that compensation payments be provided to asbestos victims in instalments, rather than in a lump sum – this is highly concerning,” Ms Wade said.
“We unreservedly support the ACTU’s calls for James Hardie to provide an ex-gratia payment to the AICF to ensure that asbestos victims are fully compensated.
“Diagnosis with an asbestos related disease is distressing enough without the added concern about the adequacy and timeliness of being provided compensation.
“With profits projected to be between $US 205-$235 million for the year 2014-15, James Hardie clearly has a healthy cash flow – there is no reason why it cannot step in and provide an ex-gratia payment to the AICF to see it through to the shortfall position.
“The existing deal struck between James Hardie and the NSW State Government was hard fought and provides a framework to ensure that victims are fully compensated for many more years to come.
“It is critical to the long term interests of victims that the spirit of this agreement is upheld and James Hardie’s obligation to victims is not disturbed.”
Ms Wade said the NSW State and Federal Governments also needed to intervene by re-examining the current loan agreement in place between the AICF and the NSW Government.
“Both governments need to step in and ensure that the fund can access the loan facility so that victims are not adversely impacted by the expected funding shortfall,” she said.
“The agreement currently in place between the AICF and the NSW State Government places an insurance cap on the loan amount that the fund can access.
“There is no reason why the loan amount should be limited to the insurance recoveries – dropping this cap would allow a further $100 million in potentially available funds."