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Chris Masters
Fourteen studies in
qorporate crime
or corporate
harm.
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
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Edited by Peter Grabosky and Adam Sutton
Foreword by Chris Masters
THE FEDERATION PRESS
Published in Sydney by
The Federation Press
101A Johnston Street
Annandale. NSW. 2038
In association with
Bow Press Pty Ltd
208 Victoria Road
Drummoyne. NSW. 2047
National Library of Australia
Cataloguing-in-Publication entry
Stains on a white collar: fourteen studies in
corporate crime or corporate harm.
Bibliography.
ISBN 1 86287 009 8.
1. Commercial crimes — Australia — Case
studies. 2. Corporations — Australia —
Corrupt practices — Case studies. 3. White
collar crimes — Australia — Case studies.
I. Grabosky, Peter N. (Peter Nils),
1945. II. Sutton, Adam Crosbie.
364.1'68'0994
Copyright ® this collection The Australian Institute of Criminology
This publication is copyright. Other than for the purposes of and
subject to the conditions prescribed under the Copyright Act, no
part of it may in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical,
microcopying, photocopying, recording or otherwise) be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system or transmitted without prior written
permission. Enquiries should be addressed to the publishers.
Cover designed by Hand Graphics
Text designed by Steven Dunbar
Typeset in 10 pt Century Old Style by Midland Typesetters, Maryborough
Printed in Australia by Griffin Press
Production by Vantage Graphics, Sydney
CONTENTS
FOREWORD
ix
CHRIS MASTERS
INTRODUCTION
1
2
T H E BOTTOM OF THE HARBOUR TAX EVASION SCHEMES
ADAM SUTTON
1
T H E DEMISE OF TRUSTEES EXECUTORS AND AGENCY CO. L T D
PETER GRABOSKY
3
T H E COLLAPSE OF BISHOPSGATE INSURANCE
PETER GRABOSKY
4
5
6
T H E RUSSELL ISLAND LAND FRAUD
ADAM SUTTON
8
9
10
15
31
44
T H E MEAT SUBSTITUTION SCANDAL
PETER GRABOSKY
60
MEDICAL FRAUD AND ABUSE IN MEDICAL BENEFIT
PROGRAMMES
76
PAUL WILSON
7
11
xi
T H E DALKON SHIELD
PETER CASHMAN
92
T H E MEDIA, TOBACCO AND PUBLIC HEALTH
PETER GRABOSKY
SEX DISCRIMINATION: WARDLEY V ANSETT
PETER GRABOSKY
118
131
LEAD POLLUTION AND THE CHILDREN OF PORT PIRIE
ROB FOWLER AND PETER GRABOSKY
143
CRIME WITHOUT PUNISHMENT: T H E APPIN MINE DISASTER
ANDREW HOPKINS
160
12
DEATH AT KELLOGCS
ANDREW HOPKINS
175
1 3 COKE AND CANCER AT B H P
191
JOHN BRAITHWAITE AND BRENT FISSE
ASBESTOS MINING AT BARYULGIL: A CASE
CORPORATE NEGLECT?
208
NEIL GUNNINGHAM
CONCLUSION
237
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
INDEX
265
264
THE CONTRIBUTORS
John Braithwaite PhD (Queensland), Professorial Fellow in the
Department of Law, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian
National University. Formerly a Research Criminologist at the
Australian Institute of Criminology. His other books include To
Punish or Persuade: Enforcement of Coal Mine Safety, Corporate
Crime in the Pharmaceutical Industry, and Occupational Health and
Safety Enforcement in Australia.
Peter Cashman LLB, DipCrim (Melbourne), LLM (London), a
Sydney lawyer, part-time Commissioner with the Australian Law
Reform Commission and alternate Commissioner on the NSW Legal
Aid Commission. Recently completed a PhD at the University of
London and was formerly foundation Director of the Public Interest
Advocacy Centre.
Brent Fisse LLB (Canterbury), LLM (Adelaide), Professor of Law
and Director of the Institute of Criminology at the University of
Sydney. Formerly a Reader-in-Law at the University of Adelaide
where he served as Dean of the Faculty of Law in 1977-78. His
publications include The Impact of Publicity on Corporate Offenders
(with John Braithwaite) and Corrigible Corporations and Unruly
Law (co-edited with Peter French).
Rob Fowler LLM (Adelaide), a Principal Lecturer in Law at the
Faculty of Law, University of Adelaide. Has taught and researched
extensively in the area of environmental law. Author of Environmental Impact Assessment, Planning and Pollution Measures in
Australia and numerous other articles and papers on environmental
law.
Peter Grabosky PhD (Northwestern), a Senior Criminologist at the
Australian Institute of Criminology. Previously Director of the
Office of Crime Statistics in the South Australian Attorney-
General's Department, and prior to that Associate Professor of
Political Science at the University of Vermont. Other books include
The Politics of Crime and Conflict (with T Gurr and R Hula), Of
Manners Gentle: Enforcement Strategies of Australian Business
Regulatory Agencies (with John Braithwaite), and Wayward
Governance: Illegality and its Control in the Public Sector.
Neil Gunningham, LLB, MA (Sheffield), a Reader in the Faculty
of Law, Australian National University. His books include
Safeguarding the Worker, Pollution, Social Interest and the Law, and
Commercial Law (with D W Greig).
Andrew Hopkins PhD (Connecticut), lectures in Sociology at the
Australian National University. Has also taught at the University
of New South Wales and was for a period a criminologist with
the Australian Institute of Criminology. Author of Crime, Law and
Business: The Sociological Sources of Australian Monopoly Law.
Adam Sutton, PhD (New South Wales), Director of the South
Australian Office of Crime Statistics, a Visiting Scholar at the
Flinders University of South Australia and South Australian
representative on the Criminology Research Council. Previously
statistician in the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics
and Research and senior research officer in the New South Wales
Department of Corrective Services. Author of a number of articles
and reports on white-collar crime and other topics.
Paul Wilson PhD (Queensland), Assistant Director (Research and
Statistics) at the Australian Institute of Criminology. Previously
Chairperson of Sociology at the University of Queensland and held
academic positions in Canada and the United States. His books
include Black Death White Hands, The Australian Criminal Justice
System (with D Chappell), Murder of the Innocents, and Street Kids
(with J Arnold).
A
ustralia can no longer afford the lazy greed of the corporate
criminal. But when we search for the face of the faceless men
who steal from us, we begin to see our own reflection. The third
party car insurance fraudster is more inclined to be a fellow motorist
than some high-flying banker.
The fact that we can identify the villains, point the finger at
them, 'dob them in', if you like, signifies the arrival of a new age.
It is no longer a case of them and us, the them is us.
There is a new mandate to bring the corporate criminals to book.
The hard part is identifying the culprit. In my work as an
'investigative journalist', I have specialised to some extent in the
subject of police corruption. What occurs to me is this is a
refreshingly uncomplicated crime. The bent copper is a social evil
but at least the offence is obvious. The media reports, with
consistency, these obvious crimes. We are not so concerned about
the less obvious ones.
I once attempted to report on bank robbery from the other side
of the counter. I discovered that bank managers and bank employees
were responsible for a large and as yet unknown number of offences.
Once detected, the banks were likely to cover up rather than publicly
expose the offenders. To do so would cause the public to lose
confidence. But we pay anyway. The banks simply pass on the
cost to the consumer. I suspect electronic fraud in banking causes
an even greater cost. The potential for the computer criminal behind
the counter to plunder our accounts is certainly there. Automatic
Teller Machine fraud is a big problem and more a problem for
us than the banks. If you read the small print you will see you
will probably be held liable should your account be pilfered by a
young white-collared computer wizard.
The working class criminal, to his credit will in the vernacular,
'put his hand up'. The gaols are full of these people partly because
they are more likely to accept their fate. The corporate criminal
is not a practised confessor.
ix
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
This book doesn't stop with the thief. The corporate criminal,
by neglect or outright irresponsibility can also contribute to loss
of life. More recently I worked on the subject of asbestos related
diseases in Australia. I learned we have the worst record for
mesothylioma deaths of any country in the world. Mesothylioma
is a particularly vicious form of cancer which attacks the lining
of the lung and causes painful and inevitable death. It seems there
are two reasons for the high incidence of this disease in Australia.
The first is the substance which causes the disease, asbestos. The
second is a more serious epidemic of secrecy.
There is overwhelming evidence that the knowledge that asbestos
is harmful has been with us for decades, if not centuries. Yet mine
and factory managers appeared to err on the side of profit when
imposing safety standards. They put dollars before men's lives.
As this book points out, Industry executives rarely have contact
with cancer patients. They are somewhat like the WWI bomber
pilots who pressed the button, watched the flickering lights below
and turned for home. Their failure to protect the workers; their
guilt in covering up the dangers in the workplace has left the most
shameful stain of all.
The safety officers who allowed the mine managers to clean up
before the Inspector's visit. The theatre sister who turned a blind
eye to yet another unnecessary operation have all helped shield
the corporate criminal. All too frequently I have seen the investigator in the Australian Federal Police or the Health Department,
cast the file into the Too Hard Basket. They are dedicated to a
quiet, untroubled life. Why would a lowly paid officer of the Fraud
and Overservicing Division take on one of the most powerful medical
practitioners in the land?
So we all have a role to play in stripping the protective barriers
away. I wonder whether a new age may bring us to the recognition
that the tall poppy syndrome is a myth and there is little cause
to take pride in the fact that we are not a nation of dobbers.
CHRIS MASTERS
BMWSTjW
C
ompanies in Australia, like people in general, are capable of
performing good works and of doing great evil. Australian
industry provides employment, produces goods and services which
significantly enhance the quality of our lives, and otherwise
contributes to a level of material well-being that makes Australians
the envy of most of the world's population. And yet some Australian
companies, large and small, are capable of causing great harm.
They steal, in amounts which can only be described as massive.
While they may not intend to do so, they poison, kill and maim.
The victims of corporate crime are not only those who suffer
the direct consequences of a company's criminal act. In addition
to workers, consumers, creditors, investors and taxpayers, the
burdens of corporate crime are also borne by those honest
businessmen and women who suffer competitive disadvantage at
the hands of their colleagues. Ultimately, the image and the
legitimacy of the entire system of Australian enterprise are
tarnished by corporate crime.
It is the goal of this book to make a modest contribution to a
greater degree of corporate responsibility by demonstrating some
of the ways in which Australian industries engage in harmful
conduct, and by illustrating how companies themselves, and society
in general, respond to incidents of criminal or of questionable
corporate behaviour. Ask the average Australian what image the
term "crime" invokes, and he or she is likely to respond in terms
of murder, rape, robbery, break-ins or drugs. There nevertheless
exists an entirely different world of criminal behaviour. And the
costs of this activity are staggering.
According to the Australian Government's Draft White Paper
19851 annual revenue losses from tax evasion exceed $3,000 million
with an even greater loss through tax avoidance schemes. The
xi
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
Australian Medical Association itself estimated the cost of fraud
and overservicing by medical practitioners at $100 million a year.2
Hundreds of Australians die, and thousands more are injured in
the workplace each year, in many cases because their employers
violated laws relating to occupational health and safety. 3 The
discharge of toxic substances into air, soil or water may cause
inestimable harm, the full dimensions of which may not become
apparent for years. People are killed or injured by dangerous or
defective products. And as a result of price fixing, people pay
thousands of millions of dollars more for goods and services than
they would under free market conditions. Corporate affairs
commissions around Australia are deluged with cases of companies
in liquidation which are unable to pay their creditors more than
50 cents in the dollar. The principals of many of these companies
incurred debts which they had neither the hope nor the expectation
of paying.
Despite the prevalence of corporate crime in Australia, public
awareness of its dimensions seems limited. At the same time, such
opinion survey data as exist indicate punitive community attitudes
toward corporate crime.4 Scholarly attention has only recently
begun to focus on corporate crime, and the literature remains thin.
This collection provides descriptive accounts which illustrate the
kinds of harmful conduct of which Australian companies are
capable, and the difficulties faced by governments (and citizens)
in controlling corporate misbehaviour.
Earlier narrative accounts of incidents or patterns of Australian
corporate misconduct include the two volumes by Timothy Hall5
and four cases of complex company fraud compiled by Sutton and
Wild6. In addition, Fisse and Braithwaite 7 include four Australian
case studies in their book on the impact of publicity on corporate
offenders, and Hopkins8 reviews a number of prosecutions under
the Trade Practices Act. These works, and the present collection,
follow in the overseas tradition largely inspired by Sutherland 9 .
Among the more valuable examples of this genre are Geis'10 essay
on the heavy electrical price-fixing conspiracy of the early 1960s,
Knightley et al's 11 monograph on the thalidomide disaster; Cullen,
Maakestad and Cavender's 12 review of the Ford Pinto manslaughter
case, Vaaughan's 13 study of the Revco medical fraud, and Mintz's
xii
INTRODUCTION
book on the Dalkon Shield14. More general discussion of industrywide misconduct have been published by Braithwaite15 on the
pharmaceutical industry, Carson16 on the off-shore oil drilling
industry, and Brodeur17 on the asbestos products industry. Recent
collections of case studies include those of Hills18 and Mokhiber19.
While a number of the cases involve indisputable criminal conduct
on the part of the companies or their agents, some do not. Others
concern corporate behaviour which at worst, may entail tortious
liability. The reality or threat of considerable harm, however,
characterises each case. It is hoped that this range of cases might
shed some more light on the adequacy of the remedies which are
available to individuals and governments, and might serve as a
catalyst to law reform, where appropriate.
The criminal law as it applies to corporate conduct is at times
flexible, at times ambiguous. In the domain of environmental
protection, industries may be exempted entirely from criminal or
civil liability for pollution by Act of Parliament. In the area of
company law, precisely what constitutes a true and fair account
is unclear. Among the more important Australian studies tracing
the development of laws relating to business conduct are Hopkins's
study of the Trade Practices Act20 and Creighton's discussion of
occupational health and safety policy in Victoria.21
The criminal law as it exists is not immutable. Indeed, the history
of the criminal law is replete with examples of behaviour once
permissible which was subsequently prohibited, and of behaviour
once subject to savage penalties but now entirely within the bounds
of law. There is a substantial body of overseas scholarship
addressing those factors, organisational and environmental, which
contribute to the occurrence of corporate crime.
ORGANISATIONAL factors are those which pertain to a
company's structure, its decision-making processes, or its internal
information flow. It has been suggested, for example, that
decentralised organisations, whose top management are unable to
exercise fully informed oversight, are more likely to offend than
those companies which have a "flatter" organisational structure.
Hopkins provides an excellent discussion of the organisational
antecedents of corporate crime in Australia.22
A common characteristic is the distortion of information
xiii
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
transmitted from lower echelons to top management. Information
favourable to the interests of a corporation flows freely in an
upwards direction.23 On the other hand, adverse information may
be minimised or muted altogether.24 Senior executives may thus
be unaware of an impending crisis until it actually occurs.
ENVIRONMENTAL factors, on the other hand, are those
economic, political, financial and industrial circumstances within
which a company conducts its business.
Among the elements which may contribute to corporate
misconduct is poor financial performance. A company with declining
profits may be more likely to cut corners than a company performing
well. One would also expect to see more misconduct by companies
in highly competitive industries. Clinard and Yeager, in their study
of corporate crime in the United States, found that offending
companies were drawn disproportionately from three competitive
industries—automobiles, pharmaceuticals, and petroleum, but
found no association between company profitability and criminal
conduct.25
The cases in this book describe acts which are neither crimes
of passion nor crimes of need. Only a minority—those involving
fraud—appear to have been based on a calculated intent to do harm.
A number of others, however, show a blatant lack of concern for
life and property. Some of the largest corporations in Australia
have demonstrated a callous disregard for the well-being of their
employees, and for the health and safety of the Australian public.
It is convenience, not necessity, which produces this disregard.
The pursuit of profit can blind people to likely consequences of
action. To meet or exceed a sales quota or production deadline
can become a single-minded goal. Under such pressures, cutting
corners or taking risks may become not merely tempting, but
standard practice. And so it is that corporate crimes are committed.
Another environmental factor which bears upon corporate
conduct is the regulatory setting. When the likelihood of detection
is not great, and the probability of punishment, given detection,
is low, the incentives to cut corners are even greater. Overseas
studies of business regulation suggest that most regulatory officials
do not regard themselves as law enforcers, preferring instead to
use conciliatory and persuasive techniques. 26 Recent research by
xiv
INTRODUCTION
two contributors to this volume reveals distinctly similar patterns. 27
The vast majority of Australian business regulators prefer the
gentler means of friendly persuasion. The case studies which follow
suggest that government agencies must share responsibility for
much of the corporate crime which occurs in Australia. From
occupational health and safety to insurance regulation, case after
case suggests that regulatory authorities have failed in their role
of protecting the public.
These studies shed considerable light on the circumstances
behind regulatory failure. In some, the law is unable to address
harmful corporate conduct. In others, the penalties available at
law have been inadequate. In others still, the legal apparatus may
be sufficient but the enforcement agency may be co-opted by the
industry which it oversees. Alternatively, the agency may be
crippled by inadequate resources, by administrative incompetence,
or by political forces.
It is generally accepted in the common law world that corporate
offenders are treated with greater leniency by courts than are
conventional "street criminals". 28
In Australia, criminal penalties for offences relating to the
disposal of hazardous chemical wastes have been criticised by a
parliamentary inquiry. 29 In the area of consumer protection, the
leniency of penalties imposed and indeed, of the statutory maxima
available, have been cited as insufficient to justify the cost of a
criminal prosecution.30 A survey of the major business regulatory
agencies of Australia revealed that in the rare event that criminal
penalties are imposed, they tend to be limited to trivial fines.31
Some of the cases which follow illustrate that Australian
governments often lack the political will to confront corporate
misconduct and that regulation is essentially a charade, with
businesses allowed to do largely as they please. This freedom
enjoyed by Australian enterprise may be explained in historical
terms by the traditional affinity of business and government in
Australian society, and more immediately, by the fact that business
holds the balance of power in contemporary Australian politics at
both Federal and State levels. A simple declaration of confidence
(or lack thereof) by business organisations can affect the outcome
of an election. Under conditions of economic uncertainty, the party
XV
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
leader in Australia who threatens business does so at his or her
peril.
The selection of cases for inclusion in this collection was not
random. Admittedly, this will limit our ability to generalise from
the observations made in the chapters which follow. But hopefully,
it will not prevent us from achieving some improved understanding
of the nature of harmful corporate conduct and the way in which
Australian governments respond to it.
A number of principles guided us in the selection of cases for
this collection. First we sought matters where harm inflicted or
potential harm was serious, involving actual or imminent death,
serious bodily injury, or substantial financial loss.
In addition, we have included a variety of harmful corporate
behaviour. Further, we selected cases from as many different
governmental jurisdictions as possible. In some respects, we were
not entirely successful. The fact that four cases address
occupational health and safety issues in New South Wales may
be less than ideal. But the cases are compelling, each for a different
reason, and New South Wales, where one third of the Australian
workforce is employed, constitutes a regulatory jurisdiction of great
significance.
Another criterion was whether the cases occurred in the relatively
recent past—recent enough not to have been forgotten. On the other
hand, given the glacial pace at which Australian legal processes
operate, we have run the risk of selecting some which may not
have been finalised at the time the manuscript went to press. In
these cases, even if the entire story may not yet have been told,
we felt that there was enough of a tale to tell to warrant inclusion.
It might be argued by some that the cases in this book are morbidly
sensational, and do not reflect the typical standards of Australian
business. We would sincerely like to think so. But the harmful
practices in question were not unprecedented and, as some of the
cases reveal, Australia is by no means free from similar corporate
behaviour today.
If anything, our selection of cases reflects a bias in favour of
the more visible and better publicised event. It remains to be
demonstrated, that other frauds, tax offences, and violations of
occupational health and safety standards are qualitatively different
XVI
INTRODUCTION
from those reported here.
The presentation of each case has been based on a standard
framework. Each chapter begins with a description of the corporate
conduct in question, and extent of the harm caused. This includes
an assessment of the extent of death, injury or property loss
resulting from the incident, whether it occurred through negligence
or through premeditation, and whether it was essentially the work
of an individual or of a collectivity.
The second part of each chapter discusses the circumstances
giving rise to the corporate behaviour under review. We seek first
to identify aspects of the company and its economic environment
which may have had a bearing on corporate conduct. We then seek
to identify any defects in the law or its administration which may
have facilitated the commission of harm. Some regulatory regimes
with responsibility for oversight of the company's operations may
have been moribund or incompetent. Alternatively, the laws may
have been inadequate for dealing with the corporate misconduct
in question.
The third section of each chapter focuses on governmental
response to the incident. A decision to act against a company may
be prompt and automatic, or may be taken only in response to
political pressure. Here we identify the means by which the harm
in question was detected, and how the law was mobilised in
consequence. This involves a discussion of those investigative
procedures which were used, and the decision to use criminal
sanctions, to resort to civil or administrative remedies, or
alternatively not to act at all. Impediments inherent in the processes
available at law are also accorded attention.
The fourth part of each chapter focuses on the outcome of the
legal process. Some cases resulted in criminal prosecution. In such
cases we summarise the verdict and penalty imposed. Where action
taken was civil or administrative, the outcome of the matter and
damages or costs assessed against the company are discussed.
The fifth and final part of each chapter summarises long-term
consequences of the case. It reviews any changes in corporate
organisation and practice which may have taken place as a result
of the matter, as well as any changes to the structure or
administrative procedure of the responsible government regulatory
xvii
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
system. Ultimate legislative changes are also summarised, as well
as reforms brought about to the civil and criminal justice systems.
1. Australia (1985), Draft White Paper: Reform of the Australian Tax System,
Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
2. Joint Committee on Public Accounts (1982), Medical Fraud and Overservicing
Progress Report (Report 203), Australian Government Publishing Service,
Canberra.
3. Braithwaite, J and Grabosky, P (1985), Occupational Health and Safety
Enforcement in Australia: A Report to the National Occupational Health and
Safety Commission, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra.
4. Grabosky, P, Braithwaite, J and Wilson P (1987), "The Myth of Community
Tolerance of White Collar Crime", Australian and New Zealand journal of
Criminology, 20,1, 33-44.
5. Hall, T (1979) White Collar Crime in Australia. Harper and Row, Sydney; (1980)
The Ugly Face of Australian Business. Harper and Row, Sydney.
6. Sutton, A and Wild, R (1980) 'Investigating Company Fraud: Case Studies
from Australia* pp 293-316 in Geis, G and Stotland, E (eds) White Collar Crime:
Theory and Research. Sage Publications, Beverly Hills.
7. Fisse, B and Braithwaite, J (1983) The Impact of Publicity on Corporate Offenders.
State University of New York Press, Albany.
8. Hopkins, A (1978) The Impact of Prosecutions under the Trade Practices Act.
Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra.
9. Sutherland, E (1979) White Collar Crime. Dryden, New York.
10. Geis, G (1967) 'The Heavy Electrical Equipment Antitrust Cases of 1961' in
Clinard, M and Quinney, R (eds) Criminal Behaviour Systems. Holt Rinehart
and Winston, New York.
11. Knightley, P, Evans, H, Potter, E, and Wallace, M (1979) Suffer the Children:
The Story of Thalidomide. Viking, New York.
12. Cullen, F, Maakestad, W, and Cavender, G, Corporate Crime Under Attack:
The Ford Pinto Case and Beyond. Anderson, Cincinnati.
xviii
INTRODUCTION
13. Vaughan, D. (1983), Controlling Unlawful Organizational Behaviour: Social
Structure and Corporate Misconduct. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
14. Mintz, M (1985), At Any Cost: Corporate Greed, Women and the Dalkon Shield.
Pantheon, New York.
15. Braithwaite, J (1984), Corporate Crime in the Pharmaceutical Industry. Routledge
and Kegan Paul, London.
16. Carson, W (1981) The Other Price of Britain's Oil: Safety and Control in the
North Sea. Martin Robertson, Oxford.
17. Brodeur, Paul (1985) Outrageous Misconduct: The Asbestos Industry on Trial.
Pantheon, New York.
18. Hills, S (ed) (1987) Corporate Violence: Injury for Death and Profit. Rowman
Littlefield, Tatowa, New Jersey.
19. Mokhiber, R (1988) Corporate Crime and Violence: Big Business Power and the
Abuse of the Public Trust. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco.
20. Hopkins, A (1978), Crime, Law and Business: The Sociological Sources of
Australian Monopoly Law, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra.
21. Creighton, B (1983), "The Industrial Safety, Health and Welfare Act 1981 (Vic),
Radical Advance or Passing Phase?", Monash University Law Review, 9, 4,195231.
22. Hopkins, A (1978), "The Anatomy of Corporate Crime", in P Wilson and
J Braithwaite (eds), Two Faces of Deviance, University of Queensland Press,
St Lucia.
23. Stone, C (1975), Where the Law Ends: The Social Control of Corporate Behaviour,
Harper and Row, New York; Coffee, J (1977), "Beyond the Shut-eyed Sentry:
Toward a Theoretical View of Corporate Misconduct and an Effective Legal
Response", Virginia Law Review, 63,1099-1278.
24. Katz, J (1979), "Concerted Ignorance: The Social Construction of Cover-up",
Urban Life, 8, 295-316; Braithwaite, J (1984), Corporate Crime in the Pharmaceutical Industry, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 320-328; Braithwaite,
J (1985), To Punish or Persuade: Enforcement of Coal Mine Safety, State
University of New York Press, Albany, 107-109.
25. Clinard, M and Yeager, P (1980), Corporate Crime, Free Press, New York.
26. Carson, W G (1970), "White Collar Crime and the Enforcement of Factory
Legislation", British Journal of Criminology, 10, 383-398; Cranston, R (1979),
Regulating Business: Law and Consumer Agencies, Macmilian, London; Hawkins,
K (1984), Environment and Enforcement: Regulation and the Social Definition
of Pollution, Clarendon, Oxford; Richardson, G, Ogus, A and Burrows, P (1982),
Policing Pollution: A Study of Regulation and Enforcement, Clarendon, Oxford;
Kagan, R (1978), Regulatory Justice: Implementing a Wage-Price Freeze, Russell
Sage Foundation, New York; Bardach, E and Kagan, R (1982), Going by the
Book: The Problem of Regulatory Unreasonableness, Temple University Press,
Philadelphia.
xix
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
27. Grabosky, P and Braithwaite, J (1986), Of Manners Gentle: Enforcement
Strategies of Australian Business Regulatory Agencies, Oxford University Press,
Melbourne.
28. Ermann, M and Lundman, R (1982), Corporate and Governmental Deviance,
Oxford University Press, New York, 227-235. Clinard, M, Yeager, P, Brisette,
J, Petrashek, D and Harries, E (1979), Illegal Corporate Behaviour, National
Institute of Justice, Washington, 208.
29. Australia (1982), Parliament, House of Representatives Standing Comittee on
Environment and Construction, Hazardous Chemical Wastes: Storage, Transport
and Disposal. First Report on the Inquiry into Hazardous Chemicals, Australian
Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
30. Goldring, J and Maher, M (1983), Consumer Protection Law in Australia (2nd
ed) Butterworths, Sydney.
31. Grabosky and Braithwaite op cit supra note 27, Chapter 14.
xx
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
vigorous chairmanship of Victorian QC Frank Costigan, however,
the inquiry soon took on its own momentum. From the earliest
months, it was clear that there was more to deal with than union
corruption.
The Painters and Dockers Commission eventually found itself
delving into an immense range of matters. In addition to the tax
evasion work—which directly or indirectly resulted in losses of
hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue—Costigan's (1984)
final reports encompass such diverse issues as drug importing and
trafficking, SP bookmaking, kidnapping, laundering of funds and
social security fraud.
A separate inquiry had meanwhile been undertaken by the
Victoria Corporate Affairs Office.1 Under investigation by
inspectors P. McCabe and D. Lafranchi were Navillus Pty Ltd and
922 other companies. But the real target was Brian James Maher,
a Gold Coast businessman who allegedly had arranged the buying
and selling of corporate structures as tax evasion schemes.
According to the inspectors, Maher's activities had involved more
than 3,000 companies, and to investigate them all, the inspectors
eventually needed special investigators' powers in Queensland and
New South Wales. Their final view was that at a conservative
estimate, loss to Federal revenue from Maher's activities alone had
been over $200 million. Losses would have been even higher if
avoidance from "legitimate" schemes promoted by Maher were
taken into account.
How Maher gained control of these massive sums of money and
rose from humble beginnings to become a "millionaire gambler and
colossus of the tax avoidance industry" is a fascinating tale. It
is important, however, not to ignore a less colourful but nonetheless
important chain of events—namely the ways the Australian courts
established a frame of reference for tax avoidance operators.
Analysis of these legal decisions leads inevitably to the conclusion
that rather than being the architects of tax avoidance, people like
Brian Maher merely were "middle men" exploiting opportunities
that business and the professions had presented them. Before
delving into Maher's humble beginnings, a brief glance into the
rarefied echelons of High Court and Federal Court decisions is
necessary.
2
iimwiimmmmm
T
he 'Underworld' is only too close at hand when Australia's
Big Business needs to hoodwink the Taxman. The conventional
criminals play a "brokerage" role for the wealthy and influential
interests.
Frank Costigan uncovered the link when he began probing the
Painters and Dockers Union in the Royal Commission into the
Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union. He soon
realised as the inquiry got under way in late 1980 that executives
and members of the union were being used as "bogus" or "straw"
directors of companies involved in tax evasion—companies already
stripped of their assets and destined to be dumped.
Painters and dockers were chosen because they were prepared
to enter into deals without too many questions being asked.
Moreover the promoters of these schemes felt that taxation and
other authorities would be reluctant to press reputed "standover
men" for details of their commercial affairs.
Nothing could have seemed less likely to cause problems for the
Australian business establishment than the 1980 inquiry
announced soon after a series of Bulletin articles on racketeering
on the Victorian waterfront. It was viewed by many as an attempt
by conservatives to embarrass their Labor opposition by exposing
some of the seamier aspects of the union movement. Under the
1
BOTTOM OF THE HARBOUR TAX EVASION SCHEMES
SLUTZKIN, CURRAN, HENNESSY AND M A L O N E THE LEGAL BASIS FOR BOTTOM OF THE HARBOUR
McCabe and Lafranchi identify four test cases: Hennessy v Federal
Commissioner of Taxation and Malone v Federal Commissioner of
Taxation (1975) 24 FLR 241; Slutzkin v Federal Commissioner of
Taxation (1977) 140 CLR 314 and Curran v Federal Commissioner
of Taxation (1974) 131 CLR 409 as the foundations upon which
Maher's tax schemes, however shakily, were erected.
All were major setbacks for the Taxation Commissioner. In each
case, taxpayers had taken part in sophisticated transactions which
they claimed entitled them to tax exemption. The Commissioner
had argued that the court should set aside these artificial
manoeuvres on the ground that they had no substance. In each
case, the courts decided in the taxpayer's favour. In essence, they
stated that the Commissioner had no right to make substantive
judgment on whether or not particular transactions had any "real"
basis other than tax avoidance. Instead the Tax Office should
confine itself to determining whether the letter of the law had been
obeyed.
McCabe and Lafranchi identified these cases as critical for
Australian tax law in the 1970s. In essence, they established that:
• If shareholders sold companies which had accumulated large
profits and had become liable for taxes, they could not be held
personally liable for these taxes—even if the company
subsequently evaded them—as long as the sale was at "arms
length" and the former shareholders could argue they did not
know what was going to happen (Hennessy; Malone; Slutzkin),
and
• Any taxpayer who could establish that he or she was engaged
in share-trading could manipulate company shares virtually
at will to generate tax deductible losses {Curran).
The decisions also massively restructured the Taxation
Commissioner's role. Henceforth the Tax Office could not make
substantive judgments about whether an individual or company
3
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
had been engaging in tax avoidance, but must confine itself to
checking whether the letter of the law had been obeyed. By
announcing that laws were to be interpreted in a legalistic, literalist
way, the courts seemed to be issuing an open invitation to promoters
to "try their luck" on tax avoidance.
Generous judicial interpretation of the tax laws was not the only
factor which helped facilitate "bottom of the harbour" practices.
Equally important were the demoralised and inept performances
of authorities such as the Taxation Office and the Commonwealth
Crown Solicitor's Office, which allowed entrepreneurs like Maher
to carry on unchallenged for years. These deficiencies have been
well documented in the Costigan report 2 , and by special Commonwealth prosecutors R. Gyles and R. Redlich.34 5 6 4 7
The worst example was the Western Australian branch of the
Crown Solicitor's Office, where Costigan discovered that one legal
officer deliberately had delayed acting on a prosecution by
concealing documents from a prosecution brief in a bottom drawer
for five years. This was after his predecessor had dithered for three
years over preparing this key test case—even though the Taxation
Department had presented him with a "competent and diligent"
report, backed by a QC's opinion that charges should be laid. Perhaps
most amazing of all, however, was the fact that a third lawyer
in the same department had consented to his wife's acting as a
secretary, and handling mail, for "straw" companies involved in
the very scheme the Crown Solicitor's Office should have been
prosecuting. Also with her husband's knowledge, this woman had
been running an escort agency which understated income to avoid
tax, and which was alleged to have provided the Perth telephone
number of the Crown Solicitor's Office in advertisements.
In Costigan's view, all these activities should have been prevented
by relevant supervisors, and the Office had been grossly negligent.2
The Australian Taxation Office also came in for strong criticisms"
from the Royal Commission8 with Redlich and Giles also unhappy
with the organisation's secrecy and lack of co-operation with other
investigators and its apparent reluctance to initiate prosecutions
or pursue test cases.
To place Maher's activities in cultural and historical perspective,
it is clear that minimising tax is an Australian tradition. Most
4
BOTTOM OF THE HARBOUR TAX EVASION SCHEMES
established companies have an extensive record of legitimate (but
nonetheless substantial) tax avoidance. The outstanding example
is the Vestey organisation. At the height of its activities, this
privately owned group controlled 30,758 square miles (79,663 km2)
of cattle country in the Northern Territory. Despite controlling
the largest privately owned multinational in the world, and as
Britain's richest family with assets of $1,000 million5, the Vestey
Corporation always had been reluctant to pay even minimal tax
on their extensive Australian profits. For at least 15 years—between
1937 and 1952—they enjoyed complete exemption from tax on
income in the Northern Territory. This was achieved by exploiting
a loophole in relevant Federal legislation. To encourage industry,
the government had enacted laws declaring that income derived
directly from primary production undertaken by a resident of the
Northern Territory would not be subject to tax. The term resident
was not specifically defined in the legislation, and by taking the
matter to the High Court the Vestey Corporation was able to ensure
that, although its members did not live in Australia, it nonetheless
could enjoy tax-free status. 5
Of course, "residency" was just one of the aspects of law the
Vesteys exploited to minimise tax. The family, with holdings in
some 27 countries, has been a pioneer in massive tax avoidance
by multinational companies9. This raises the second issue: how
Maher's alleged activities compared in scale with other forms of
tax minimisation in Australia. Recent research on transfer pricing10,
which comprises just one aspect of large-scale tax avoidance,
suggests that many multinational firms employ this tactic and that
amounts lost in this way to the Australian government far outstrip
even the worst excesses of "bottom of the harbour" schemes.
In essence, a transfer price is the amount which one subsidiary
of a multinational company demands when "selling" its products
to another subsidiary of the same firm in another country. 11 An
example is the "price" for raw materials set by a mining subsidiary
before passing it on for processing in another country.
Multinationals often work in small controlled markets, which
render governments both in sending and receiving countries
virtually powerless to determine what the real prices of products
should be. The result is immense power for multinational
5
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
corporations. In effect, they can decide where tax should be paid,
and not surprisingly they generally choose the minimum tax
countries as the place where it should be surrendered. 10 Losses
from just one Australian instance of transfer pricing, well
documented because of an (unsuccessful) court challenge, was about
$2.3 million. 10 In 1983 Eric Risstrom, Secretary of the Australian
Taxpayers' Association, argued that the Melbourne Branch alone
of the Australian Tax Office loses over $2,000 million each year
from transfer pricing (National Times, Jan 9-15, 1983). Even more
dramatically, Senator Peter Walsh while in Opposition claimed that
the total tax loss to Australia through transfer pricing would be
up to $4,000 million a year. In light of such figures, Maher's activities
almost seem trifling.
A side effect of such massive and systematic avoidance by the
largest companies is, of course, that both the authority of law and
the morale of law enforcers can be severely weakened. Moreover,
an expectation is created that other sectors of society should be
able to become "part of the action". This raises the final important
issue to be considered: the social environment surrounding the
"bottom of the harbour" activities and the extent to which Maher
was responding to, rather than creating it. It is impossible to
comprehend the proliferation of tax avoidance activities without
reference to authoritative cases such as Curran, Slutzkin, Hennessy
and Malone, which gave the go-ahead to even the most artificial
schemes as long as they stayed within the letter of the legislation.
A direct result of these decisions was immense growth in desire
among professionals—and by the small and medium-sized business
sectors—to take part in tax avoidance. One indicator was a
burgeoning in the number of corporations on state registers.
Between 1968 and 1981, the Victorian Corporate Affairs Office alone
saw more than three fold growth in companies registered from
48,502 to almost 150,000.
THE CAREER OF BRIAN MAHER
Brian Maher was born in the 1930s, son of North Queensland sugar
cane farmers. After education in Cairns, his first job at 16 was
as a canecutter. First official documentation of his business
6
BOTTOM OF THE HARBOUR TAX EVASION SCHEMES
activities is a 1961 record of a conviction for false pretences while
working for the Queensland Police Journal. However, Maher's initial
important experience with commerce came in Sydney. After moving
there while still in his 20s, Maher was able to find financial backers
and opened a used-car yard.
A run of luck began in 1964, when Maher won $40,000 in the
Opera House Lottery. This enabled him to pay off debts, and within
a few years he had four yards selling 500 vehicles a month.
In 1968, Maher returned to Brisbane: first re-establishing himself
in the used-car industry, then becoming involved with the stock
market. By 1970, after successful trading in Poseidon shares during
the mining boom, he established Finance and Guidance Pty Ltd.
Initially, this company specialised in publishing and marketing
correspondence courses on the securities industry and the Stock
Exchange, and providing tips on shares to purchase. Subsequently
it moved into managing share portfolios for the public, and also
dealt in shares and options on its own behalf.
In March 1971, after a downturn in the mining boom, Finance
and Guidance went into liquidation and in July 1972 a scheme of
arrangement was sanctioned by the Queensland Supreme Court.
Shortly before these events, a special investigator had been
appointed to inquire into the affairs of both Finance and Guidance
and other Maher companies. The resulting report was far from
complimentary: in the investigator's view, the operation had
. . . illustrated the ingenuity of the company manipulator and
both Maher [and his co-director] were guilty of a conspiracy to
defraud the investors. 1
Despite the strong comments, no action was taken by the
Queensland Government.
Following Finance and Guidance's failure, Maher continued to
diversify—this time into the home loans area. On 4 May 1972,
the Federated Housing Fund of Australia Limited was incorporated.
This and companies it controlled constituted a mutual home loans
group: people were encouraged to pool their investments with the
object of eventually receiving a mortgage from this pool at very
low rates of interest. Once again, however, it was alleged that the
7
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
directors of the company, rather than clients or shareholders, were
the main beneficiaries. By December 1972, the investigator's powers
had been extended to allow inquiries into the Federated Housing
Fund. He found that the group:
. . . was designed to give substantial interests to the directors
and their associates. The directors, their nominees or associates
would have netted $1,300,000.1
The investigator also argued that formation of the company had
been in contravention of the Building Societies Act, and that it should
be wound up. Efforts by the Crown to implement this recommendation were, however, rejected by the Queensland courts—an
outcome which Maher and his associates claimed as vindication
for this approach.
Perhaps more important than "vindication", however, was the
experience and contacts gained from those ventures. Finance and
Guidance's receivership and subsequent scheme of arrangement,
organised by one of Brisbane's leading chartered accountants and
tax avoidance experts, had been particularly instructive. It
demonstrated the value of corporate structures—whether for taxloss schemes or the distribution of excess profits. By the end of
1972 Maher had decided to re-establish Finance and Guidance in
a new field—as a dealer in companies—and to use techniques
developed by his former adviser as a model.
Success was not immediate. Maher's first attempts to buy
companies, treat them to reduce tax liabilities, then sell them,
resulted in losses. Only when he simplified procedures, and began
buying and selling companies without the intervening "treatments", did this new business become profitable. The new strategy
enabled Maher to offer clients a ready-made "package", whereby
they retained almost all of their firms' assets and profits, but were
relieved of the corporate shell and associated tax liabilities. For
the scheme to succeed, though, buyers for the old company
structures had to be found. At this point Lloyd Faint, a former
associate of Maher's from the Brisbane used-car industry, entered
the scene.
Faint became the key in a recruitment network which extended
8
BOTTOM OF THE HARBOUR TAX EVASION SCHEMES
as far as Wollongong and Melbourne, and sent a stream of people
to Brisbane to sign papers and become the nominal directors of
companies. Those used were not confined to painters and dockers
and known criminals, but included labourers, debt collector agents
and sales people. Many appear to have been chosen on the sole
basis that their lifestyle would make them difficult to trace, and
at least one states that he was advised to provide false details
when signing documents. Nonetheless, a number were located and
interviewed. The ensuing transcripts suggest a group with minimal
education and income, lured by the prospect of an expenses paid
holiday in Brisbane plus cash in hand. With practically no idea
of the reasons for what they were doing, these unlikely "directors"
Vended to treat the whole episode either as "another job to be done"
or as pure farce: (all following page references are to McCabe and
Lafranchi 1 ).
"I was offered $1,000 to do that job, all expenses paid, and I
jumped on a plane and that was it. I was paid to do a job."
(p 48)
"If you have not a cent on you and someone offers you $1,000
you do not say 'no'." (p 171)
". . . He said that everything will be sweet; 'Don't worry about
it'. He said, 'Everything is fixed.' He said, 'All you have to do
is sign the things and leave everything to me. This bloke is
a wizard. You have nothing to worry about. Everything will
be sweet'." (p 177)
" . . . I don't ask questions. I never ever have. I find that being
a painter and docker it was always the healthiest way, so I never
ask questions." (p 177)
". . . One [cheque] was for $74 million. I liked signing that one.
That was a good one to sign. I used to play nonchalant. I used
to play really nonchalant and cool." (p 154)
For McCabe and Lafranchi, the key question was whether Maher
9
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
himself had controlled this system of sham corporate transfers,
and had been aware that the people located by Faint lacked the
substance to be bona fide purchasers. Maher claimed that he had
known nothing: it was not his business to be concerned with the
backgrounds or finances of buyers. Faint, on the other hand,
asserted that Maher had held the reins at all times, and had been
under no illusions that the companies were being dumped. For
several reasons, the investigators tended to believe the second
version.
One reason was that throughout this association with Maher,
Faint had lacked separate office accommodation and the other
trappings of independence, and all signing of corporate transfers,
etc, had been in Maher company offices. Another was that according
to corroborated testimony, funds from transferred companies had
continued to be channelled back to the Maher organisation even
after it had ceased to be the nominal owner. Finally, McCabe and
Lafranchi point out that relations between the Maher group and
purchasers had not always been at "arms length", as Maher had
claimed. A humorous example was when one of the "purchasers"
happened to be an attractive woman. After flying to Brisbane and
signing "the first cheque of her life" 1 for $1.6 million, she was
shown over a boat and taken to dinner by one of Maher's partners.
Despite the close acquaintance, the man still claimed he had found
no reason to doubt that she was a genuine buyer. At a more prosaic
level, McCabe and Lafranchi provided evidence that at least one
of the purported purchasers had been working as a commission
agent for the Maher organisation shortly before acquiring
companies worth millions of dollars. The man's working history
alone should have alerted Maher to the fact that he lacked the
financial backing to be involved in such a major transaction.
The Costigan Report itself provides a fascinating description of
how an investigation of crime on the waterfront evolved into an
inquiry into Australian taxation law and its administration:
"It was in the early months . . . that the extent of the tasks
became apparent. Perhaps the first moment of real light occurred
one morning in the Fitzroy Court. A witness was giving evidence
in relation to the activities of a company said to be engaged
10
BOTTOM OF THE HARBOUR TAX EVASION SCHEMES
in ship repairing. Subsequent investigations showed that not
one dollar had been earned in that activity; nonetheless it was
full of interest, involving classic racketeering and on any view
right in the centre of my terms of enquiry. The witness had
some documents, he said; not in court but back at the office.
Would he mind, I politely asked him, if I adjourned for a short
time while he returned to his office to collect them and bring
them back into court. I offered him the assistance of one of my
solicitors and a Federal policeman. He could hardly decline such
an offer. The documents were provided just before lunch. I should
tell you that prior to that morning I had not seen signs of money
exceeding $5,000 or thereabouts. Imagine my surprise to find
in the files a cheque for $1.5 million. Two or three minutes later
I found an application by an associate company to the Reserve
Bank to bring into this country from Lebanon, $4.5 million. It
didn't really seem to fit in with ship repairing. I decided to look
more carefully at this associated company. It had a bank account
in a distant suburb in another State. The bank vouchers were
subpoenaed. I found that in the three months some $250 million
passed through that account. It was one of a dozen such accounts
throughout Australia. 12
Publication of the McCabe-Lafranchi and Costigan disclosures
provoked a national scandal. The Fraser Government was subjected
to withering criticism from the press and from Opposition benches
for presiding over such cynical exploitation of Australia's taxation
system. Special prosecutors were appointed and criminal charges
were heralded. Deputy Crown Solicitors' offices were subject to
further investigation, and reform of the taxation system was
promised. The election of the Hawke Government in March 1983
increased the momentum of change.
On 4 October 1984 in Brisbane, Maher, Donnelly and Faint were
committed for trial on 15 Federal and six State conspiracy charges
involving more than $100 million in tax revenue. Faint, who pleaded
guilty and received a two-year sentence, was the main prosecution
witness during subsequent proceedings against his former partners.
The trial of Maher and Donnelly began on 7 May 1985. Initially,
the case seemed to run against the prosecution: after 60 days of
11
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
evidence and further weeks of intense legal argument, the judge
directed that 15 counts of conspiring to defraud the Commonwealth
be heard as one charge, and that three of the State charges be
subsumed into one general charge. Several weeks later and a total
of 5 months after the trial had begun, Maher and his former
colleague were found guilty on one count of conspiracy to defraud
the Commonwealth and one count of conspiring to defraud a named
company. Maher was sentenced to two years and nine months'
imprisonment on the first charge, and five years on the second
to be served concurrently. In July 1987 the High Court of Australia
set aside the conviction and sentence on the second count. Donnelly,
who had undertaken to make restitution of $1.4 million, received
two years and three months on the first charge, and two years
nine months on the second, to be served concurrently. 13
In imposing sentence, a Queensland Supreme Court Judge
described Maher as "the dominant figure" and mind of a massive
and sophisticated fraud.
In light of this denunciation, the complexity of the trial, and
the fact that recoupment from "bottom of the harbour" schemes
already totals some $460 million (National Times, 16 October 1985),
it is easy to fall into the view that Brian James Maher was
Australia's first "criminal genius". It is clear, however, that Maher
was simply a symptom, rather than a prime cause, of the patterns
of tax avoidance that occurred during the 1970s.
Reforms initiated in the aftermath of the "bottom of the harbour"
disclosures provide an indication of the extent to which more
effective enforcement might have restricted the damage caused.
Such measures included the appointment of special prosecutors
Gyles and Redlich by the Australian government and the establishment of a Director of Public Prosecutions in both the Commonwealth
and Victorian jurisdictions. 6 Working with a substantial taskforce
established within the Taxation Office, these special authorities
have made significant inroads both in bringing the main offenders
to justice and in recouping at least $460 million in taxes lost during
the 1970s (.Financial Review, 16 October 1985).
Despite these successes however, it would be naive to conclude
that simply ensuring greater efficiency in the enforcement and
prosecution arms can provide all the solutions. For all the undoubted
12
BOTTOM OF THE HARBOUR TAX EVASION SCHEMES
effectiveness of such persons as Gyles and Redlich, they worked
in a vastly different environment from the one prevailing when
"bottom of the harbour" schemes first appeared. By the time they
were appointed, tax evasion had become such a public scandal that
governments, and the court system itself, faced a crisis of legitimacy
if it were not resolved. This in turn meant they could be supported
by far more effective and far-reaching legislation than had been
available during the 1970s.
Most important in this respect was the Taxation (Unpaid
Company Tax) Assessment Act, introduced by the Liberal-National
Coalition in 1982 and aimed specifically at recouping tax lost in
"bottom of the harbour" schemes. Almost unprecedented in this
field, it was retrospective. This meant that even schemes which
had obeyed the letter of the law during the 1970s now were rendered
invalid.
In passing this Act, Federal government exercised a power with
respect to Curran, Slutzkin and other schemes which had been
denied to enforcement agencies. It made the substantive decision
that even though perfectly legal, such schemes nonetheless were
artificial manoeuvres rather than legal commercial transactions
and therefore should be disregarded. As pointed out earlier, it is
essential that such decisions be made to ensure that legislation
outlawing tax avoidance is effective. However, even though the
government was acting in a situation where its very existence was
under threat, introduction of the Taxation (Unpaid Company Tax)
Assessment Act was both belated and surrounded in controversy.
The Fraser Government had announced as early as 1978 that there
would be a crackdown on tax avoidance but not until 1982, with
an election looming, did it gather the resolution to act.
Such indecision confirms how deeply entrenched in Australian
society is the principle that laws affecting business should be
enforced and applied with emphasis on formalism, consistency and
predictability. More than anything else, this insistence that the
letter of the law should apply, rather than the legislators'
substantive intent, has tied the hands of enforcement bureaucracies
and helped precipitate decline in morale and efficiency. As long
as these beliefs and ways of acting are so deeply ingrained in
Australia's social fabric, the capacity for effective regulation of
13
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
Australian business will be profoundly compromised.
Brian Maher was exploiting deep-seated biases in Australian
society. As long as those persist, there is always the possibility
that his spirit will rise again.
1. McCabe, P W and Lafranchi, D J (1982), Report of Inspectors Appointed to
Investigate the Particular Affairs of Navillus Pty Ltd and 922 Other Companies,
Victorian Government Printer, Melbourne.
2. Costigan, F (1982), Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship
Painters and Dockers Union, Interim Report No. 4, Volume 1, Australian
Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
3. Gyles, R (1984), Report to the Attorney-General for the Year Ended 30 June,
1984, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
4. Redlich, R (1983), Annual Report of the Special Prosecutor 1982-83, Australian
Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
5. Redlich, R (1984), Annual Report of the Special Prosecutor 1983-84, Australian
Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
6. Freiberg, A (1986), "Enforcement Discretion and Taxation Offences",
Australian Tax Forum, 3, 1, 55-91, 55.
7. Grabosky, P and Braithwaite, J (1986), Of Manners Gentle: Enforcement
Strategies of Australian Business Regulatory Agencies, Oxford University Press,
Melbourne, Ch. 12.
8. Costigan, F (1982), Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship
Painters and Dockers Union, Interim Report No. 3, Australian Government
Publishing Service, Canberra.
9. Knightley, P (1981), The Vestey Affair, Macdonald, Futura, London, 11,137.
10. Crough, G J (1981), Taxation, Transfer Pricing and the High Court of Australia,
Transnational Corporations Research Project, Sydney University.
11. Muller, R (1979), "Poverty is the Product" in Modelski, G (ed.), Transnational
Corporations and World Order, Van Nuys, Calif, W H Freeman, 257.
12. Costigan, F (1984), Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship
Painters and Dockers, Final Report, Volume 1, Australian Government
Publishing Service, Canberra.
13. Director of Public Prosecutions, 1986, Annual Report, 1985-86, Australian
Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
14
W
idows, orphans, and quadriplegics were among the victims
. . . but it all began from what seemed a good idea to the trustee
company. Tempted by the property boom of the '70s, the Trustees
Executors and Agency Company started investing tens of millions of
clients' dollars in large development projects.
But the good idea turned out to be disastrous. It devastated thousands
of people and shook to its foundations an industry based on principles
of trust and safe practice.
Trustee companies have a long history in Australia. With the
social and economic maturation of the colonies there arose a real
need for specialised financial institutions to administer the estates
of widows, orphans, and other dependent persons. Before the mid
19th century, the administration of trusts was left to individuals.
But persons commanding the requisite competence and integrity
to fulfil these responsibilities were not numerous. The cost of
negligence or dishonesty on the part of a trustee was inevitably
borne by the beneficiary. In the event of a trustee's death, or
indisposition, the cost and inconvenience of securing a suitable
replacement constituted a further imposition on the estate.
Traditionally, trustee companies were regarded as rock-solid,
15
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
enjoying a reputation for stability equal to, if not greater than,
banks. They were closely regulated by governments, restricted by
law to making only the safest investments, with their fees fixed
by regulation. They enjoyed statutory protection from takeovers,
to ensure that control of the company could not pass into the hands
of those whose motives might not be in the best interests of
beneficiaries. Because of the respect and trust placed in trustee
companies over the years, they attracted investments from a variety
of interests in addition to the traditional widows and orphans. Many
solicitors, for example, would place their clients' deposits with a
trustee company pending settlement of real estate transactions.
Similarly, victims of catastrophic accidents who had received large
lump-sum damages or insurance payments would often invest these
funds with trustee companies.
The first such institution in Australia was the Trustees
Executors and Agency Company (TEA), founded in Melbourne in
1877. It was in every sense an institution. Its directors were pillars
of the Melbourne establishment; among them were members of
the boards of BHP, Mitsubishi, Westpac, CML, AGC and Uniroyal.1
They included Sir Thomas Webb, former chairman of the
Commercial Bank of Australia, Sir Robert Norman, former chief
general manager of the Bank of New South Wales and Maxwell
Stanley Mainprize, former general manager of the Colonial Mutual
Life Assurance Society. The chairman, Alexander Ogilvy, a former
senior partner of Arthur Young and Company, Chartered Accountants, was himself a director of 20 companies. Such accumulated
wisdom seemed ideal for the oversight of a trustee company. By
1983, TEA had assets of $150 million. In addition it was managing
under trust approximately $700 million in estate assets, $200 million
invested in its common funds, and a further $1.8 billion in corporate
trustee funds. 2 The company's motto was "I Go On Forever".
During the 1970s, the Australian economy entered a period of
profound change. Inflation became a crucial consideration in investment decisions, and placed considerable pressure on trustee
companies to diversify. Their traditional investment area was in
government bonds, safe investments to be sure, but yielding a low
rate of return. One alternative was to attract unsecured investments
from the general public, and to take greater commercial risks, using
16
THE DEMISE OF TRUSTEES EXECUTORS AND AGENCY CO. LTD
unsecured funds. So it was with TEA, whose management was
tempted by the property boom of 1979-81. Tens of millions of dollars
of clients' money and other borrowings were invested in large
development projects, in anticipation of attractive capital gains.
What seemed like a good idea at the time, however, turned out
to be disastrous. The property market began to falter in 1982 and
a number of projects in which TEA had invested encountered cost
overruns. These pressures compounded, and on Friday, 13 May
1983, TEA went into receivership. Liquidation commenced on 31
May; it was to be the largest liquidation in Australian history to
date. The company thereafter carried the name TEA 1983 Limited
(in liquidation).
The vast majority of those who had invested in special trustee
accounts were protected. All but $11 million of the $700 million
held in trust was secured. However, some 7,500 other clients of
TEA, mostly small depositors, were left as unsecured creditors,
their accounts frozen indefinitely. Many of those left hanging, so
to speak, had consciously opted for a risky alternative, and had
put their money in unsecured funds. Others may have misunderstood company brochures, and believed their investments to have
been secured. In any event, some $93.5 million was owing. Among
the creditors were widows, orphans and quadriplegics, who faced
an agonising wait until the liquidators would determine how much
of their investment might be left. Sixteen million dollars in shareholders' funds were lost. Among the unfortunate was the Fraud
Squad Investment Club of the Brisbane CIB, Queensland Police,
which held 200 shares. Beyond this, public perceptions of trustee
companies and their management were profoundly dampened. The
image of financial institutions in general was tarnished.
In going into receivership, the directors:
. . . opened wounds that will take decades to heal; they damaged
their own business careers irreparably, wiped out the jobs and
prospects of scores of employees; they devastated thousands of
people—widows and orphans—who had placed their trust in a
company (which boasted of its permanence) and they shook to
its foundations an industry which is based on principles of trust
and safe practice. 3
17
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
The responsibility for managing a trustee company, or any other
company, rests with its board of directors. The duties of directors
are specified at common law, and are affirmed in the national
Companies Code. Responsibility for the day-to-day administration
of a company rests not with its board of directors, but rather with
its chief executive. It is the role of a board of directors to formulate
general company strategy, and to oversee its implementations by
management. The directors' function is that of a watchdog rather
than that of an administrator.
Company directors are held to two basic duties at common law
and by the Companies Code. Under the "good faith" provisions they
are to act in the interests of the company, and to avoid conflicts
of interest. Section 229(1) of the Code provides that "an officer
of a corporation shall at all times act honestly in the exercise of
his powers and the discharge of the duties of his office".
In addition section 229(2) provides: "An officer of a corporation
shall at all times exercise a reasonable degree of care and diligence
in the exercise of his powers and the discharge of his duties". Penalty
for breach of this provision is a fine of $5,000.
Civil liability also attaches to breaches of either of these two
general duties. Whether or not a criminal conviction has resulted,
the company may recover an amount equal to any loss occasioned
by a director's misconduct. It may also recover an amount equal
to any profit made by the director as a result. Because of their
special role, directors of trustee companies have a duty at common
law to act prudently. The Victorian Trustee Companies Act, moreover, made trustee company directors liable for wilfully improper
dealings with funds held in trust.
Despite the statutory provisions, the precise standards to which
directors are expected to adhere remain vague. In the absence of
grounds for suspicion, directors are free to trust company officers
to perform their duties honestly.
Nevertheless, directors are liable if a company contracts unpayable debts, or if they make any material omission from statements
or reports relating to their company's affairs. The chairman of
one of TEA's competitors, in what might be read as an implicit
criticism of TEA's governance, said:
18
THE DEMISE OF TRUSTEES EXECUTORS AND AGENCY CO. LTD
When it was a less complicated world it was possible for directors
to look upon a directorship as an accolade, a kind of civil award.
It's not on these days. I don't believe a fellow should be a director
of 10 or 11 companies. I don't believe that that's the thing that
should be allowed. Directors should be efficient and hard working
when sitting on boards, rather than simply making a habit of
it.4
The rigour with which boards (most of whose members serve
on a part-time basis) oversee the activities of the managing director,
or chief executive, will vary from company to company. In some
organisations they will be highly deferential, automatically
ratifying the managing director's decisions. In others, they will
take a more active role in decision making. Although the TEA board
were far from novices or amateurs in the world of finance, they
appear to have conformed more to the deferential model. This may
in part be explained by the fact that the majority were retired
and might well have lost some of their business acumen.
The managing director to whom the TEA board deferred was
a young, energetic executive named Peter Bunning, a mere 40 years
old at the time of the collapse. He joined TEA in the early 1970s,
and was appointed to the position of General Manager in 1975 at
the age of 32. Bunning became Managing Director in 1979. Among
the changes which Bunning introduced was the merging of trust
funds with a general operating account, a most unorthodox
procedure for a trustee company. It was later alleged that $11 million
had been transferred from personal trusts into an unsecured cash
pool.5
Just as the distinction between trust funds and general operating
funds was blurred internally, so too were the various investment
opportunities offered to the public. TEA operated on two levels.
On the one hand, it functioned as a regular and proper trustee
company, managing estates and settlements, and investing the
funds in authorised trustee securities. But it also accepted deposits
from the public which it invested in property development.
Moreover, it was apparent that TEA placed its trust funds for
short terms on its own money market. This stood in direct conflict
with the common law principle that a trustee must not profit
19
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
personally from the trust under his control.6
By virtue of its status as a trustee company, TEA was not required
to issue a prospectus. Many investors were under the impression
that any and all investments with TEA were trustee-backed. But
the fine details of investment conditions were not spelled out by
the company's brochures. Overtures were made to solicitors' offices
in Victoria and interstate in an effort to attract investment funds
from solicitors' trust accounts. One such invitation referred to
investments in real estate "which conform in all respects with
the requirements of the NSW Trustee Act". 7 It could be argued
that unwitting investors may have incorrectly read this to mean
that their accounts would be secured.
The vulnerability of TEA was not apparent to either the public,
the trustee industry, or perhaps even to TEA's board. At the most
recent general meeting of TEA, the chairman had given a guarded
but optimistic report in which it was claimed the company's
property involvement had contributed substantially to its
profitability. Only weeks before the company went into receivership,
the managing director advised the Trustee Companies Association
that the company's risk exposure was not significantly affected
by the depressed property market, and that strict liquidity
requirements were being observed.8
There were, nevertheless, a number of decisions taken by or with
the knowledge of the board during the months before the collapse
which appear in retrospect to have been, at the least, inappropriate.
In 1981-82 TEA began to sell its government and semi-government
securities, and to invest in real estate. Among the latter were the
ill-fated Quay, a luxury apartment building at Sydney Cove which
failed to attract sufficient interest on the part of purchasers.
It was alleged that TEA had made a loan to Kelly Power Pty
Ltd, a company with which a TEA director was associated. When
asked, the board's chairman was unable to recall whether the board
had authorised such a loan.9
On Monday, 7 March 1983, TEA announced a loss of $1.1 million
for the six months ended 31 December 1982. The accompanying
directors' statement read:
. . . The group has traded profitably since 1 January 1983, and
20
THE DEMISE OF TRUSTEES EXECUTORS AND AGENCY CO. LTD
subject to no further deterioration in economic conditions, the
results for the second half of the year should be satisfactory. 10
Later that month, Australian Ratings, a credit rating service,
issued a "credit watch" report on TEA. The report suggested that
the company appeared to be undercapitalised.
The company's debt-equity ratio, the ratio of borrowing to shareholder's funds, was 900 per cent—far greater than that of any other
trustee company.11 The Trustee Companies Association of Australia
and New Zealand, an industry body, wrote to TEA's Managing
Director on 5 April, expressing concern at the adverse credit report
and reported loss, and requesting reassurance that the company's
affairs were in order. A week later, he replied:
. . . It is a fact that outside our trustee operations we have
invested part of our shareholders' funds in joint venture real
estate ventures. It is true also that some of these have not been
as successful in recent times as in the years up to June 30 1982.
The board has acknowledged this in its half-yearly statement
but, put in its proper perspective, the loss in that half-year is
small indeed.
I assure you also that strict liquidity requirements are laid down
by the board and complied with, with a generous margin to spare
. . . (Correspondence, P Bunning to R L Simmons, 12 April 1983);
published in Australian Financial Review, 26 May 1983.
On 20 April, the directors of TEA declared a dividend of 10 cents
a share.
When asked, after the collapse, when he first had become aware
of the company's financial difficulties, the board's chairman replied
that the problems only became apparent at the end of April, little
more than a fortnight before the company was placed in receivership.12 Two directors had resigned from the board as the company
began to falter—one on 26 April and one on 12 May; their reasons
were not made public.
The lack of objective, consistently applied accounting standards
21
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
has been recognised for years as a factor which serves to facilitate,
if not invite, white-collar crime. In the TEA case as well, "creative
accounting" appears to have played a significant role. The
company's liquidators disclosed that unrealised profits were
brought to account, and that only by virtue of such paper profits
did TEA stay in the black as long as it did.13
This also raises questions about the performance of the company's
auditors. All public companies in Australia must submit to an
annual review of their accounts by a registered auditor, independent
of the company itself. In the case of TEA, the auditors were Arthur
Young and Company, the old firm of board chairman, Alexander
Ogilvy.
The function of an audit is to certify the correctness of a
company's financial position as shown in its balance sheet, and
to determine whether a company's accounts are properly drawn
up so as to give a true and fair view of the profit and loss situation.
A company audit serves as a safeguard against fraud, as well as
against unintentional shortcomings in the company's accounting
practices. Registered auditors are required to bring to the attention
of corporate affairs authorities all breaches of law which they detect.
In the case of TEA, the auditor's reports revealed no irregularities.
By Friday, 6 May 1983, Bunning, the Managing Director, and
Ogilvy, the Board Chairman of TEA realised that the company
was in serious difficulty. Together, they called on representatives
of the merchant bank Hill Samuel for advice. The bankers began
their investigation, and very quickly realised the gravity of the
situation. The following Thursday, while their formal report was
still in preparation, they advised TEA's directors that the company
could not continue to borrow without risking breaches of the
Companies Code. The directors, realising they could become
personally liable for any debts incurred by a company of doubtful
solvency, promptly opted to go into receivership. The decision was
announced at a press conference the following day, Friday the 13th.
In the Victorian Parliament, the Opposition sought to criticise
the government for its lack of regulatory vigilance. It was suggested
that TEA's declaration of a dividend, after having reported a loss
in early March 1983, should have sounded an alarm in the AttorneyGeneral's Office. Premier Cain was chastised for retaining the
22
THE DEMISE OF TRUSTEES EXECUTORS AND AGENCY CO. LTD
Attorney-General's portfolio in addition to his chief executive
responsibilities. Implicit in this argument, however, is further
criticism of the TEA board for its lack of managerial oversight.
The Hill Samuel report commissioned just prior to the company's
collapse was less then flattering. It referred to:
. . . the extreme complexity of the underlying legal structures
in a number of projects and the lack of supporting documentation
and uncertainty on the part of TEA management of many aspects
of the arrangements entered into.14
It has thus been suggested that members of the TEA board may
have been either deliberately deceived, or negligently inattentive
to their managerial functions, or both. It was not immediately
apparent what consideration the board had given to the company's
heavy borrowing and to its venturing into areas of risk unprecedented for a trustee company. What was apparent was that at
the very least, even pillars of the Melbourne establishment were
not sufficient to keep the company going.
Laws governing trustee companies were in a sorry state at the
time of the TEA collapse. Despite the fact that the economy of
Australia had long since become an integrated, national economy,
state governments continued to bear responsibility for the
regulation of trustee companies, as well as such other significant
financial institutions as building societies, friendly societies, and
state banks. Despite the fact that clients of TEA were drawn from
around Australia, and the company had investments in various
states, its operations were governed by the laws of Victoria.
Victorian laws were far from adequate. As one commentator
remarked, "the legislation is so poorly drafted it contradicts itself". 15
No limits were placed on the borrowing of a trustee company, and
common funds (pooled assets of various estates) could be invested
with few restrictions.
By contrast, laws relating to sharemarket transactions were
relatively sound. Sections 128-130 of the Securities Industry Code
pertain to "insider trading". In order to maintain public confidence
in Australian sharemarkets, persons in possession of non-public,
price-sensitive information about a company are forbidden to deal
23
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
in the securities of that company. Without such constraints, insiders
would be free to buy shares from unwitting vendors prior to the
release of information likely to drive up the value of a company's
shares, or to sell shares to unwitting purchasers prior to the release
of bad news likely to cause the price of a company's shares to
tumble.
Since all sharemarket transactions are public, it is relatively easy
for the National Companies and Securities Commission or its
delegates, the State and Territory corporate affairs commissions,
to detect unusual fluctuations in the price of a company's shares,
and to determine the identity of a vendor or purchaser. Indeed,
under the prevailing system of co-regulation, the monitoring of
inexplicable fluctuation in share prices or turnover in shares is
also the responsibility of local stock exchanges.
Proving that the transactions entailed criminal conduct is another
matter, however. Because the legitimacy of Australian sharemarkets is at stake, section 129 of the Securities Industry Code
prescribes severe penalties for insider trading—a fine of $20,000
or imprisonment for five years, or both. Moreover, section 130 makes
the insider liable to compensate the other party to a transaction
for his or her loss, and liable to the company whose shares are
traded, for any profit resulting from the transaction.
Despite unusually heavy trading in March 1983, and a drop in
the price of TEA's shares from $4.30 to $3.50 within a week, the
Melbourne Stock Exchange undertook no initial investigation. A
further 20 cent drop in early May, combined with even heavier
turnover was similarly unsuccessful in inspiring the co-regulatory
attentions of the Exchange.16
When the company's insolvency became starkly apparent to the
board, they took immediate steps to appoint a receiver. At the same
time, they advised the Victorian Attorney-General's Department
of the impending collapse. The Premier and Attorney-General, John
Cain, asked the Trustee Companies Association if one or more of
its members might be able to bail out or otherwise sustain TEA.
It might be recalled that not long before, the Reserve Bank of
Australia played a role in facilitating the takeover of the faltering
Bank of Adelaide by the ANZ Group. No such rescue could be
arranged in this case however.
24
THE DEMISE OF TRUSTEES EXECUTORS AND AGENCY CO. LTD
Meanwhile, the Victorian Government, which had invested $3
million with TEA shortly before, withdrew the funds immediately.
Elders Finance had $1 million invested with TEA at call, and
withdrew it on the day TEA went into receivership. In the week
preceding the collapse, more than 16,000 TEA shares changed hands
on the stock exchanges of Sydney and Melbourne.
The Victorian Government's response in the immediate aftermath
of the collapse was one of criticism. In a ministerial statement
made on 31 May 1983, the Premier referred to "incompetent management", "wild investment practices" and "outright negligence". He
accused the TEA board of not being frank with the Government,
the Trustee Companies Association, or its shareholders, and
intimated that breaches of the law had been committed.17
Later that day he told Parliament:
I have reminded the directors of this company of their obligations
under the Trustee Companies Act and the Trustee Act. I have
written to those directors to make clear their obligations. I have
indicated to them that in my view it would be improper for them
to change their financial position so as in any way to prejudice
their obligations under these Acts.18
When TEA went into receivership, its bank accounts were frozen.
Only then did it become apparent that trust funds had been merged
with other moneys in a general operating account. Among the first
challenges facing the liquidators was to distinguish trust moneys.
One of the Victorian Government's initial responses was to ensure
that Victoria's other trustee companies were in good financial
health. Records lodged by TEA's counterparts were examined
closely. A number of other trustee companies were visited by
inspectors, and their accounts analysed. Fortunately, TEA appeared
to have been in a class by itself. Liquidators began to unravel the
company's accounts and to plan for the payment of creditors. The
National Companies and Securities Commission was directed by
the Attorney-General of Victoria to investigate the case, but the
resources made available for the purpose were criticised as
inadequate. 19
Soon after the collapse, the Victorian Government convened a
25
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
working party, chaired by John Finemore QC to undertake a review
and revision of its law governing trustee companies. Interstate
reverberations of the crash prompted a number of other state
governments to undertake similar studies.
Directors of TEA were invited to attend a meeting of creditors
and shareholders in September 1983 to discuss the company's
collapse. None chose to be present, presumably because of the legal
advice they had received.
TEA's shareholders, who might have had a cause of action against
the company's directors, had not taken any significant civil action
at the time of writing. But criminal charges were eventually laid.
The company's Managing Director, Peter Bunning, and Leigh
Jamieson, a taxation accountant and former consultant to TEA,
were convicted of charges under s. 176 of the Crimes Act (Victoria)
on 24 June 1987 in the Supreme Court of Victoria. Those charges
arose out of payments made by Jamieson to Bunning totalling
$27,225 which were alleged by the prosecution to have been paid
and received as secret commissions. Bunning was sentenced to nine
months imprisonment and ordered to pay $27,225 to the liquidators
of TEA. Jamieson was sentenced to nine months imprisonment
and fined $30,000. Jamieson appealed, without success, to the
Victorian Full Supreme Court. An application for special leave to
the High Court was refused.
On 2 September 1987, Bunning pleaded guilty to four charges
of false accounting under the Crimes Act and was sentenced in
the Supreme Court to three years imprisonment with a minimum
of six months, concurrent with the sentence he was then serving
on the secret commission charge. Other charges against Bunning,
and his family company Petane Holdings Pty Ltd, were withdrawn.
The sentencing judge described the statutory maximum penalty
of two years' imprisonment for offences relating to secret
commissions as "totally inadequate" and spoke of "a community
revulsion against crimes of this nature committed by businessmen,
in positions of trust".
Shortly after, the Attorney-General of Victoria announced his
intention to increase the maximum sentence for secret commission
offences under the Crimes Act from two years to ten years.
In June 1986 Howarth Peterson, CBE, a Queensland lawyer and
26
THE DEMISE OF TRUSTEES EXECUTORS AND AGENCY CO. LTD
former treasurer of the state Liberal Party, became the second
director of TEA to face criminal charges. Peterson, after being
informed by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal that he had a
conflict of interest, resigned from the TEA board the day before
the collapse. He had been associated with a law firm which withdrew
$600,000 of clients' funds from TEA a few days earlier. The
summons, issued on instruction by the Queensland Justice Minister,
alleged that Peterson made improper use of information acquired
by virtue of his position.20
In September 1986 charges were laid against five others, including
the former chairman, Mr Ogilvy, and the former company secretary,
L M Reid. The former chairman, Alexander Ogilvy, was charged
with:
• Ten offences against section 85(1) of the Victorian Crimes Act,
which deals with the publication of misleading or deceptive
statements or accounts;
• Four offences against section 124(1) of the Companies Act which
deals with a director's failure to act honestly and with reasonable diligence;
• Four offences against section 163(1) of the Companies Act, which
requires directors to present to each annual general meeting
of the company a financial statement which gives a true and
fair view of the company's state of affairs;
• Four offences against section 229 of the Companies (Victoria)
Code which requires an officer of a corporation to act honestly
and to exercise a reasonable degree of care and diligence in
the exercise of his powers and in the discharge of his duties;
• Four offences against section 276(1) of the Companies (Victoria)
Code, which requires company directors to cause to be made
out profit and loss accounts which give a true and fair view
of the profit or loss of the company.
In December, 1988, three former directors of Stirling Properties
27
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
Ltd, a joint venturer with TEA in property development projects,
were found not guilty of charges relating to the falsification of
accounting records.
The most significant legislative outcome of the TEA collapse
was a reform of the law relating to trustee companies. The working
party convened in the immediate aftermath of the collapse recommended a number of changes which were subsequently adopted later
in the year in the Trustee Companies (Amendment) Act. Among
other things, this placed certain restrictions on borrowing from
the public, and required trustee companies to make quarterly
statutory declarations disclosing the full and true financial situation
of the company. In addition, the Attorney-General of Victoria was
empowered to request information from a company, to call for an
audit, or to order a review of the company's operations. Trustee
companies were henceforth prevented from investing their common
funds in highly geared property developments, and certain classes
of high risk securities. Whether there remains an inherent conflict
of interest between a trustee company's shareholders and the
beneficiaries of estates which it administers is still a subject of
debate. Shareholders seek higher profits and dividends, while beneficiaries seek security and efficient administration of their estates
at least cost. It has been argued that public companies should not
act as trustees at all.21
A year after the collapse, the Victorian Parliament enacted further
measures through the Trustee Company Act 1984. These included
the creation of a reserve liability fund, to which all trustee
companies are required to contribute. Designed to protect vulnerable
beneficiaries from future collapses, the fund is to be drawn upon
in case of liquidation or receivership. The Act further sought to
discourage conflicts of interest by prohibiting the taking of
commissions or profits from trust estates in relation to transactions
with parties related to the trustee company.
As the sixth anniversary of the TEA collapse passed, the legal
process had yet to run its course. Prosecutions against Ogilvy and
Reid were set down for 17 July 1989 in Melbourne Magistrate's
Court.
The liquidation of TEA continued. The deficit, over and above
shareholders' funds, amounted to approximately $8 million. By
28
THE DEMISE OF TRUSTEES EXECUTORS AND AGENCY CO. LTD
August 1985, liquidators had returned 81 cents in the dollar to
TEA's unsecured creditors. It was estimated that the final payout
would reach 85 cents. Meanwhile, TEA's trustee business was taken
over by the ANZ Bank.
Investigations undertaken by the NCSC took two years to
complete, and resulted in five separate reports. By mid-1989 none
had yet been made public. It appears to have been the consensus
of the Ministerial Council on Companies and Securities—the
Attorneys-General of the Commonwealth and States—that
disclosure might prejudice court proceedings.
Speculation regarding the motive for continued confidentiality
ranged from a desire not to prejudice impending prosecutions, to
a desire not to offend the Melbourne establishment. The delay in
bringing the matters to trial seemed consistent with the glacial
pace of corporate affairs prosecutions in Australia. The tantalising
question of whether there is one law for the privileged and another
for the common person may be answered in due course. Meanwhile,
it might be instructive to rely upon the comment of Mr Justice
Beach:
One cannot imagine more shameful behaviour on the part of
a trustee company and its directors. I find it difficult to envisage
a situation calling for stronger condemnation. (The Age, 7 June
1983,1).
1. Marr, D (1984), "More Storms as the TEA Investigations Come to the Boil",
The National Times, 18-24 May, 43.
2. Jury, A and McCarthy, C (1983), "How TEA Betrayed Its Trust", Australian
Business, 29 June, 14-21.
3. Gilmour, J (1983), "When Two Wrongs Make a Right", Australian Business,
29 June, 44.
29
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
4. Quoted in Kavanagh, J (1983), "TEA Case Lights Fire Under All Directors",
Rydges, 56, July, 63.
5. Marr, op cit.
6. Marr, D (1984), "TEA Scam Inquiry Aborted", The National Times, 17-23
August, 35.
7. Ackland, R (1983), "Whose Money Went to TEA", The National Times, 9-15
December 1983, 38-41.
8. Ibid.
9. Jury and McCarthy, op cit, 21.
10. Ibid.
11. Haselhurst, D (1983), "What Your Trustee Can Do—and What He Can't",
The Bulletin, 31 May, 104-106.
12. Jury and McCarthy, op cit, 15.
13. Marr, op cit supra note 1.
14. Quoted in Beckingsale, D (1983), "TEA Statement Due This Week", Australian
Financial Review, 20 June, 1.
15. Mills, B (1983), "Putting the Trustees Under the Microscope", Australian
Financial Review, 25 May, 10.
16. Jury and McCarthy, op cit, 15.
17.
Victorian Parliamentary Debates, Assembly, 1982-83, 4708-4710.
18. Ibid, 4710.
19. Marr, op cit supra note 1.
20. Forbes, M (1986), "New TEA Charge Shocks Brisbane Business World", The
National Times, 13-19 June, 39.
21. Mills, op cit supra note 8.
30
A
ndrew Stathis was a high-flier. The son of Greek migrants
who grew up in Cowra, Stathis was educated at Sydney's exclusive
Cranbrook School where he was chairman of the Cranbrook
Adventurers' Club. His greatest adventures—and misadventures—lay
ahead.
Stathis made a small fortune from real estate in the boom of the
early '70s. He was building a name for himself at high-stake card
games and prominent race meetings. In 1979 he was charged under
the name of Andreas Stathopolous with conspiracy to cultivate Indian
hemp. He was committed for trial in 1980 but remained free on
$20,000 bail.
Within two years he was a member of the elite insurance company
owners, buying a company from no lesser firm than the old and proud
P&O. Nine months and $19 million later Stathis had fled both the
industry and the country. Banks, brokers, public companies: all had
been victims of Andrew Stathis. How could a high-rolling gambler
on bail for an alleged drugs offence hoodwink the business establishment?
The early 1980s were not the best years for the general insurance
industry in Australia. Among the less satisfactory performers was
Bishopsgate Insurance Australia Ltd—a Melbourne company
founded in 1965 and owned by P&O Australia.
31
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
According to the annual reports of the Commonwealth Insurance
Commissioner, Bishopsgate recorded an overall after-tax loss of
$336,905 in the year ended 31 December 1981, and $660,745 the
following year. 1 There is evidence that the parent company, P&O,
subsidised the operations of Bishopsgate, at least during 1981-1982.
Not surprisingly, P&O decided to divest itself of its ailing subsidiary.
The chairman of P&O Australia announced the sale with pleasure
at the company's 1982 annual meeting.
Under the economic circumstances prevailing at the time, P&O
was fortunate to find a buyer. Indeed, Bishopsgate had been on
the market for the previous 18 months. The proud new owners
of Bishopsgate were six companies—controlled by or acting for
Andrew Stathis.
Why Stathis was tempted to venture into the insurance business
at such an inauspicious time was not immediately apparent. He
was, to say the least, an unusual entrant to an industry not noted
for its flamboyance. P&O had no sentimental attachment to
Bishopsgate; the parent company was concerned simply that the
prospective purchasers honoured the terms of the negotiations and
paid the appropriate money.
To this end, it made inquiries in the banking industry regarding
Stathis's financial reputation, and received favourable responses.
No inquiries were made about a Mr Stathopolous, however. Control
of Bishopsgate passed to Stathis in late January 1983, on payment
of $1,000,000 deposit on a total consideration of $4,814,000.
During the first six months of 1983, Stathis quietly but progressively shifted about $12 million of Bishopsgate's assets from
Australia to overseas accounts—$2 million of this was later brought
back to Australia to finance an increase in Bishopsgate's capital,
while other funds were returned, after a complex chain of
transactions, to pay the remaining debt to P&O.
In August 1983, Stathis quietly left Australia and disappeared.
The company was placed in liquidation, with approximately $19
million in funds unaccounted for. And more than one Sydney
bookmaker was left holding substantial debts.
At the time of the collapse, there were approximately 5,000 claims
outstanding by Bishopsgate policyholders. The extent of their losses
were not immediately apparent, but for some, it was potentially
32
THE COLLAPSE OF BISHOPSGATE INSURANCE
catastrophic. Such uncertainty is, after all, what insurance is
supposed to protect against.
In some cases, Bishopsgate had arranged reinsurance policies
with overseas reinsurers, in effect insuring itself against losses
arising from an excess of claims over premiums. But some of these
overseas reinsurers in turn placed the policy with Bishopsgate,
thereby negating the benefits of reinsurance. Some 50,000 individual
and business policyholders were advised by the provisional
liquidator to take out alternative insurance cover as soon as possible.
Workers' compensation policy holders were more fortunate—their
insurance was guaranteed under various State provisions, at least
up to the date on which the company went into liquidation.
When Stathis bought out Bishopsgate, he made significant
changes to its operating procedures. From the outset, he assumed
personal control of the company's finance and investments. On
27 January 1983 his fellow directors appointed Stathis executive
director responsible for these functions. This role had previously
been performed by the merchant bank BT Australia. Stathis advised
the company secretary and managing director that their responsibilities lay elsewhere than the area of investments, and excluded
them from all subsequent decisions.
His apparently secretive nature, combined with this functional
rearrangement, concealed his actions initially. Corporate headquarters were shifted from Melbourne to Sydney, and meetings
of the board of directors, which had been held regularly on a monthly
basis, were no longer convened.
The company's managing director, frustrated by the radically
different management style introduced after the change of ownership, and by his exclusion from all matters concerning finance and
investment, resigned on 12 April 1983. Resignations of the company
secretary and two senior Melbourne staff followed in July. They
may have been uneasy about Stathis's management practices, but
they registered no formal objections.
There is no evidence of complicity on the part of Bishopsgate
staff. Senior officers were shown monthly lists of what were
ostensibly the company's security holdings, but these later proved
to be false. Management was no longer able to identify independently
where the company's assets were invested.
33
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
The March quarterly report to the Office of the Insurance
Commissioner, based on data prepared by Stathis, was signed by
the head office accountant. There were no requirements that the
report be independently audited. The Office of the Insurance
Commissioner requested corrections and revisions to the report,
and an amended version was signed in June by the company
secretary.
Stathis acted quickly and unobtrusively, before the reservoir of
trust which he had acquired along with the company had
evaporated.
If breaches of the Insurance Act or the criminal law were apparent
to Bishopsgate employees, loyalty to the company and deference
to its new owners prevailed. (Whether the company's directors acted
with reasonable care and diligence might also be questioned.)
Internal safeguards against corporate abuse were thus completely
eroded.
The means by which Bishopsgate's funds were transferred overseas were fairly complex. On 4 February 1983, $2 million were
transferred from Bishopsgate through two Stathis companies to
a brokerage firm in the United States as a deposit on gold futures
trading. This, and additional funds of just under $3 million were
subsequently lost on the futures market.
A further series of transactions between March and July 1983
transferred an additional $15 million from Bishopsgate to Stathis
shelf companies, and to overseas accounts.
In one case $4.5 million was transferred from Bishopsgate's funds
held by a merchant bank, ostensibly for the purpose of acquiring
publicly-listed shares in the US. Indeed, liquidators and New South
Wales Fraud Squad detectives later identified 37 different transactions over the last seven months of Bishopsgate's existence. Some
of the money was refunded from time to time to meet Bishopsgate's
cash needs in Australia. The net fraud totalled $18,550,000.
It appears that Stathis sought either to strip the company of
its assets and shift them overseas, or to use Bishopsgate as a bank
for gambling in the futures market. 2
It might also be recalled that Stathis owed P&O approximately
$3.8 million for the purchase of Bishopsgate. His dealings in gold
futures in early February 1983 may have been based on the
34
THE COLLAPSE OF BISHOPSGATE INSURANCE
expectation of generating sufficient funds to pay P&O for the
company.
With the apparently disastrous consequences of his futures
trading, Stathis may have seen no alternative but to leave Australia
with funds sufficient to provide for a comfortable retirement.
The insurance industry in Australia is fairly clubbish, and the
rumours of new management practices at Bishopsgate began to
circulate early on. Even though Stathis was an outsider to the
industry, the response of his peers was limited to a privately raised
eyebrow. To its ultimate embarrassment, the industry took no
collective action to "blow the whistle" on Bishopsgate. There was
nothing remotely resembling self-regulation within an industry
noted for its resistance to government involvement in its affairs.
The basic justification for regulation of the insurance industry
is to ensure the solvency of insurance companies. An insurance
company which fails, whether by misfortune, incompetence, or
design, leaves its customers without coverage and thereby
vulnerable to catastrophic loss.
In Australia, there exist two distinct systems for ensuring the
solvency of insurers. The Life Insurance Act 1945 applies to the
life insurance industry, and the Insurance Act 1973 applies to the
less specialised general (non-life) insurance industry, of which
Bishopsgate was a member.
Although no life insurance company has failed in the past 40
years, insolvency in the general insurance industry is much more
common. During the decade of the 1970s, 23 general insurance
companies went into liquidation. Four of these were firms
authorised under the terms of the Insurance Act 1973.3 Since 1978,
general insurance companies in Australia have failed at the rate
of about one a year. At least three of these cases involved alleged
misappropriation of funds by company executives. 4
Responsibility for overseeing of the general insurance industry
rested with the Insurance Commissioner and his staff of 43, whose
concerns lay almost exclusively with monitoring the solvency of
the 197 general insurance companies authorised under the
Insurance Act. The cost to the Australian taxpayer of this particular
regulatory regime approached $1.5 million in the year of the
Bishopsgate collapse.
35
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
At the time Bishopsgate was acquired by Stathis's interests,
regulation of the general insurance industry in Australia was
relatively relaxed. Despite the existence of formidable powers of
investigation provided by the Insurance Act, internal company
procedures lay beyond the scrutiny of the Insurance Commissioner,
who remained ignorant of the exclusion of the merchant bank BT
Australia from investment decisions, and of the transactions
through which Bishopsgate assets were shifted offshore.
Regulation of the general insurance industry in Australia
contrasts sharply with overseas models. In the United Kingdom,
the Secretary of State may prescribe investments which he regards
as "likely to be undesirable in the interests of policyholders".
Insurers are required to notify the authorities of any such investment which they make; such information may then be published.
Moreover, the Secretary of State may forbid insurers to make certain
investments or may require insurers to realise all or part of certain
investments.
Even stricter investment controls prevail in the United States.
State insurance laws often explicitly forbid certain investments,
and authorise others. Those favoured include government bonds
and other fixed value, high quality investments. Those prohibited
include investments of a speculative nature.
The United Kingdom also imposes strict controls over people
who may be directors or managers of insurance companies. Without
the consent of the Secretary of State, a person may not become
a managing director, chief executive, or controller of an authorised
insurer. If the Secretary of State cannot be satisfied that any of
these is a fit and proper person, the company's authorisation to
conduct business can be denied or withdrawn.
By contrast, there were no barriers (other than financial) to
entering the Australian general insurance industry. This contrasts
markedly with other domains of prudential regulation, the most
restrictive of which is the banking industry. Banking licences are
issued only after strict scrutiny of directors and management, and
after authorities are satisfied that operational management
proposals conform to rigid criteria.
Life insurance companies in Australia were subject to a different
regulatory regime from general insurance companies. Despite the
36
THE COLLAPSE OF BISHOPSGATE INSURANCE
absence of formal restrictions on entry to the life insurance industry,
the Life Insurance Commissioner discouraged acquisition of life
companies by inappropriate interests. The means employed were
informal, and tend to involve fairly intense questioning of
prospective purchasers regarding operational plans, with an
indication that company operations would be under close
observation.
in the absence of similar scrutiny of entrants to the general
insurance industry, the Stathis interests were able to acquire
Bishopsgate without attracting attention. And so it was that a
general insurance company, which had sustained net losses of more
than $1 million over the previous two years, could be taken over
by interests with no previous background in the insurance industry,
one of whom had briefly been declared bankrupt, and who was
at the time awaiting trial for an indictable offence.
The massive transfer of Bishopsgate's funds overseas escaped
official scrutiny. Under the exchange control regulations in force
at the time, Stathis obtained routine Reserve Bank approval for
his transactions. The placement of reinsurance by overseas
reinsurers remained outside the jurisdiction of the Insurance Act.
Under section 52 of the Insurance Act, if it appears to the
Insurance Commissioner that an authorised insurer is or is about
to become unable to meet its liabilities or has breached a provision
of the Act, the Federal Treasurer may formally appoint an inspector
to investigate the affairs of the company. Powers of inspectors so
appointed are substantial; they may (and even on reasonable
grounds without a warrant) enter any premises, examine or take
possession of any books on the premises, and may compel
representatives of the body corporate to answer questions put to
them, even when such answers may tend to incriminate the person.
(Such answers would not be admissible in evidence against him
or her in criminal proceedings, however.) Failure to co-operate with
an inspector can lead to a fine of $1,000 or imprisonment for three
months.
Formidable though they may appear, these special investigative
powers are rarely used, and were never invoked in the Bishopsgate
matter. The annual report of the Insurance Commissioner for the
year ended 30 June 1983 reported that no inspectors had been
37
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
appointed under this section of the Act for over three years. 5
Bishopsgate appears to have first attracted the attention of the
Insurance Commissioner following the lodgment of its obligatory
quarterly return in March 1983. An amended version of the return
was required, and this reached the Office of the Insurance
Commissioner in June. The substance of these returns, in light
of rumours which had begun to circulate around the industry,
invited closer scrutiny.
An inspector from the Office of the Insurance Commissioner
contacted Stathis in early July 1983 with a request to review the
company's investment records. Even then, the inspector was armed
only with general powers, and not the special powers under section
52. An appointment was arranged, but Stathis fled the country.
Treasury also acted to stop the movement of funds offshore, but
the assets in question had long since been transferred.
The Office of the Insurance Commissioner was not quick to defend
its role in the Bishopsgate affair. When asked to comment on the
case shortly after the company went into liquidation, it refused,
on the grounds of the secrecy provisions of the Insurance Act, and
the fact that the appointment of a liquidator removed the company
from the auspices of the Insurance Commissioner. 6 Indeed, section
126 of the Insurance Act provides for a fine of $1,000 or imprisonment for three months for disclosing information acquired by reason
of employment under the Act. The essential justification for a
secrecy provision, however, is not to shield the Office of the
Insurance Commissioner from public scrutiny, but rather to protect
insurance companies in financial difficulties from a stampede of
desertion by policyholders in the event that the companies' financial
vulnerability became public knowledge. The implications of such
provisions for informed consumer choice should be obvious, but
that is another matter.
Subsequently, the Office of the Insurance Commissioner did issue
statements, reminding the public that the Insurance Act was
intended as a precaution, not as a guarantee against insolvency,
and that in any event, the Act was not designed to prevent fraud.
It was also stressed that the limitations of the Insurance Act
had been pointed out by successive Insurance Commissioners in
their annual reports, and that neither the common law nor the
38
THE COLLAPSE OF BISHOPSGATE INSURANCE
Companies Act was successful in preventing the misconduct in
question. 7
Implicit in this is criticism of police and corporate affairs
authorities who might have been more attentive to the activities
of a person free on bail awaiting trial on drug charges. Further
inquiries to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner regarding
the adequacy of its regulatory response to the Bishopsgate matter
saw the secrecy provisions of the Insurance Act invoked yet again.
Andrew Stathis remained at large, and the likelihood of his ever
returning to Australia seemed remote. No charges were laid against
anyone else associated with the company. The liquidation of
Bishopsgate put an end to the company itself and to any question
of corporate reform.
Those apparently honest company officials who were present
during its demise no doubt, with hindsight, have developed an
appreciation of the symptoms of company stripping. But the real
lessons to be learned from the Bishopsgate affair are to be learned
by regulatory authorities.
Despite the ease with which Stathis transferred funds offshore,
exchange control regulations have been even further liberalised
since Bishopsgate, as part of the Commonwealth Government's
deregulation of the financial industry. A reversal of this policy is
out of the question.
The Insurance (Amendment) Act 1983, which had been introduced
before the collapse, increased the maximum paid-up capital requirements and solvency requirements of insurers. The minimum paidup share capital was increased from $200,000 to $500,000, and the
minimum excess of admissible assets over total liabilities was
increased from $100,000 to $1 million, or from 15 per cent to 20
per cent of premium income, whichever is greater.
Additional amendments provided for an expanded quarterly
reporting system, including information relating to insurance and
other business carried on in Australia and overseas. The penalty
for failure to comply was raised to $20,000.
Not long after the collapse, the Federal Government indicated
that it might consider amendments to the Insurance Act designed
to minimise the likelihood of future Bishopsgates. One of these
would require that prospective insurance executives be "fit and
39
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
proper" people to be placed in such a position of public trust.
Ironically, the Australian Law Reform Commission had only just
recommended against such a provision, on grounds of administrative
cost and anti-competitive impact. 8
The Australian Law Reform Commission had, however, foreseen
a need for greater solvency protections for the general insurance
industry. It recommended that the Insurance Commissioner be
empowered to require a general insurer to reduce its level of
investment in particular areas. It also recommended the creation
of a policyholders' guarantee scheme to protect the insured in the
event of an insurance company's insolvency.
The Bishopsgate story would continue, as the company's
liquidation was destined to be a drawn-out process. In 1985, it was
estimated that the bulk of the dividend would reach creditors by
1990. Final payments would take an additional five years. Those
creditors with access to reinsurance proceeds could expect a
relatively high dividend, possibly 100 cents in the dollar. Those
without such rights could expect a return closer to 29 cents in
the dollar.
Proposals to reform the structure and process of insurance
regulation in Australia appear to have been overtaken by the spirit
of deregulation prevailing in Canberra in the mid 1980s. Despite
repeated calls by the Insurance Commissioner for their introduction,
greater constraints on investment decision making by insurance
companies are regarded as distinctly unfashionable by 1980s governments of the day. More frequent auditing of company records is
opposed on grounds of excessive administrative expense. Greater
powers of information gathering, including mandatory notification
of any change in the company's assets, ownership or directorship
have been supported by the Insurance Commissioner, but opposed
by industry.
Although the Commonwealth Treasury had conceded in a 1979
submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission that
limitations on the public disclosure of financial information by
insurance companies made it difficult for an insuring public to
make discriminatory choices between insurers, there have been
no serious initiatives to widen disclosure provisions.
Treasury maintains that given the ambiguity of accounting
40
THE COLLAPSE OF BISHOPSGATE INSURANCE
standards, the public might actually be misled by some companies'
returns. It has also been suggested that insurance companies,
realising that their financial statements would become part of the
public record, might not be as willing to make as full and frank
a disclosure to the Insurance Commissioner as they would under
the cloak of anonymity (not that the cloak of anonymity induced
any candour on the part of Bishopsgate and its principals). The
industry, of course, remains steadfastly opposed to further
disclosure requirements.
So, too, does industry oppose a policyholders' protection fund,
which would require companies to share the burdens occasioned
by the few rotten apples or incompetents in the insurance industry.
After twelve years of resistance, the industry finally dropped its
opposition to a "fit and proper person" test, similar to that which
had operated in the United Kingdom since 1974. While the Commonwealth Government appeared less resistant to this than to other
proposed reforms, such provisions had yet to be implemented by
the end of 1987, however.
Effectively, the Government had embraced a policy of deregulation bordering on the principles of caveat emptor. Two years after
the collapse of Bishopsgate, it argued that total protection of
policyholders against those who set out to defraud could never be
guaranteed. In the words of the Minister assisting the Treasurer,
Mr Hurford, "Insurance policyholders must adopt a critical and
questioning approach when insuring". Mr Hurford did not indicate
how this was likely to happen given the secrecy provisions of the
Insurance Act.
What other reforms might serve to prevent future Bishopsgates?
It would be simple enough to require formal approval for the
transfer of more than ten percent of an insurance company's capital.
The requirement that, in addition to annual audits, quarterly
returns to the Insurance Commissioner be accompanied by an
auditor's certificate would add perhaps $16,000 a year to the costs
of a company the size of Bishopsgate. Such a quarterly requirement
could perhaps be waived in the case of long-established companies
with proven track records, but maintained for newly acquired or
marginal operations.
Similarly, insurance companies could be prohibited from
41
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
registering their assets in any name other than that of the company.
In addition, greater details could be required to be specified on
the face of cheques or other negotiable instruments drawn on behalf
of insurance companies regarding the account to which the proceeds
are to be credited, or the purpose to which the funds are to be
applied.
Despite the inherent merit of these and other counter-measures,
their implementation by the Commonwealth Government seems
unlikely.
Meanwhile, life in the insurance industry goes on. Four other
insurance companies collapsed during 1984.
Beyond the 1983 amendments, there have been no dramatic
departures from previous regulatory practice by the Insurance
Commissioner. In general, the insurance industry is content with
the system of regulation as it exists at present. When asked about
his attitudes towards proposed regulatory reforms, a representative
of the industry told the author, "You can write regulations 'til
you're blue in the face. The best insurance regulation is an honest
man".
POSTSCRIPT
Andrew Stathis continued to tempt fate, and without success. In
October 1987, he was arrested by Greek authorities while in
possession of 23 kilograms of heroin. As a Greek national, Stathis
could not be extradited to Australia under the extradition agreement
which exists between the two nations. He could, however, be
prosecuted in Greece by Greek authorities on behalf of New South
Wales or Australian Federal authorities. Given the seriousness of
the charges he faced under Greek law, however, parallel prosecution
on Australian charges hardly seemed necessary. Whatever the
outcome, Stathis appeared likely to remain a prisoner in Greece
for many years.
42
THE COLLAPSE OF BISHOPSGATE INSURANCE
1. Insurance Commissioner (1982), Annual Report, 1981-82, Australian
Government Publishing Service, Canberra; Insurance Commissioner (1983),
Annual Report, 1982-83, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
2. Milliken, R and Ryan C, (1984), "Revealed: the Real Story of the Bishopsgate
Swindle", The National Times, 17-23 February, 41.
3. Australian Law Reform Commission (1982), Insurance Contracts (Report No.
20), Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
4. Ryan, C (1983), "Behind the Collapse of Bishopsgate", The National Times,
12-18 August, 39.
5. Insurance Commissioner (1983) op cit, 3.
6. Ryan, op cit.
7. Buduls, A (1983), "Insurance Act Flaws Exposed by Bishopsgate", Australian
Financial Review, 15 August, 1.
8. Australian Law Reform Commission op cit supra note 3.
43
TT5{l»iiiJLMi)
WMMm
F
or Hugh Nichols, it seemed the chance of a lifetime. A huge
area of land. Cheap at only $110 an acre. And most important
of all, outside local government boundaries.
Nichols, a Brisbane real estate agent, dreamed of building a holiday
and retirement resort unhampered by red tape, health and planning
approvals.
But that dream was to turn into a legal nightmare—and one of
the longest and most expensive criminal cases in Australian history
. . . the Russell Island conspiracy trial.
That $3 million trial in the Queensland District Court collapsed
when on Tuesday, 9 March 1983,14 days after retiring to consider
a verdict, one of the jurors fell ill. After medical advice, the judge
announced that in view of the key role this juror had played, the
trial had to be abandoned.
Its collapse caused considerable misgivings in the media and
among the legal profession about the capacity of the justice system
to cope with complex "white collar" cases.
Important though these issues are, however, they are not the
only ones highlighted by this scandal.
At first assessment Russell Island may seem merely to have been
a repetition of an age-old pattern of fraud: purchase, sub-division
and resale at exorbitant profit, of poor quality land near a prime
44
THE RUSSELL ISLAND LAND FRAUD
location, using unscrupulous sales techniques and misleading
advertising.
Closer analysis of the way the scheme developed, was investigated
and prosecuted, however, presents a more complex picture. The
fraud could never have assumed the dimensions it did without the
compliance, if not co-operation, of key elements of politics and the
bureaucracy in Queensland, and of the professional, commercial
and financial sectors.
In recounting the Russell Island story, this chapter gives
particular attention to the role these institutions played. The
intention is not merely to identify how schemes of this type might
in future be avoided, but to provide insight into issues central to
Queensland—and Australian—society.
A key to putting Russell Island in its social context is to realise
that far from being a scam from the start, it had its origins in
a bona fide attempt at development.
Hugh Nichols began buying large amounts of land in the southern
end of the island during 1968. Russell Island is just 25 miles (40 km)
south-east of Brisbane and 20 (32 km) north of the Gold Coast.
Although relatively close to these centres, the absence of road and
rail links to the mainland meant that even in the late 1960s it
remained a rural backwater, farmed by a handful of families. Nichols
bought 1,340 acres (542 ha) and paid only $110 an acre (half a
hectare) freehold 1 . Titles dated back to the only Lands Department
survey ever made, in 1872.
Of course, the island also had its drawbacks. Since the original
survey much of the land had deteriorated. Folklore has it that in
1901 a sandbar on nearby North Stradbroke Island, which shelters
Russell Island from the Pacific, had breached. Tidal levels had risen.
And by the time Nichols bought the land, about a third of the
area covered by his titles had become outright swamp or was subject
to tidal flooding.
As Gold Coast development has shown, however, such land can
be "reclaimed", and in any case there was ample dry land for
development. So Nichols commissioned plans for his parkland-type
resort.
Proposed allotments were from one-half to one acre each (onequarter to half a hectare) with the poorer quality land subsumed
45
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
in recreation and common areas. A golf course, shops, an esplanade
and even a small airport were included, and civil engineers were
engaged to develop schemes for draining swamps and constructing
a boat harbour.
The scope of these plans leaves little doubt that Nichols wanted
to develop a major complex which would exploit and enhance
Queensland's growing reputation as a holiday and retirement
centre. 2
Before doing so, however, he had to persuade the government
to provide electricity and other infrastructure. And it was then
the scheme went awry. Exploiting contacts with Parliament House
staff, Nichols obtained an interview with Mr Wallace Rae, the
Minister with the responsibility for electricity authorities, only to
be told it would not be possible in the immediate future.
At one stroke, this put an end to Nichols's dreams of becoming
a major developer. Without electricity, there was little hope of
obtaining the further capital he would need. Having already
committed himself to spending $140,000 on land, Nichols faced
severe financial embarassment. According to accounts put forward
in court, however, Nichols did not have to go far from Parliament
House to find a way out.
Nichols is alleged to have had a crucial conversation with a
backbench MP, who was soon to be travelling overseas on parliamentary business. The prosecution argued that during this contact
a substitute plan for the Island was hatched.
Rather than going to the trouble and expense of a bona fide
development, Nichols simply should subdivide all his holdings,
including the waterlogged acres, into suburban-sized plots and sell
them. The MP is said to have suggested that if his overseas fares
and accommodation were paid, he could help by securing sales in
Hong Kong and South-East Asian countries. Buyers in those places
had been "brought up in paddy fields" and were clamouring for
land in Australia. They could be induced to buy land in or near
a swamp, and in any case might never see the plots they had bought.
Even the worst quality blocks would seem cheap.
If such allegations are true—and it should be emphasised that
although a former MP was charged, he subsequently was found
to have "no case to answer"—they add a new perspective to Russell
46
THE RUSSELL ISLAND LAND FRAUD
Island. Rather than simply being a "con scheme" engineered by
clever individuals, a picture of partnership between immediate
beneficiaries and more reputable institutions seems appropriate.
This interpretation is further strengthened by reviewing what
occurred after Nichols's visits to Parliament House. In
implementing the ideas outlined above, he needed the help of a
range of professional and commercial interests.
Foremost among these was the surveying profession. Early in
1969, Nichols engaged a surveyor, Victor Bromley Nichols, and gave
him instructions to sub-divide the land into building blocks. If the
surveyor—who, incidentally, was not related to the developerhad rejected the work on the basis of professional ethics, and had
been confident that his colleagues would support him, this might
have been the end of the Russell Island saga.
Instead Victor Nichols simply drew his client's attention to the
poorer quality holdings, and suggested that these remain within
parklands {Courier Mail, 6 November 1979). Of course, the objections
were overruled.
Thereafter the surveyor did his best to carry out orders—although
in some locations the swamp was so deep that accurate work was
impossible. In all a total of 7,335 allotments were created, of which
2,493 (34 per cent) were subject to fresh or salt-water flooding.3
Success in the next step—registering the new sub-divisions—
was dependent not just on professional assistance but on compliance
from a government instrumentality. As mentioned earlier, Russell
Island was, at this stage, outside local authority boundaries, and
this meant that Nichols could deal directly with the Queensland
Government's Land Titles Office.
Initially there were some problems. The Titles Office's staff
surveyor, Mr Roy Henry, who inspected the island, was far from
impressed. He later testified that in some places he could not even
find survey pegs because the water was too deep, and that elsewhere
there were sheer drops of 20-30 feet (6-9 m) between roads and
the allotments to which they provided access.
In his report Henry forcefully put the view that much of the
Russell Island land was worthless, and recommended that registration of the new sub-divisions at least be deferred. 4 Nichols left
it to his solicitors to smooth the way and, for reasons which have
47
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
never been disclosed, Henry's superiors overrode his objections.
The new sub-divisions were registered at the Titles Office, and
Nichols and a sales team began selling Russell Island blocks throughout Australia and overseas.
An extensive advertising campaign, using a variety of media,
was used to boost the sales effort. Thousands of households in
Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia were
leafleted, and a video prepared for potential clients in Asia. Newspaper advertisements appeared in Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and
Melbourne, real estate agents in those cities carried Russell Island
in their books, and an "island estate" also was the subject of a
radio campaign on Sydney's 2KY.
The theme of all this publicity was that, at last, the ordinary
men and women in the street had a chance to buy their share
of the "good life" on a tropical island paradise:
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Just north of Surfers Paradise
Electricity, phone, shops, school, post office
Beautiful views of Moreton Bay and other islands
Reef fish
Mudcrabs
Oysters off the rocks
No legal expenses
Tropical fruit gardens, avocados, pawpaws, pineapples etc.
DON'T BE A QUEENSLANDER WHO MISSED
(The Australian, 4 November 1972)
If court transcripts and statements to police are to be believed,
however, these advertisements were muted compared with the
verbal claims made to people who were lured to the island by the
offer of free inspection tours. They included statements that:
• Submerged blocks would be filled to a level of 3 feet
• Sealed roads and drains, a hotel, hospital, school, shopping
complex, a marina and recreational centres were to be built
48
THE RUSSELL ISLAND LAND FRAUD
• Russell Island would soon be connected to the mainland by
a causeway, a bridge and even a hovercraft service
• Boat harbours were being dredged.
None of these wishes had a hope of being fulfilled, but promoters
made sure that visitors would be presented with ample signs of
activity. Workmen were recruited to carry out token sand dredging,
road cutting and grading—preferably on weekends when prospective customers would be inspecting. Often this "grading"
involved removing up to 50 per cent of the soil from blocks already
sold, and using it as filler for land still on the market. Sales people
also made sure that the poorer quality swamp land was not "overexposed"—even if this meant misleading clients about the actual
block they would be buying.
The experience of a Randwick couple, Dennis and Patricia
Gibbons, is typical. After receiving a leaflet and being impressed
by its evocation of:
. . . magnificent water views, island atmosphere, beautifully
undulating . . . fishing, water skiing, surf beach 2 miles (3 km),
shop, school, electricity, underground water, ferry . . .
they took advantage of the free inspection offer and flew to
Queensland in mid 1971. At the island they were shown three blocks
on which their "dream home" could be built. These were well above
the water mark on the side of a hill, and seemed a bargain at
$2,055.
Two years later, after completing payments and applying for
a building permit, the Gibbons discovered that the allotments
purchased were not the ones they had been shown. Instead they
had invested in salt-water swamp, totally unsuitable for housing.
Such accounts leave little doubt that unscrupulous sales tactics—
not to mention outright lies—by salesmen were important in making
the Russell Island fraud a success.
But this should not obscure the roles played by other elements.
If the mass media had required that the Russell Island claims be
verified before being advertised, far fewer potential victims would
have been attracted. From testimony of other purchasers, moreover,
49
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
it is clear that the finance industry and the legal profession also
had an influence.
A point stressed to buyers was that the land "must be good"
because reputable finance companies such as Custom Credit and
Associated Securities (Qld) Ltd were prepared to lend almost all
the purchase price. Buyers also were directed to "reliable solicitors"
whose "searches" failed to reveal anything about which they should
be warned. They were reassured by "valuations"—again by
"reputable professionals".
Finally, constant speculation about the possibility of a bridge
between Russell Island and the mainland, which the Queensland
Government did little to discourage, lent further strength to the
profit-making. Most allotments were priced at $1,000 to $2,000,
and books subsequently seized by the Fraud Squad showed that
in the first three years alone (i.e. 1971, 1972 and 1973) companies
selling Russell Island land made profits of $1.7 million. Gains in
subsequent years, when the Gold Coast land boom reached its peak,
would have been significantly higher. 5
Police complaints files suggest there were at least two types of
customer: young couples wanting eventually to make a home on
the island and to work in Brisbane, and old people who saw it
as a retirement destination. Few of these purchasers could be
described as affluent or commercially sophisticated. Most intended
to defer occupancy, and a significant proportion came from interstate or overseas, where consumer protection provisions generally
were more stringent than Queensland's.
In light of such factors, perhaps it is understandable that they
were easily victimised and took a long time to realise the deception.
Fewer excuses can be made for State and local governments. Despite
ample warnings they were loath to intervene, and as a result the
scheme flourished.
Signs of official misgivings about Russell Island date back at
least to 1972. In November of that year, Queensland Minister for
Local Government—Mr Henry McKechnie—expressed concern at
interstate and overseas advertising of the island.
Several months earlier the chairman of Redland Shire, the nearest
local government authority, had protested about the nature and
extent of sub-division and the way the island's foreshores were
50
THE RUSSELL ISLAND LAND FRAUD
being alienated. 6 Perhaps prompted by these warnings, the Queensland Government moved in May 1973 to incorporate Russell Island
within Redland's boundaries. This effectively barred further subdivision but it did nothing to inhibit the fraud already rampant.
Sales of swamp continued, and it was not until mid 1974, and
publication of a dossier, Russell Island—a Real Estate Development
Rape, that the extent of the problem became too widely known
to be ignored.
The document had been compiled by Dennis and Patricia Gibbons,
who after discovering their own predicament had investigated other
purchases. It was circulated to politicians, local authorities and
relevant government departments in Queensland, and by the end
of 1974 had been forwarded to the Commissioner of Police.
Confronted with such evidence, the Government authorised a Fraud
Squad inquiry.
To Detective Sergeant P ("Vince") Mahony, the man selected
for the investigation, Russell Island must have been a particular
challenge.
At the time he was assigned to this case he already had a
significant workload, and his health was delicate. Indeed, by April
1975, Mahony had been forced to take extended sick leave for a
kidney transplant. This, and the pressure of other work, meant
that not until October 1976 was he able to give his full attention
to the land sales and their implications.
Then Mahony encountered yet another setback. Citing section
8 of the Queensland Valuation of Land Act, which safeguards the
confidentiality of files, the Valuer General's Office refused to
disclose information it had on Russell Island. The refusal, backed
by a Crown law opinion that ". . . nothing learned in the
performance of the Valuer-General's duties would be relevant [to
a police inquiry]" 7 meant that Mahony had to spend massive
amounts of time in the swamps searching for pegs and identifying
the physical nature of blocks. He also had to find and interview
at least 150 complainants throughout Australia, and it was not
until mid November 1978 that a report on Russell Island was
completed.
The report outlined Mahony's reasons for suspecting that major
fraud had occurred. It pointed out that there was already ample
51
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
evidence to charge salesmen with false pretences and related
offences, but argued that it would be ludicrous to proceed against
"front men" and ignore key individuals who had put the scheme
together.
More work would be needed to sustain charges relating to this
initial conspiracy, and not for the first time, Mahony made a plea
for additional resources:
Unfortunately, I have not been able always to keep pace with
the volume of work involved in this, and other, investigations.
I have been involved in many other investigations simultaneous
with this investigation, and on many occasions have had to act
as officer in charge of this squad in the absence of the officer
in charge. I have discussed the problem of keeping up with the
volume of work and have requested assistance on numerous
occasions, but although requests have been received with a deal
of sympathy, the answer has always been the same, that there
was no experienced staff available to assist me . . .8
Such forthright expressions of opinion are not common in a police
force, and shortly after making them, the detective found his work
coming in for close scrutiny. After reviewing the case, however,
Mahony's inspectors could only endorse his views:
". . . complaints arising from Russell Island development were
so vast that no lone police officer should have ever been permitted
or directed to endeavour to carry out an investigation of such
magnitude alone. In fact several pairs of detectives should have
been allotted to this enquiry". 9
His superintendent went even further, arguing that in the light
of the Valuer-General's lack of co-operation—an approach which
could only make one wonder whether there are existent some latent
and/or covert facts relating to the matter—the Minister for Police
should be urged to request a royal commision. For various reasons,
the request was never made. Mahony was left to soldier on alone,
with the understanding that he should consult Crown law officers
when he reached the stage of preparing a prosecution brief.
52
THE RUSSELL ISLAND LAND FRAUD
By this time, however, he had found a valuable ally outside the
force.
For some while Mr Tom Burns, the shadow Minister for Lands
in Queensland, had been receiving complaints about Russell Island.
He had also begun to gather his own evidence, and to pressure
the Government by means of questions and statements in
Parliament.
On 23 January 1979, the Opposition foreshadowed an urgency
motion, stating that unless legal action had started by the time
the House resumed, it would identify a "former Cabinet Minister
and former Liberal Parliamentarian" named in the Fraud Squad's
report.
When the debate took place on 13 March, Burns was savagely
critical of the surveying profession's activities both on Russell Island
and elsewhere, and of the registration of the sub-divisions at the
Titles Office. His remarks were endorsed unequivocally by the
Brisbane Courier Mail, which stated in an editorial that ". . . the
Attorney-General (Mr Lickiss), as Minister responsible for the Titles
Office must answer Mr Burns's claims" (Courier Mail, 15 March
1979).
Despite those comments the Government's reaction still was to
"wash its hands". The Premier, Mr Bjelke Petersen's response was
that there was "insufficient evidence" for a prosecution, and that
aggrieved buyers should take their own action to recover money.
Nonetheless, total inaction was becoming too difficult to defend,
and on 30 March 1979, the day after the Premier had made his
statement, the Minister for Lands announced a Surveyors' Board
inquiry.
It was to "investigate the surveying of allotments of Russell
Island, particularly those made between 1966 and 1973, determine
whether any registered licensed surveyor had been guilty of
incompetence or illegal or unprofessional practice, report on any
related measures the board felt should be brought to Parliament's
attention, and consider what disciplinary action should be taken". 10
As both Burns and the Courier Mail pointed out, such terms were
far too restrictive to come up with the really important answers:
The inquiry may determine whether some surveyors on Russell
53
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Island were incompetent or culpable but that is not the main
issue and the Government knows it . . . the public wants to
know how people were sold land which [the Minister] himself
has described as "disgraceful", who gained from the land, and
why the development was allowed to proceed (Courier Mail,
21 March 1979).
Parliamentary and media calls for Government action did not
let up and finally, in October 1979, charges were laid.
In all, 16 individuals were indicted for conspiracy, between
1 January 1968 and 1 October 1979, to defraud the public by inducing
people to buy land at Russell Island. Those in court included Hugh
Nichols, solicitors and valuers who had acted for him, and salesmen.
Full statement of the allegations required almost 70 typed foolscap
pages, and from the start, the committal and the trial itself promised
to be a war of attrition.
Such expectations were fulfilled. All defendants obtained legal
representation, with separate barristers acting on behalf of different
groups of accused. Committal proceedings alone took more than
90 days, and by the time they were completed, seven of the accused
had been released on the grounds that a prima facie case had not
been established.
During the trial itself, legal costs for 8 defendants were met by
the Public Defender's Office, and Nichols was represented by
Queensland's leading QC, Mr Des Sturgess.
Counsel exploited every legal avenue to protect their clients'
interests, and hearings were interrupted by several applications
to have the jury discharged for technical reasons. One appeal,
relating to an accidental contact between police officers and jurors,
had to be decided by the High Court of Australia.
An early breakthrough for the defence occurred when one of the
accused was discharged on the technical grounds that even if he
had been party to a conspiracy, it was distinct from one involving
the others.
The remaining 8 accused had longer to wait: the trial lasted
20 months—a total of 316 sitting days—before being brought to
an end by the breakdown of a juror.
On 1 April 1983, the Attorney-General, Mr Sam Doumany, issued
54
THE RUSSELL ISLAND LAND FRAUD
a three-paragraph statement that there would be no retrial in the
Russell Island case.
The decision, announced after Parliament had risen for its winter
break and at a time when newspapers were at minimum strength
because of the Easter holiday, was deplored by the Opposition and
the media (Courier Mail, 2 April 1983). Nonetheless it put an end
to any possibility that those behind the scheme would be brought
to justice in a Queensland court.
Abandoning the prosecution was not entirely the end of the story.
A few days after his much-criticised announcement, the AttorneyGeneral floated the idea of government assistance for Russell Island
victims. The concept was taken up by a group of town planners
at the Queensland Institute of Technology, who developed a proposal
for compulsory reclamation involving all purchasers. Legislative
authority, but very little expenditure, by the Queensland
Government would be required. Cabinet, however, declined to play
a role. It also overruled Mr Doumany's suggestion for financial
compensation.
A few buyers took the Queensland Premier's advice and initiated
civil actions. One was successful, but the victory was pyrrhic. No
sooner were damages awarded than the vendor company went into
liquidation.
Burns and Mahony did not relent in their efforts to ensure some
justice and prevent a repetition of what had occurred at Russell
Island. Queensland Hansard reveals the Member for Lytton (Mr
Burns) continued to draw the Government's attention to dubious
schemes in Moreton Bay and elsewhere, and to press for action.
Also, Burns has tried, without much success, to have relevant
professional bodies discipline the surveyors, lawyers and land
valuers who played such a critical role in the scheme. So far the
only person to have incurred any penalty is surveyor Victor Nichols,
who, as a result of the Surveyor's Board inquiry, was fined $250
each on two charges of unprofessionalism and incompetence.
Nichols's practising certificate was not suspended or cancelled
however: in the Disciplinary Committee's view the non-intervention
of Government, which must have known what was happening on
Russell Island, may have led Nichols to believe there was tacit
approval for his activities.
55
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Throughout the trial and after it, Vince Mahony continued to
try to bring the perpetrators to book, and to keep the victims in
the picture:
D e a r . . .,
Thanks for advising your change of address. The trial is still
proceeding, and is not expected to finish until February or March.
Unfortunately [X] has been discharged . . . He is now calling
himself Sir [X], and has continued to trade in land. At . . . he
has sold blocks for a couple of million dollars on the promise
that all the normal services will be provided . . .
During a break in the trial I went to . . . to make inquiries,
and [X] complained that I was harassing him. I no longer have
the investigation, but I will be guiding the officer who has the
file. The jury went over to inspect the land where your block
is situated, but all but one of them refused to go in, as did the
Judge and everyone except [X's] Counsel . . . [X's] Counsel said
"X is too short " . . .
I will advise you of the result of the trial, although your man
is no longer with us.
Yours sincerely,
Vince Mahony11
Mahony died in October 1985 after sevearal years of illness. In
a press statement, Tom Burns remarked that his death probably
meant the end of the Russell Island story.
Despite Russell Island, property speculation in the Moreton Bay
area has continued throughout the 1970s and 80s (see postscript).
Undoubtedly, the long-term shift of capital in Australia from
manufacturing into the tertiary sector—and particularly into "sun
belt" type development12—has fuelled this trend. So, too, have
repeated government pronouncements concerning the possibility
of a bridge linking Stradbroke and other islands with the mainland.
One of the most recent—a May 1984 call by Cabinet for private
consortia to tender for construction rights—was, according to the
Premier, a direct response to demands by conservationists that
a bridge not be built:
56
THE RUSSELL ISLAND LAND FRAUD
The demonstration drew attention to the fact that nothing had
happened, so we activated it today . . . I said we should call
tenders. (Courier Mail, 25 April 1984).
Mr Bjelke-Petersen's worship of private capital and disdain for
minority interests provide a fitting end-note for this chapter. More
than anything, events outlined above are testimony to the havoc
that a philosophy of unrestrained development can wreak, not just
on business ethics but on professional, bureaucratic and political
standards.
This Queensland case is by no means the only example of the
impact speculative capital has had on Australian urban development 13 , but it provides unparalleled illustration of the ways modern
entrepreneurs can ensure that others take the penalties for even
their most ill-judged gambles. 14
Institutions such as mass-advertising, limited liability and the
authority of the professions—which Nichols and his colleagues
exploited—are entrenched aspects of Australian society, and only
governments can prevent their abuse. Consumer victimisation has
no respect for state or even national boundaries, and there are
strong moral, if not constitutional, grounds for Federal intervention
in jurisdictions where an ideological commitment to the notion that:
the state must impose but the minimum of conditions, regulations
and restraints, and beyond these must encourage, yea, demand
the greatest freedom 15
means that regulatory agencies are starved of resources.
Unless such steps are taken rip-offs like Russell Island will be
a regular occurrence.
POSTCRIPT
After the abandonment of the conspiracy case, Russell Island
continued to provide opportunities for fraudulent land sales based
on the classic "bait and switch" technique, as well as on misleading
advertising in general. Property was offered for sale at bargain
prices. Prospective buyers enticed to the scene were then told that
57
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
the block in question had been sold, and were shown more expensive
property. Other potential customers, attracted by assurances of
a blue-ribbon investment, were shown swamp land of the kind which
had made Russell Island famous.
This time, however, the Commonwealth Trade Practices
Commission (not a Queensland Government instrumentality) intervened. In October 1986 a Brisbane entrepreneur and his company,
East Coast Island Sales, were fined a total of $201,000 in Federal
Court after having entered pleas of guilty to a number of offences
under the Trade Practices Act.
There are now grounds for optimism that a Federal Government
presence may discourage future commercial predators on Russell
Island.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The author thanks Inspector Don Plint, of the Queensland Fraud
Squad, and Mr Tom Burns, Deputy Leader of the Queensland
Opposition, for their generous assistance in allowing access to files
on the Russell Island case. Thanks are also due to the South
Australian Attorney-General's Department for financial assistance
to enable the collection of date in Queensland. Views expressed
in this chapter are, of course, those of the author alone.
1. Committal Proceedings, Brisbane Magistrates' Court, 21/4/80.
2. Mahony, P V (1978), "Russell Island Investigation" Internal Report, Queensland
Fraud Squad, November 1978.
3. Committal Proceedings, op cit supra note 1,142.
4. Speirs, N (forthcoming), A Thousand Mud-Crab Farms, Penguin, Melbourne.
5. Committal proceedings, op cit supra note 1, 129-162; Queensland's Deputy
Leader of the Opposition, Mr Tom Burns, has estimated that total profits would
have been $10 to $15 million.
58
THE RUSSELL ISLAND LAND FRAUD
6. Spiers, op cit supra note 5.
7. Mahony, op cit supra note 2.
8. Ibid, 22.
9. Submission, December, 1978.
10. Queensland Parliamentary Papers, 20 March 1979, p 3508.
11. Letter to Russell Island victim, 3 December 1982.
12. Mullins, P (1979), "Australia's Sunbelt Migration: The recent growth of
Brisbane and the Moreton Bay Region" Journal ofAustralian Political Economy,
5; Berry, M (1984), "Urbanisation and Social Change: Australia in the Twentieth
Century", in Encel, S and Bryson, L (Eds), Australian Society (4th Edition),
Longman Cheshire, Melbourne.
13. Sandercock, L (1975), Cities for Sale, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne;
Sandercock, L (1979), The Land Racket, Silverton Books, Melbourne.
14. See Sutton, A and Wild, R (1985), "Small Business: White Collar Villains or
Victims?", International Journal of the Sociology of Law, 13, 3, 247-259, for
discussion of the ways the small business sector has exploited incorporation
and limited liability, and the implications for understanding its role in advanced
capitalism.
15. Extract from Mr Bjelke-Petersen's maiden speech to the Queensland Parliament
in 1947 (quoted in Fitzgerald, R (1984), A History of Queensland from 1915
to the 1980s, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 245).
59
A
merican comedians began commenting wryly about the content
of hamburgers. One big food chain even began a big campaign
to let its customers know its product contained no Australian beef.
It was 1981. And The Great Meat Scandal began one July day
when an inspector in a meat processing plant in San Diego, California
noticed something unusual in a consignment of Australian beefsome of the meat appeared darker than the rest. It proved to be
horsemeat. Within hours of the finding being confirmed in August,
the word flashed around the world.
One week later, kangaroo meat was found in cartons marked for
export as boneless beef.
At the time, the beef export trade was worth approximately $1,000
million a year to Australia. The international trade was highly
competitive, and the United States, which bought over $600 million
worth of Australian beef each year, was a singularly particular
importer. The US hardly depended on beef imports from Australia.
Indeed, American cattlemen, who constituted a powerful lobby, saw
little need for imported beef at all. To ensure the quality of imported
Australian beef, the US Department of Agriculture had officers
permanently stationed in Australia to inspect export meat facilities.
With the substitution discovered in the Californian consignment,
the reputation of the Australian meat export industry came under
considerable threat.
60
THE MEAT SUBSTITUTION SCANDAL
The difficulties were not limited to the American market. In early
September, four consignments of Australian meat were destroyed
by the government of Singapore over discrepancies in health
documents and labelling. Allegations began to emerge that
Australians themselves had been sold meat specified as not for
human consumption.
Initial reaction from the Australian meat industry was to curtail
production. By 10 September 1981, more than 2,000 Australian
meatworkers had been stood down or sacked. Pressure was growing
on the Commonwealth Government to explain how the situation
could have deteriorated so far. The threat of permanent damage
to the Australian meat industry was a major concern for the Fraser
Government. The nation's primary producers were already
confronted by a severe drought. The Opposition called for a judicial
inquiry and for the resignation of the Minister for Primary Industry.
After considerable hesitation, a Royal Commission was appointed.
Those companies implicated in the meat substitution scandal
were not large, complex organisations. Nor were they immensely
profitable. In the world of business, pressure to maximise profit
often leads to cutting corners. All else being equal, the lower the
cost of raw materials, the higher the profit margin. There were
thus no mystical organisational processes which brought on the
harmful conduct. The meat substitution scandal arose from a
combination of greed and opportunity in relatively small companies.
On the other hand, one former meat inspector alleges that a
number of large processing companies were also involved in product
substitution and mislabelling.1 With a shortage of suitable carcasses
arising from the drought, pressure to cut corners was felt by large
and small firms alike. Large scale processing, moreover, can involve
subcontracting to a number of smaller firms. "Hands-on" responsibility is thereby diffused. Also, production pressures may have
militated against strict scrutiny of product as it passed through
stages from abattoir to loading at the wharf. Inadequate quality
control procedures failed to detect product mislabelled by design
or negligence.
Collectively, the Australian meat industry appears to have been
traditionally tolerant of malpractice, and reluctant to report known
or suspected cases. Indeed, Mr Justice Woodward commented on
61
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its reluctance to assist the Royal Commission.2
In mid 1981 the entire system of Australian meat exports appeared
to be in a sorry state. The most striking shortcoming existed within
the Commonwealth Department of Primary Industry (DPI) itself.
An extremely frank and equally critical self-appraisal was
incorporated in the DPI submission to the Woodward Royal
Commission.
The meat inspection service, the department said, "has proved
to be insufficient, costly, poorly managed, overstaffed and . . . in
some respects corrupt" 3 .
The basis for this submission lay in a number of deficiencies.
Because US officials had been traditionally concerned about the
hygiene and sanitary conditions surrounding the preparation of
Australian meat for export, Australian authorities placed great
emphasis on the detection of disease and hygienic handling of meat.
Responsibility for meat inspection rested with the Bureau of Animal
Health (BAH), staffed largely by veterinary officers. They were
less concerned about the accuracy of trade descriptions and other
forms of industry malpractice, and did not regard themselves as
law enforcers.
Control of export approval stamps was lax. They were held by
meatworks managers, rather than by DPI officers. Many inspectors
routinely received meat free or at low cost from the establishments
they oversaw. The practice was longstanding and hardly clandestine—it had been continuing for 40 years.
Organisational problems within the BAH significantly impeded
the flow of information from regional offices to headquarters in
Canberra. Thus, evidence of industry malpractice often failed to
reach BAH headquarters. Fragmentary information which did reach
Canberra rarely brought firm action. No directions were given to
officers in the field regarding the most appropriate response to
future problems.
It was alleged that documents were removed from DPI files and
shredded when the Royal Commission was announced. The Royal
Commissioner, however, concluded that "filing irregularities" could
as easily be explained by the general inadequacies which
characterised DPI administration at the time. 4
Despite the likelihood that adverse publicity could discourage
62
THE MEAT SUBSTITUTION SCANDAL
industry malpractice, officers of the DPI were extremely reluctant
to publicise those incidents of misconduct which occasionally came
to light. This was in fact attributed to the co-operative, as opposed
to the adversary relationship which existed between the agency
and the industry. Indeed the DPI exists to serve and to foster
primary industry in Australia—not to police it. In addition, there
was great concern that any media attention drawn to industry
malpractice would tarnish international and domestic reputation
of Australian meat, and further jeopardise a billion dollar export
trade.
It was no secret in the meat industry that the regulatory regime
failed to stop the domestic product being added to export consignments. This reluctance to regulate inspired the more unscrupulous
operators in the industry to add kangaroo and horsemeat to export
beef.
Another impediment to effective control of misconduct in the
meat industry lay with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and
their relations with the DPI.
The AFP, like all police forces, are called to undertake many
tasks. The energy which they choose to apply to any particular
undertaking tends to be determined by internal decision-making—
that is, they set their own priorities. Occasionally, elected governments will dictate priorities—such as the need to provide security
for a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. But ordinarily,
the AFP determine for themselves the quantity and quality of
investigative resources they devote to an issue, and the speed with
which they will address the tasks at hand.
Police attentiveness to those cases of suspected malpractice in
the meat industry brought to their attention by the DPI was
something less than zealous. Even the Commissioner himself, Sir
Colin Woods, conceded that information about malpractice should
have been pursued with more vigour. The fact that free meat was
provided by one company to officers of the AFP may well have
helped relax the enthusiasm for investigation. 5
In any event, the lack of energy devoted by the AFP to
investigations was hardly challenged by the DPI. In the words of
the Royal Commissioner: "Not enough cases were passed to the
police for action and those that were handed over were not conveyed
63
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with any sense of urgency, importance, or great interest in their
outcome." 6 If told that evidence was insufficient to warrant
prosecution, DPI officers rarely took alternative regulatory action,
such as increased surveillance or the issue of warnings.
Indeed, one team of journalists alleged "the police were discouraged from pursuing their investigation by senior civil servants
and politicians in Canberra". 7 The Deputy Crown Solicitor's Office,
itself soon to be embroiled in scandals arising from the "Bottom
of the Harbour" revelations, seemed disinclined to prosecute,
complaining on more than one occasion that evidence was
insufficient.
Those matters which did go forward proceeded at a snail's pace.
The fact that the police in one case waited 18 months before they
were given permission to prosecute was hardly indicative of
enthusiasm on the part of the DPI and Attorney-General's Department.
Another journalist's account reported that the commissioner of
police threatened to resign unless the government authorised
prosecution in one particular case.8 Thus one sees a classic example
of mutually reinforcing nonchalance, with police taking a cue from
unenthusiastic bureaucrats, and the bureaucrats themselves being
sufficiently unimpressed with the service provided by the police
that they scarcely bothered to use them.
Among the other organisational problems which facilitated
illegalities in the Australian meat industry, the Woodward Royal
Commission criticised inadequate ministerial oversight. The
Minister for Primary Industry admitted that he knew in 1980 of
allegations regarding misconduct in the export beef industry.
Indeed, the report of a committee advising on the overlapping
jurisdiction of Commonwealth and State meat inspection systems
drew attention to corruption within the Commonwealth
inspectorate and misuse of the "Australia Approved" stamp. 9
The Royal Commission was highly critical of the flow of information from the Department to the Minister:
I think it is fair to say that not enough of the allegations which
came to the attention of the DPI were referred to the Minister
and that, accordingly, successive Commonwealth ministers were
64
THE MEAT SUBSTITUTION SCANDAL
not sufficiently informed by DPI of allegedly illegal activities
in the industry or of complaints about the efficiency, and in
some cases the integrity, of elements of the meat inspection
service.10
In a manner most atypical of ministers under the Westminster
system of government, the Hon. Peter Nixon himself criticised the
Department. He referred to the DPI as "nowhere as professional
as the Transport Department [his previous portfolio]. Its briefings
were not as efficient, it did not respond as quickly to ministerial
requests, and it was slow to provide information on current public
issues relating to primary industry". 11
But the Royal Commissioner reserved strong criticism for the
Minister himself:
I believe that the Minister, having heard from a responsible source
that there had been cases of bribery and abuse of power in his
department, should have taken positive steps to investigate the
matter. In my view, he did not deal with this allegation in a
manner that was adequate and effective.12
Another regulatory role was played by the Australian Meat and
Livestock Corporation (AMLC). Although a Commonwealth
statutory authority, AMLC is generally regarded as an industry
body. Its revenue is derived from slaughter levies paid by industry,
and its statutory function is to encourage and promote the
consumption and sale of Australian meat at home and abroad. In
addition to providing a variety of technical and marketing services
to industry, the AMLC has a licensing function. The export of
meat from Australia was prohibited, except by people licensed by
AMLC. The AMLC is empowered to grant, cancel or suspend a
licence. Prior to the Woodward Royal Commission, licences were
rarely denied or revoked. Penalties for violation of licence conditions
were low, and the AMLC had not resorted to prosecution.
The regulatory regime before August 1981 was hardly likely to
discourage malpractice. In the ten years preceeding the substitution
scandal, no more than seven individuals had been convicted of
offences relating to the handling of export meat. Only one conviction
65
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had been obtained under the Export (Meat) Regulations. The Royal
Commissioner referred to the penalties then existing as "ridiculously low", and hardly likely to deter wrongdoing.13
Few could argue with the Royal Commissioner's assessment. The
maximum penalty available under any of the Exports (Meat)
Regulations was a fine of $100. The gains to be made by product
substitution far exceeded any penalty. Indeed, the Royal
Commissioner himself cited the case of a company which continued
substituting product after the principal was fined $100 for applying
false trade descriptions.14
Yet another problem noted by the Woodward Royal Commission
was the fragmentation and overlapping responsibilities for meat
inspection throughout Australia. Commonwealth involvement in
meat inspection derives from its power to regulate exports. Dual
meat inspection began in 1911, when the Commonwealth Government appointed a veterinarian to inspect Queensland meat exports.
At the time of the 1981 scandal, Commonwealth and State
inspectors were operating side by side in New South Wales, Victoria,
Queensland and Western Australia, with overlapping responsibilities. This contributed to a lack of co-ordination and inhibited
the flow of information between inspectorates. Relations between
the Commonwealth and the various State inspectorates were
described as "dismally bad". 15
Problems inherent in this fragmentation and overlap of
Australian meat inspectorates were identified in 1976 by the Royal
Commission into Australian Government Administration. A
committee of inquiry made similar observations four years later. 16
Further criticism of these arrangements had come from the US
Department of Agriculture, as well as from the Australian meat
industry. However, the rivalries and jealousies which seem
inevitably to characterise Australian federalism impeded any
rationalisation of the meat inspectorate systems. Indeed, the
Queensland Government initially threatened not to co-operate with
any Commonwealth judicial inquiry—although it subsequently did
take part.
The US Department of Agriculture—the first to become aware
of substituted product in imports from Australia—acted quickly
to assess the scope of the problem. All consignments of Australian
66
THE MEAT SUBSTITUTION SCANDAL
meat then in the US (approximately $20 million worth) were
impounded pending systematic testing to determine their content.
Meanwhile, US authorities urgently requested their Australian
counterparts to implement new and tighter procedures to guard
against future attempts at substitution.
The Australian response was swift in some respects, and dilatory
in others. Export abattoirs and boning rooms which were found
to be the source of mislabelled product were immediately stripped
of their US certification, thus effectively excluding them from the
export trade. Among the firms sanctioned were the Melbourne based
Profreeze, Jason Meats, Steiger's and Jakes Meats. The DPI began
systematic, scientific, species testing, to ensure the integrity of
export product.
In addition, when it became apparent that the penal provisions
of existing regulatory statutes were derisory, steps were quickly
taken to increase penalties for false description and substitution.
The Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation Act 1977, which
previously provided for a maximum fine of $2,000 for breach of
export licence conditions, was amended to provide a fine of up to
$100,000 or a maximum term of five years' imprisonment, or both.
Work began on new legislation to provide a statutory framework
for a new regulatory regime at the DPI.
In contrast to the low level of resource commitment which
characterised previous Federal Police approaches to the meat
industry, a 40-officer task force was established to investigate
allegations of malpractice.
On the other hand, the Commonwealth Government appeared
disinclined to embark on any overall investigation of the meat export
industry and its regulation; at least any public investigation. On
2 September 1981, an interdepartmental committee was formed.
When pressed to hold a judicial inquiry, the Minister contended
that he was given legal advice against such a course of action.
And while a public inquiry was undesirable because of anticipated
further adverse publicity detracting from the overseas reputation
of Australian meat, there was also apparently a great desire to
avoid further embarrassment to the Fraser Government.
The issue, however, did not blow over. The Opposition and the
Australian Democrats continued their attack, threatening to use
67
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their combined power in the Senate to establish an inquiry in that
chamber. The major daily newspapers criticised the Government's
reluctance, suggesting in one instance that reference to an interdepartmental committee smacked of a "political and administrative
cover-up".17
Unable to withstand the pressure, the Government announced
the appointment of a Royal Commission chaired by Mr Justice
Woodward. Concurrently, an independent consultant, Price Waterhouse and Associates, was retained to review the effectiveness of
interim measures to improve the documentary and physical control
of export meat.
Despite the legislative response in the aftermath of the scandal,
perpetrators of misconduct could only be prosecuted (and fined)
under the law as it stood at the time of the offences alleged. They
were thus liable, with few exceptions, to a fine of only $100.
Moreover, persons giving testimony before the Royal Commission
did so under the condition that their testimony would not be used
against them in criminal proceedings. It was thus decided in the
majority of cases to proceed administratively against the offending
firms, rather than prosecute.
Without explicit legislative authority, but under the executive
power of the Minister for Primary Industry, ten companies were
directed to cease preparing meat for export to the United States.
Thus excluded from an export market, all but one of the companies
ceased operating. Criminal charges were laid against Jason Meats,
and a nominal fine was imposed on conviction. A principal of
Profreeze, Richard V Hammond, was charged in September 1981
with 20 counts of having forged documents issued by or deliverable
to Commonwealth authorities. He was subsequently convicted and
sentenced to four years' imprisonment.
Investigations subsequently implicated some 70 meat inspectors
around Australia with having received bribes or secret commissions.
Three prosecutions were launched in the Northern Territory, and
one conviction resulted. The accused was fined $3,000 and he
subsequently resigned from the Australian Public Service. One
Victorian inspector was sentenced to seven months' imprisonment
and he resigned from the Public Service. Because the outcome of
jury trials was by no means certain, it was decided to deal with
68
THE MEAT SUBSTITUTION SCANDAL
the remaining officers by means of disciplinary proceedings under
the Public Service Act.
Meat substitution and mislabelling also prompted complaints to
the Trade Practices Commission (TPC), a Commonwealth body with
responsibilities in the areas of consumer protection and restrictive
trade practices.
Despite initial reluctance on the part of the DPI and the Federal
Police to co-operate with the TPC in the immediate aftermath of
the 1981 substitution disclosures, it was recognised that the Trade
Practices Act contained effective penalties in contrast to what were,
at the time, the derisory provisions of other statutes then in the
process of amendment. Moreover, the TPC enjoyed the luxury of
freedom from ongoing relationships with the meat industry, and
was able to take a more adversarial approach to those under investigation.
At one time or another in the immediate aftermath of the meat
substitution scandal, the TPC had most of Australia's major meat
processing firms under investigation. Evidence sufficient to justify
prosecution was lacking in all but two cases, however.
In one, since the company had gone into liquidation and the
principals were already facing State charges in Victoria, TPC
involvement was deemed inappropriate. The other involved
Riverstone Meats, a company fined $30,000 for misrepresentation
of product.
The meat substitution scandal brought widespread changes to
law and administration. Perhaps the most significant was the
replacement of the Bureau of Animal Health with a new Export
Inspection Service (EIS) within the Department of Primary Industry
in 1982.
The EIS, whose staff of over 2,000 inspectors make it one of
Australia's largest regulatory bureaucracies, bears responsibility
for all export primary commodity inspection. It was created in 1982,
as part of a reorganisation of export inspection activities within
the Department of Primary Industry. It was later to become (October
1986) the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS)
following amalgamation with the plant, animal and human
quarantine function of the Australian Agricultural Health and
Quarantine Service (AAHQS).
69
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With its founding, the EIS embarked upon a programme of
revising product descriptions, inspection standards and export
documentation procedures. Physical security systems, based on
official seals, were introduced to ensure the integrity of export
consignments. Moreover, a personnel integrity programme was
introduced with explicit instructions laid down as a safeguard
against corrupt practices. In addition, the EIS established a
compliance section, whose officers have a role beyond that of normal
operational inspectors. They continue to work closely with police
and other agencies to maintain an intelligence network as well
as undertaking special investigative tasks.
Basic regulatory techniques employed by the AQIS include, inter
alia, the systematic inspection of every carcass produced at export
registered slaughtering establishments, and the monitoring of
production at export registered boning, processing and storing
establishments, regardless of whether the product is destined for
an overseas market or not. In addition, the AQIS is now also
regulating the activity of domestic meat establishments in those
states which have come "on-line" within the framework of a
National Inspection Service.
Some of the measures implemented in the immediate aftermath
of the 1981 scandal have since been wound back. No longer, for
example, are seals required on each individual carton of export
meat. But AQIS officers continue to make random checks of
packaged product to ensure that product descriptions are correct,
and that documentation is free from tampering. It was through
such random species testing that the offences were detected which
gave rise to the successful prosecution of Riverstone Meats,
Comgroup Supplies Pty Ltd, and Steiger's Meat Supply (Aust) Pty
Ltd.
Beyond that, the European Economic Community continues to
leave an officer permanently stationed in Australia to conduct
inspections of export registered premises. In January 1989, the US
Department of Agriculture replaced its two permanent officers
stationed in Australia with review teams which visit Australia at
least four times a year to conduct system reviews. The presence
of foreign inspectors on Australian soil is the price one pays for
access to a lucrative export market. Australian exports, moreover,
70
THE MEAT SUBSTITUTION SCANDAL
are subject to additional scrutiny at their destination.
The legislative framework for the newly organised Export
Inspection Service was provided by a new Export Control Act, 1982,
which came into operation on 1 January 1983. By 1985, subsidiary
regulations were in place. The Act gives DPI officers extensive
powers of search and seizure including the power to enter registered
premises without warrant; the power to secure any premises,
vehicle, ship and aircraft; and the power to seize any thing believed
on reasonable grounds to afford evidence of an offence.18
The Export Control Act also defines a number of offences including
altering or interfering with an official mark possessing a mark
resembling an official mark; and applying a false trade description
to goods. Each of these offences carries a maximum penalty of
a $100,000 fine and/or imprisonment for 5 years. Under subsidiary
regulations, the Department of Primary Industry may exclude from
the export meat industry any person or firm failing to meet
standards of fitness and propriety.19
The Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation Act was further
amended in 1982 to provide for considerably greater detail in
licensing provisions. Among these were a "fit and proper" test to
apply to both individuals and corporations. All existing licence
holders were required to reapply for their licences.
Holders of meat export licences now have to have integrity, be
competent, and be of sound financial standing in the eyes of the
AMLC. Applicants for an export licence must demonstrate that
their staff are appropriately trained and accredited, and that the
company implements an adequate quality control programme. To
this end the AMLC since 1983 has offered training courses and
has accredited 1,300 people in the meat industry.
Additional provisions of the new legislation vest authorised
officers of the AMLC with considerable powers of inspection, search
and seizure. Eight compliance officers around Australia visit
licensees on an irregular basis to monitor quality control procedure.
While the AMLC had yet to use its powers of prosecution by the
end of 1985, it had rejected ten licence applications on various
grounds, including the personal integrity of the applicant. A number
of firms have been reprimanded or placed on official notice by the
AMLC to improve their quality control methods.
71
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All firms in the export meat industry maintain that they have
instituted special procedures to ensure accuracy in the labelling
and checking of product. Nevertheless, some problems which
contributed to the scandal originally, and which were subsequently
identified by the Woodward Royal Commission, persisted in the
short term. Despite a significant improvement in co-operation
between the two agencies, the priorities of the Australian Federal
Police still appeared to diverge somewhat from those of the DPI.
As the author was told in 1984 when he visited the EIS in
conjunction with another research project:
We were taking a lot of time of the police in the Northern
Territory, and the Pine Gap incident came along. Of course, the
Department of Primary Industry priorities just dropped out the
window. The police went away to pursue the problems of Pine
Gap. . .
I sometimes get the distinct impression that the AFP are rather
reluctant to pursue some of our particular types of cases that
we think would warrant prosecution, because they think it is
such a minor issue in their overall context. 20
By the end of 1988, however, senior AQIS officers observed that
their agency's relationship with the AFP had improved substantially, and characterised it as "generally excellent".
Although the vast majority of the Royal Commissioner's recommendations have been implemented, the issue of excessive
decentralisation was only gradually addressed. As recently as 1985,
there existed no standard enforcement manual to provide guidance
to inspectors with regard to those circumstances in which it is
appropriate to use criminal sanctions, as opposed to informal
alternatives. By the end of 1988, however, the AQIS had developed
strong regional management teams. Three manuals had been
produced to give detailed guidance in the enforcement of regulations,
and a training package, Dealing With Breaches had been delivered
to nearly all field staff.
Senior officers of the DPI were unable to advise on how frequently
inspectors in the field resort to such lesser sanctions as short term
suspension of operations. On the other hand, a programme review
72
THE MEAT SUBSTITUTION SCANDAL
section was established early in 1984 to undertake periodic visits
to regional directorates. One goal of the section is to encourage
greater uniformity in the implementation of departmental policy
within and between regions.
The practice of inspectors accepting gifts of meat, or meat at
a nominal charge, implicitly tolerated in the period before the
scandal, is now officially forbidden. The DPI set guidelines for
inspectors. An official Code of Conduct booklet was first issued
to all inspection staff in May 1984 as part of an overall integrity
package. Officers are now formally forbidden to accept payments
in cash or in any kind from industry. They may engage in outside
employment only with the approval of the regional director. The
requirements of service as an AQIS inspector are now incorporated
in a departmental training programme.
The DPI, for strategic reasons as well as for fear of defamation
actions, appeared reluctant to draw public attention to its regulatory
efforts. In 1984 one of Australia's largest meat exporters, Tancred
Brothers, sued it over a press release referring to the discovery
of rams' legs in a quantity of goat meat destined for South-East
Asia. Nevertheless, charges were laid. The firm subsequently
pleaded guilty, and was fined $30,000. The defamation action was
withdrawn.
The problem of jurisdictional fragmentation and overlap has
improved, but the goal of establishing a single national meat
inspection service under the operational control of AQIS has yet
to be attained. By the end of 1988 transfers of the domestic meat
inspection function had been effected in New South Wales, Victoria,
Tasmania, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory.
Negotiations were continuing with Western Australia, but Queensland and the Northern Territory retained responsibility for their
domestic works.
Despite the absence to date of any further embarrassing overseas
discoveries, meat substitution, or at least mislabelling, would appear
to persist in product for domestic consumption.
An analysis of 32 samples of mince by the Australian Consumers'
Association revealed meat other than beef in 41 per cent of them
(Choice, May 1984, 5). Responsibility for such practices rests with
State inspectorates and health authorities, not the federal
73
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
Department of Primary Industries and Energy (DPIE), as the new
agency was called after the 1987 amalgamation. In most instances,
State requirements are less than the National Health and Medical
Research Council's recommendations. It is ironic that export meat
is held to higher standards than is meat for Australian consumption.
And the freewheeling attitude which brought about the 1981
scandal may still be alive and well, at least with regard to the
fringe participants in the meat industry—game meat processors
and knackery operators. In the course of another research study
in 1984, an interviewee with an authoritative perspective on the
Australian meat industry and its regulation stated:
We are confronted with a well-organised industry in terms of
its criminal attitude. There is no doubt about that. It makes
the Painters and Dockers look like a Sunday school picnic . . .
They are quite serious activities—quite criminal activities . . .
They are a very rough and tumble group of people . . .
They get lost in the corporate structure—we are concerned that
certain individuals who've got poor reputations, who we believe
we have put out of the industry are in fact not out of i t . . .
You've got to think beyond the local abattoir; to the mobile
abattoirs in the Northern Territory for example. The pet food
and knackery operators and the game meat operators. Those
people are, we believe, quite prone to use any method to achieve
their ends. I would say there have been cases in recent times
where peoplgiiave disappeared . . .21
But by 1985, the revised regulatory vigilance along with the
depressed economies of the export meat industry had significantly
curtailed the worst forms of malpractice. The fly-by-night and fringe
operators were all but eliminated. As far as export control is
concerned, the days of de facto laissez faire appear to be over. By
September 1988, nine companies had been successfully prosecuted,
and a further six briefs of evidence were awaiting action by the
Australian Federal Police or the Director of Public Prosecutions.
74
THE MEAT SUBSTITUTION SCANDAL
1. Neales, S (1984), "The Meat Scandal: Did the Big Fish Get Away?", National
Farmer, 1-14 November, 26-27.
2. Woodward, A (1982), Report of the Royal Commission into Australian Meat
Industry, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 25-26.
3. Ibid, 4.
4. Ibid, 318-9.
5.
Ibid,24.
6. Ibid, 4-5.
7. Reid, A, Lipski, S and Samuel, P (1981), "Shutting the Stable Door", The
Bulletin, 101, (8 September), 28-32.
8. Turnbull, G (1981), "Nixon, Police Split in Meat Row", Sydney Morning Herald,
3 September, 1.
9. Kelly, C (1980), Report of the Committee of Inquiry to Examine Commonwealth
and State Meat Inspection Systems, Australian Government Publishing Service,
Canberra.
10. Woodward, op cit supra note 2,121.
11. Ansley, G (1982), "Meat Blame: Government's Hot Potato", National Farmer,
29 July, 3.
12. Woodward, op cit supra note 2,14.
13. Ibid, 1.
14. Ibid, 146.
15. Ibid, 85.
16. Kelly, op cit supra note 9.
17. Sydney Morning Herald, 4 September, 1981.
18. Export Control Act 1982, s. 10.(3Xa); 10(3)(h); ll(lXb).
19. Ibid, 5. 14(a); 14(b); 15(lXaXi).
20.
Personal Communication, 1984.
21. Personal Communication, 1984.
75
m m ,
m
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m m
mfm>mmv
m m / m m
I
w
n 1982, doctors ripped off the medical benefits programme to
the tune of $100 million. Two years later, the annual swindle had
jumped to $200 million. And although the medical world strenuously
denies the figures, many government officials believe that is only the
"tip of the iceberg".
Most medical fraud is committed by individuals rather than
networks of physicians working in unison. But the medical profession
as a whole is not blameless for the actions of individual criminal
doctors.
The use of the corporate structure by medical practitioners for
the more efficient management of their practices (or for tax
minimisation) is of less concern to us here. Indeed, the approach
taken in this chapter is that much fraud and abuse of governmentrun medical programmes results directly from three main areas:
the structure of organised medicine; the socialisation and training
of student physicians; and the economics of the medical marketplace
which create conditions conducive to criminal behaviour.
These issues have been discussed in detail elsewhere.1
In David Gordon's classic analysis of the political economy of
crime, he suggested that both ghetto and white-collar crime are
76
MEDICAL FRAUD AND ABUSE IN MEDICAL BENEFIT PROGRAMMES
rationally based behaviours within the capitalist profit orientation. 2
Each form of crime, according to Gordon, has a relatively low
probability of detection, apprehension and subsequent conviction
while providing a good financial return on invested labour. Those
most subject to detection, apprehension, conviction and negative
sanction tend to be "small fry" who represent only the tip of the
iceberg.
How big the "iceberg" is in medical fraud and abuse is a matter
of opinion. Government estimates, initially based on computer
profiles of physician billing practices and official figures in 1982,
gave conservative figures of fraud and abuse totalling between $100
million and $130 million a year. 3 This estimate was confirmed and
accepted by the Australian Medical Association. 4 These estimates
later rose to $200 million a year in 19845, although some physicians
and statisticians strenuously denounced the large governmentbased figures.
Dr Denis Mackay, past-president of the General Practitioners
Society of Australia, believes that Federal authorities are wrong
in their estimates and that they "collate data, arrange the so-called
facts and then make estimates to fit into their preconceived fraud
pattern". 6
While it is conceivable that the official figures overestimate the
amount of physician fraud and abuse, it is also possible that the
figures are underestimates. As we will see, only a small amount
of fraud is actually detected, and an even smaller proportion
prosecuted. In addition, inadequate staff resources in the Fraud
and Overservicing Detection Scheme (FODS) and bureaucratic
difficulties in co-ordinating inquiries into fraud and abuse produced
figures which, in David Gordon's phrase, represent the "tip of the
iceberg". 7
Financial damage aside, medifraud and overservicing have
devastating effects on the health system generally and on patients
specifically. Unnecessary surgery, for example, performed only
because a government or private insurance programme will pay
the cost, can result in maiming or death. 8 It is apparent that those
doctors defrauding the system in less dramatic ways—for example,
by giving quick or non-existent consultations—are also providing
sub-standard medical services to their patients. 9 It is also clear that
77
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
ordering superfluous laboratory tests and encouraging unnecessary
office visits and minor surgery are hardly in the patient's best
interests.
Already escalating health costs are further increased by medical
fraud. In a submission to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC),
the Hospital Contribution Fund (HCF) medical insurance body
claimed that overservicing has become so widespread that doctors
accept it as "a style of practice management in Australia rather
than as a dimension of anti-social behaviour". 10 It can reach the
level which the manager of Medibank Private described as "fraud
and overservicing like mad . . . any way you can make a quid". 11
It is relevant to note that medical tribunals dealt with 3,774 cases
of doctors who were "counselled" with respect to possible overservicing between 1 April 1977 and 30 September 1983.12
Just how big the "quid" is depends on the estimate of medical
fraud and overservicing accepted. The federal Department of Health
suggests that somewhere between 900 and 2,500 doctors are
defrauding Medibank.13 Depending on which of these extremes is
accepted, and whether the total cost of medifraud is $100 or $200
million, each doctor would be reaping at worst $40,000 and at best
$222,222 from fraudulent practice. This income is an annual amount
in addition to the large sums that doctors earn in their medical
practice. Clearly, it is most unlikely that the average defrauding
doctor is obtaining the upper limit of these figures but the sums
are nevertheless significant.
Varieties of Medical
Fraud
Elsewhere I have categorised the types of fraud and overservicing
practised by the medical profession.14 What follows here is a brief
description of some illegal practices most clearly the result of
"corporate" or organised activities among two or more medical or
paramedical practitioners.
Losses in fraud and overservicing are possibly highest in the
pathology area. Interviews I have conducted with Federal Police
investigators suggest that cases in this specialty are almost
impossible to prove. Initial tests are generated by the referring
doctor but the pathologist has the power to generate further tests
78
MEDICAL FRAUD AND ABUSE IN MEDICAL BENEFIT PROGRAMMES
if so desired. No tests, other than the initial collection of specimens,
are conducted in the presence of patients, so there is no opportunity
for even rudimentary patient monitoring. Ineligible health screening
and orthomolecular pathology are also often claimed for by using
allowable item numbers for claiming reimbursement. 15
In 1984, it was revealed by Mrs Helen Mayer, a member of the
Public Accounts Committee, that the top 25 private pathologists
collected $36 million in medical benefits in three months. At least
one specialist lent his name and qualifications to obtain a higher
fee and was not physically able to perform the services. The top
provider in Australia received $4.6 million in benefits during the
three month period.16 While these figures are, in themselves, no
indication of massive fraud and overservicing, it is clear that
pathology is increasingly a highly concentrated industry that is
basically unregulated by the Commonwealth.
That large amounts of money are illegally obtained for pathology
tests is admitted by the Royal College of Pathologists itself. The
Vice-President of the College, Dr Llew Davis, in giving evidence
to a Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, estimated that at
least $20 million a year in overservicing arose from "fast-photo"
style laboratories. Dr Davis pointed out that under current
legislation, doctors and laboratories could easily split fees for such
work so there was a motive for both parties to overservice.17
Nursing homes are another source of corporate medical crime.
Not uncommonly, groups of patients are signed up in a health fund,
then placed in a nursing home in which the referring doctor has
a financial interest. The same doctor then visits them daily or
even several times a day, often over a period of years. These visits
are often as perfunctory as saying "hello" in the hallway, but are
still claimable as a brief visit.18
One Federal Police investigator recounts the case of a Brisbane
physician who, in partnership with other practitioners, owned a
private hospital and hired a bus to collect patients and bring them
to the hospital. They then would be seen for a short period of
time and taken back home again by bus.
Psycho-fraud, or the exploitation of the schedule of medical
benefits by psychiatrists, is a common form of medical crime. Gadiel
and Opit examined the payouts by the HCF in New South Wales
79
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for the years 1977-79.19 They found that the top ten earners among
psychiatrists in New South Wales constituted only 2.5 per cent
of the pyschiatrists in private practice, but accounted for 10 per
cent of the dollar value of psychiatric services.
Of particular relevance in the context of corporate medical crime
was Gadiel and Opit's finding that a significant portion of the excess
was finding its way to a relatively small number of psychiatrists
who taught psychotherapy and psychoanalysis.
The costs were generated when these practitioners psychoanalysed psychiatrists and other health professionals who were
studying under them, as part of a training programme. The fees
for this intensive therapy exceed $1,000 a month for each student.
With, for example, six students training four days a week, a
psychoanalyst could obtain an income of more than $70,000 a year,
in addition to any other salary or income.
While both government regulation and the College of Psychiatry
disallow psychiatrists claiming benefits for training sessions, no
action has been taken against the offending doctors.20
A third example of "organised" medical fraud involves the
purchase of expensive medical equipment by group practices.
Spirometers, electro-cardiographs and X-ray machines are common
items. The Public Accounts Committee reports that installation
of expensive X-ray equipment in a general or group practice, at
a cost of $20,000, is almost invariably followed by prolific use of
the machine with the attendant dangers inherent in its use by
inexpert hands. 21
These examples of corporate medical fraud are clearly only some
of the possible forms of abuse. Most fraud and overservicing is
undoubtedly conducted by individual practitioners working in
isolation from other physicians and engaging in one or more of
the following:
Time-shuffling (where the patients are deliberately treated afterhours);
Upgrading (billing for services more extensive than those actually
provided);
Injury enlargement (overstating the nature of an injury treated);
Ping-ponging (referring the patient to another physician where
there is no need for additional care);
80
MEDICAL FRAUD AND ABUSE IN MEDICAL BENEFIT PROGRAMMES
Phantom treatment (claiming for operations or procedures never
performed);
Assembly-line production (having patients pass through surgeries
at a rate that makes adequate medical treatment impossible); and
other variations of these practices.22
Whether fraud and abuse is "organised" or conducted
individually, certain structural features of fee-for-service medicine,
enshrined in government and private health insurance schemes,
provide what has been called a "crime-facilitative environment"
for medical crime and deviance.23
s t r u c t u r a l aspects of medical
fraud
The fee-for-service nature of medicine in Australia and the
oversupply of doctors are two factors which contribute substantially
towards medifraud, although the incentives for illegality built into
fee-for-service do not, in themselves, explain fraud.
Undoubtedly the over-production of medical graduates and the
competitive nature of medical practice does contribute. In 1972,
878 graduates were produced from Australian medical schools. For
1982 the figure had risen to 1,305. Between that year and the year
2001, the supply of doctors in Australia will have doubled and the
doctor-population ratio will decrease from 1:521 to 1:405.24
Opit has pointed out that one result in this growth of medical
manpower is increased competition for patients, reflecting, in
surgery at least, a massive increase in acute episodic care especially
associated with operative and investigative procedures requiring
hospital admission. When it is realised that the rate of tonsillectomy,
for example, has declined markedly in England and Sweden, but
is still at a high level in Australia, especially for privately insured
contributors or their dependants, then quite critical questions are
raised on the motivation for these operations.
In terms of general practice, Najman and Western report that
during the 1970s there was a steady increase in private medical
services given per head of population. This increase began well
before the introduction of Medibank and has continued ever since
though, as Najman and Western note, "It is curious that the average
doctor's workload has not increased during this time". 25
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It is not only the competitive marketplace but also the training
and aspirations of doctors which contribute to those forces
propelling some doctors towards fraud and abuse. Anderson,
Western and Williams, in an extensive longitudinal study of medical
students, note that student doctors become much more conservative
and professionally oriented during their training, a socialisation
process which increasingly makes realists out of idealists.26
Trainee doctors overwhelmingly come from high-status homes
and develop narrower pragmatic and self-interested concerns as
well as expectations of affluent life-styles. These expectations are
fuelled by commercial enterprises which bombard doctors with
brochures and by salesmen touting the wares of the consumer society
—expensive foreign cars, real estate and investment opportunities.
Professional organisations also contribute to the view that medicine
is as much a business as a caring or "helping" profession.
A number of writers have documented the opposition that both
the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the General
Practitioners Society (GPS) have shown towards Medibank and
Medicare, and their promulgation of the view that the doctor is
a small businessman with the inalienable right to preserve
unfettered fee-for-service practice and autonomy from government
review.27 The emergence of such medical pressure groups as the
New South Wales procedural specialists, determined to ensure that
members' incomes are maintained, suggests that financial
remuneration will continue to dominate the politics of medical
organisations.
Government Response t o
Medifraud
As a public or government issue, medifraud held a low priority
until December 1977. In that month an investigating officer of
Medibank Private examined a US report of medical fraud and
prepared an estimate of medical fraud in Australia on the basis
of the US figures and his own investigations. His superior rejected
the report so the officer left Medibank Private and subsequently
talked to the media.
However, despite sporadic media attention to the event, politicians
ignored the issue until in 1982, a federal Department of Health
82
MEDICAL FRAUD AND ABUSE IN MEDICAL BENEFIT PROGRAMMES
officer, overcome by his frustration at inaction against defrauding
doctors, listed 41 files on doctors where his investigations showed
presumptive evidence of fraud or overservicing ignored by his
superior. In defiance of the public service tradition and the
Commonwealth Crimes Act, he sent that list to the Public Accounts
Committee.28
A formal Public Accounts Committee inquiry was begun on 25
May 1982 leading to a series of reports. At this time the federal
Department of Health had 200 doctors on its active file and 210
more files were in the hands of the Australian Federal Police. Gadiel
points out that at the rate these cases were being handled it would
have taken 68 years to bring the doctors before the courts. 29
In the first empirical study of the investigation of medical fraud,
Cashman obtained tentative figures on the investigation,
prosecution and conviction of doctors. Between 1 November 1978
and 30 September 1981 there were 646 investigations of doctors
throughout the country. However, only 7 per cent of the number
investigated were prosecuted, but a high proportion of these
prosecutions (84 per cent) resulted in a conviction.30
Overservicing figures are not available on a year by year basis,
although between 1979 and the beginning of 1984, 64 doctors were
referred to the Medical Services Commission of Inquiry resulting
in $404,949.11 being ordered to be paid back to the government
following the hearing of appeals.31
However, according to the Department of Health, "so far, not
too much has actually been recovered".32 When the amount
recovered from doctors convicted of fraud is considered, Cashman
calculates that between 1975-76 and 1982-83, a total of $166,116
was recouped from all doctors prosecuted over that period.33
More recent figures provided by the Minister for Health show
that as at 1 October 1983, 382 suspected provider fraud matters
were listed for or under active investigation with the Department
of Health; 53 cases were referred by the Department to the
Australian Federal Police for further investigation; 31 were referred
to the Deputy Crown Solicitor for institution of proceedings, and
30 fraud matters were before the courts, awaiting hearing or appeal.
Between 1 July 1980 and 30 September 1983, there were 62
prosecutions for medical fraud offences, 28 of which led to
83
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
convictions, 24 led to charges being proven but no convictions were
recorded and 10 prosecutions were unsuccessful. 34
Cashman reports that in just over half of all cases where a
conviction was obtained a fine resulted and 30 per cent of convictions
led to an order for defendants to pay restitution together with a
fine. In short, it is apparent that not only are relatively few doctors
prosecuted for fraud but the acquittal rate is very high and the
penalties imposed are light.
In comparison with social security beneficiaries, where approximately 900 cases a year are prosecuted, only 20 doctors a year
are charged, and the acquittal rate for doctors, again in comparison
with social security beneficiaries, is far higher. 35
Resources and
Regulations
Even where it is apparent that a doctor is unlawfully receiving
funds it is difficult to differentiate fraud from overservicing.
Excessive services are defined in section 79(1B) of the Commonwealth Health Insurance Act to mean "professional services . . .
in respect of which medical benefit has become or may become
payable, that are not reasonably necessary for the adequate medical
care of the patient". However, it is obvious that whether or not
a doctor is aware that the service is not reasonably necessary is
known only to the doctor. But if such services are considered by
the doctor to be "not reasonably necessary", then it is clear that
any medical benefits received will have been received fraudulently. 36
Fraud is a great deal more difficult to prove than overservicing
and many investigators decide to refer cases to medical tribunals
(which deal with excessive services) rather than to the Federal
police.
In fraud cases there is the problem of ascertaining and identifying
the total number of offences and the total amount of money obtained
by fraud. Documentary proof has to be obtained, patients—most
of whom are unwilling to testify against their doctors—have to
be willing to act as witnesses, and evidence restricted to services
which are the subject of the current proceedings.
Because intent has to be proved with each offence, prosecutors
are usually limited to a small number of alleged offences. But if
84
MEDICAL FRAUD AND ABUSE IN MEDICAL BENEFIT PROGRAMMES
the total amount of offences is not large in dollar terms then the
police and federal health authorities can be accused of prosecuting
doctors for trivial amounts. 37
These evidentiary and legal problems involved in prosecuting
doctors deter even the most committed investigator from pursuing
a fraudulent practitioner. If no support from superiors for problematic investigations is forthcoming, then it is apparent that there
will be little motivation for investigating specific cases. It is noticeable that the Public Accounts Committee was critical of doctors
within the federal Department of Health who were responsible for
controlling medifraud and overservicing.38
The Committee described the response of senior medical
administrators to the problem as "grossly inadequate . . . too little
has been done too late. . . a n d . . . the senior management structure
and personnel of the Department must be comprehensively
reviewed". 39 It is significant that the Director-General and Director
in Victoria have now been replaced by non-doctors and it is possible
that other states may follow this precedent.
These difficulties become apparent when the length of time taken
in investigation and prosecution processes is considered. Field
reports that the Auditor-General calculated that the average time
taken by the department in referring a medical fraud matter to
the Australian Federal Police was 4 months. The average time the
Federal Police took to refer the matter to the Director of Public
Prosecutions (DPP) was 14 months and, even worse, the average
time taken by the DPP to process a matter through the courts
was 12 months. 40
At the end of 1983, the Federal Government indicated that serious
attempts were being made to combat fraud and overservicing by
medical practitioners. The administrative structure of the
Department of Health was reorganised, and resources devoted to
the control of fraud and overservicing were doubled. By the 1984-85
financial year, 206 officers were assigned to the task, at an annual
cost of $8.1 million. In addition, a dozen officers of the Director
of Public Prosecutions and about 20 Australian Federal Police
officers were assigned to work full time on medical benefits fraud.
In line with recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee,
other initiatives were taken which, on the surface at least, appeared
85
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
to indicate a government commitment to tackling medifraud. The
Department of Health, the Crown Solicitor's Office, and the
Australian Federal Police established a joint Canberra-based,
central co-ordinating committee. Special training programmes for
medifraud investigators were established, provision enacted for the
inspection of records of private hospitals (including nursing homes)
and assurances gained from the Federal Police that extra money
budgeted for them would be allocated, in part at least, towards
the investigation of medical illegalities. The department set a target
number of prosecutions, with a goal of 100 successful prosecutions
each year, leading to 80 disqualifications from the medical benefits
programme. 41
Despite these initiatives, there are still major weaknesses in
policies and practices designed to control medifraud and overservicing.
Although, since 1 February 1984, a brief description of the service
rendered is required on bulk-billing forms, this is usually put in
only two to four words hardly sufficient detail to be understood
by the patient. When the patient signs these forms (which include
both consultation numbers and the brief description of the service
rendered) they may have no idea of what they are signing. There
is considerable room still for a practitioner to charge for a higher
priced consultation and/or service than the one which actually
occurred.
The Public Accounts Committee recommended sending a random
sample of assignment forms to patients for verification, in line with
the practice of some Canadian provinces. No such system has yet
been devised for Australia, despite the strong deterrent possibilities
inherent in such a practice. Far greater patient accountability is
needed both by demanding that detailed service and consultation
descriptions are provided on forms that patients sign and by using
a system of verifying services claimed with samples of patients.
Penalties actually imposed for medical fraud, as we have seen,
are usually minimal despite legislation which provides for hefty
fines and imprisonment. Consideration should be given to providing
mandatory sentences in this area so that both the public and medical
practitioners themselves see fraudulent doctors as "real" criminals
rather than as simply truculent children.
86
MEDICAL FRAUD AND ABUSE IN MEDICAL BENEFIT PROGRAMMES
Finally, despite the verbal commitment made by the Minister
for Health to control fraud and overservicing, it is reasonably clear
that resources provided by the government are still minimal
compared to the magnitude of the problem.
On the Federal level, many more trained investigators and
counsellors are still needed. Medical services committees still
require streamlined procedures, full-time members, and persons
on them not associated with medical organisations. As it is, the
backlog of cases waiting for referral to a medical services committee
of inquiry in New South Wales is 13 years.42
Teams of qualified medical practitioners, specially trained as
investigators, have not as yet been formed and the emphasis by
the federal Department of Health still seems to be on "counselling"
doctors rather than investigating them. In addition, the decision
in May 1985 to relocate the medifraud investigators within the
Health Insurance Commission, and essentially leave the
Department of Health responsible for educating and advising
doctors (counselling), is evidence of capitulation in the face of
pressure from the organised medical profession.
The rationale for these changes is essentially that by placing
medical investigators within the Health Insurance Commission the
Department of Health will be able to retain medical contact with
the medical profession whilst transferring the 'bad guys' role to
the HIC. No doubt there are some advantages in the federal
Department of Health maintaining good relations with the
profession. However, it could be concluded that this approach to
the problem of medical fraud and abuse is not conducive to
determined prosecution of medical fraud and abuse.
State governments also have shown a reluctance to tackle
criminal doctors head-on. Authorities have not yet legislated to
provide automatic deregistration of medical practitioners convicted
of medical fraud. As the Public Accounts Committee point out,
only nine doctors out of thirty-nine referred to State medical
registration boards, after at least two convictions for fraud, had
been deregistered as at August 1982.43
87
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
Medifraud and the
Future
A political-economy analysis on fraud and overservicing by medical
practitioners would suggest that, because of the power and
dominance of the profession in Australian society, illegal activities
by practitioners would be dealt with less seriously than is the case
with "blue-collar" crime.
Although there is considerable evidence of the endemic nature
of medical fraud and overservicing, the record of prosecutions,
convictions and penalties would confirm Gordon's observation that
white-collar crime provides a large financial return on invested
labour. Though individual practitioners have been prosecuted and
convicted for abuses of the health insurance system it is clear that
they are only minor figures on the medifraud stage. Pathology
laboratories, nursing homes and private hospitals have not yet been
the subjects of sustained parliamentary or law enforcement investigation despite general community unease about their operations.
There is no doubt that we are a lot more informed about the
nature of fraud and abuse by doctors as a result of investigations
undertaken by the Public Accounts Committee, private researchers
and by journalists. What is in doubt, however, is the ability of
any government, no matter of what political persuasion, to
effectively tackle the problem, given the political and social power
of the medical profession.
The weakening of Medicare as a result of compromises worked
out between New South Wales surgeons and Federal authorities,
the failure to implement many of the recommendations of the Public
Accounts Committee and the continuing dominance of medical
associations in health politics generally suggests that fraud and
overservicing will long be with us.
The remuneration of private medical practitioners in Australia
will, in all probability, continue to be fee-for-service payment.
Though there are good grounds to suspect that the rate of fraud
and abuse would sharply decline if physicians and surgeons were
paid by salary 44 , this procedure is unlikely to be introduced in the
near future. In the meantime the extent to which control and
regulation of fraud and abuse occurs will depend, to a considerable
extent, on the resolve of the Federal Government to confront
88
MEDICAL FRAUD AND ABUSE IN MEDICAL BENEFIT PROGRAMMES
organised medicine on issues relating to criminal behaviour by
doctors. Only time will tell whether such resolve is forthcoming.
1. Wilson, P R and Gorring, P (1985), "Social Antecedents of Medical Fraud and
Overservicing: What Makes Doctors Criminal?", Australian Journal of Social
Issues, 20, 3,175-187.
2. Gordon, D (1971), "Class and the Economics of Crime", Review of Radical
Political Economics, 33, 51-75.
3. Joint Committee on Public Accounts (1982), "Medical Fraud and Overservicing,
Vols 1-9", Minutes of Evidence, Australian Government Publishing Service,
Canberra, 63.
4. Joint Committee on Public Accounts (1982), "Medical Fraud and Overservicing",
Report 203, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 3.
5. Joint Committee on Public Accounts (1984), "Finance Minutes on Report 203",
Medical Fraud and Overservicing, Report 212, Australian Government
Publishing Service, Canberra, 8.
6. Courier Mail (1984), "Government Misusing Statistics", 29 October, 3.
7. Field, G G (1984), The Respective Involvement of the Health Insurance Commission
and the Department of Health in Combatting Abuse of Medical Benefit
Arrangements, Price Waterhouse Associates, Canberra.
8. Opit, L J (1983), "Wheeling, Healing and Dealing: The Political Economy of
Health Care in Australia", Community Health Studies, 2,3,328-346.
9. Pontell, H N, Jesilow, P D and Geis, G (1984), "Practitioner Fraud and Abuse
in Medical Benefit Programs", Law and Policy, 6 (October), 405-424.
10. Joint Committee on Public Accounts, op cit supra note 3,1098.
11. Ibid, 885.
12. Blewett, N (1983), Ministerial Statement by Hon. Neat Blewett, Minister for
Health: Medical Fraud and Overservicing, Office of the Minister for Health,
Canberra.
13. Joint Committee on Public Accounts, op cit supra note 3,276.
89
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
14. Wilson, P R (1986), "Medical Fraud and Abuse", in Chappell, D. and Wilson,
P R (eds), Crime and Criminal Justice, Butterworths, Sydney.
15. Joint Committee on Public Accounts op cit supra note 4, 14.
16. Courier Mail (1984), "$20 Million Pathology Rii>off", 6 December, 5.
17. Ibid, 5.
18. Joint Committee on Public Accounts op cit supra note 3, 834.
19. Gadiel, D C and Opit, L J (1980), "Are Doctors Healthier Than Their Patients?An Assessment of Private Psychiatric Services", The Proceedings of the
ANZSERCH/APHA National Conference, ANZSERCH, Sydney.
20. Ibid, 1258.
21. Joint Committee on Public Accounts op cit supra note 4, 25.
22. Wilson, P R, Chappell, D and Lincoln, R (1985), "Policing Physician Abuse
in British Columbia: An Analysis of Current Policies", Canadian Public Policy,
12,1; Joint Committee on Public Accounts, op cit supra note 4.
23. Needleman, M L and Needleman, C (1979), "Organizational Crime: Two Models
of Criminageness", The Sociological Quarterly, 20,1,517-539.
24. Commonwealth Department of Health (1984), Revised Estimates of Medical
Manpower Supply, Research and Planning Branch No. 1, Canberra.
25. Najman, J and Western, J S (1984), "A Comparative Analysis of Australian
Health Policy in the 1970's", Social Science and Medicine, 18,949-958.
26. Anderson, D, Western, J, and Williams, T (1982) "Professional Socialization
in Training and Work." Paper presented to the 10th World Congress of
Sociology.
27. Duckett, S J (1980), "Chopping and Changing Medibank, Part 1", Australian
Journal of Social Issues, 15, 230-243; Hunter, T (1984) "Medical Politics."
Australian Society, 3,10-12.
28. Gorring, P and Wilson, P R (1986), "The Structure of Medical Fraud and
Overservicing: How Doctors Commit Crime", Paper presented to the Annual
Meeting of the American Society of Criminology, San Diego.
29. Joint Committee on Public Accounts op cit supra note 3,119.
30. Cashman, P (1982), "Medical Benefit Fraud: Prosecution and Sentencing of
Doctors, Part 1", Legal Service Bulletin, 7, 2, 58-61.
31. Rupert Public Interest Movement (1984), "Medifraud—A Professionally Induced
Cancer", Rupert Publications, Canberra, 7.
32. Ibid.
90
MEDICAL FRAUD AND ABUSE IN MEDICAL BENEFIT PROGRAMMES
33. Cashman, P (1982b), "Medical Benefit Fraud: Prosecution and Sentencing of
Doctors, Part 2", Legal Service Bulletin, 7,116-121.
34. Blewett, op cit supra note 12.
35. Cashman, op cit supra note 30, 59.
36. Cashman, op cit supra note 33,117.
37. Joint Committee on Public Accounts, op cit supra note 4,98.
38. Ibid, 4.
39. Ibid, 43-45; 59.
40. Field, op cit supra note 7,15.
41. Blewett, op cit supra note 12.
42. Field, op cit supra note 7.
43. Joint Committee on Public Accounts, op cit supra note 4,109.
44. Hatcher, G (1981), Universal Free Health Care in Canada 1947-77, US
Department of Health and Human Services, Washington D.C.
91
I
t was safe, cheap and efficient, said the manufacturers—but it
proved to be a medical disaster for thousands of women around
the world. In Australia, at least one woman has died, and many
have suffered life-threatening illnesses and complications.
The "safe" device was the Dalkon Shield, brought on to the market
by an American pharmaceutical manufacturer A H Robins S.O.
because of side effects of the contraceptive pill.
But the Dalkon Shield also had its "side effects"—gynaecological
disorders leading in many cases to infertility and hysterectomies. At
Present, more than 7,000 Australians are suing the company, seeking
damages for pregnancy, perforated uteri, pelvic inflammatory disease,
spontaneous septic abortions, and ectopic pregnancies.
Work on the development of the Dalkon Shield began in the United
States during the early 1960s. This was primarily carried out by
Dr Hugh Davis, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
at the John Hopkins School of Medicine.
Subsequent collaboration between Davis, a bio-engineer, and a
lawyer led to the first version of the product and clinical testing
in the late 1960s. The Dalkon Shield corporation was eventually
incorporated in 1968. The product ultimately became an enormous
commercial success in the light of claims made about its safety
and efficacy at a time of increased public and professional concern
about the adverse side effects of the contraceptive pill. The Dalkon
92
THE DALKON SHIELD
Shield became the focus of attention in the press, at Senate subcommittee hearings, at conferences and in the professional
literature. This led the A H Robins Company to purchase the product
and engage Davis on a consultancy agreement in June 1970.
At the beginning of 1970, Robins, a pharmaceutical manufacturer
based in Richmond, Virginia, started marketing the product. It was
subsequently marketed in approximately 80 countries throughout
the world. More than 4 million devices were sold, more than half
of these in the United States between June 1970 and June 1974.
Between 100,000 and 160,000 of the devices were distributed in
Australia. Now Australia has the highest number of claimants of
any country except the United States even though relatively few
devices were inserted in this country. This is in part due to the
work of and the publicity generated by the Public Interest Advocacy
Centre in Sydney.
It is alleged that there have been 17-18 deaths in the United
States arising out of use of the device.
The Dalkon Shield continued to be marketed and sold in overseas
countries, including Australia, after the suspension of sales and
subsequent withdrawal from the market in the United States.
Robins's executives, however, continued to maintain that the
product was safe and effective when properly used and that its
performance had been satisfactory. It was not until the end of 1984—
10 years later—that Robins mounted a public campaign recommending that women still wearing the product have it removed.
It has been alleged that company executives, employees, lawyers,
and others associated with the device, have been responsible for
an astonishing array of misdeeds ranging from the failure to test
the product properly through to the fraudulent concealment of
pecuniary interests, product attributes, professional reports and
research findings, consumer complaints and to the destruction of
damaging documents.
Litigation arising out of the defects in the product has focused
on allegations concerning, inter alia:
(a) Lack of adequate testing before and during marketing, and
the absence of further testing following changes in the
composition and design of the product.
93
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
(b) Faulty design of the product including the defective string
which allegedly degrades in situ and has a wicking effect
allowing bacteria into the normally sterile uterus; the barbed
head which allegedly exacerbates uterine irritation, promotes
perforation and causes difficulties on insertion and removal;
and the composition of the Shield.
(c) Defective manufacturing process, lack of quality control and
inadequate sterilisation.
(d) Concealment of defects, complaints and research findings.
(e) Failure to warn of the dangers and risks associated with the
use of the product.
(f) Misrepresentation in advertising and promotional material
and product labelling.
(g) Failure to recall the device.1
Experts who gave evidence before numerous investigative and
regulatory bodies received payments from the company. Also, a
number of "favourable" research findings arose out of companyfunded investigations. According to one author, numerous
approaches by independent researchers for assistance or funding
for research into the efficacy and safety of the product were rejected
by the company.2 The company also sought to present selective
data from its own research. In one instance, raw data were reanalysed and it was found that the actual rate of infection was
15 to 20 times higher than the originally reported rate of 0.6 per
cent. 3 Crucial data concerning pregnancy rates and the incidence
of pelvic inflammatory disease were misinterpreted, misrepresented
and, in some instances, actually concealed. With the active
involvement of in-house counsel and externally engaged lawyers,
the company sought to fund and promote favourable data in major
professional journals and at scientific meetings.
A further element of deception of the US Food and Drug
Administration (FDA), the medical profession and the public,
94
THE DALKON SHIELD
concerns the presence of copper in the device.
Documents relating to the patenting of the device make it clear
that coating with metallic material was intended to enhance its
effectiveness. Early company documents confirm that the copper
was added to enhance the contraceptive effect of the device. Sales
representatives were instructed that this was confidential and were
told to answer questions from doctors concerning the components
to the effect that it comprised a "confidential blending of ingredients
to achieve engineering objectives" or some such statement. 4
Subsequently, salesmen were instructed to say that the copper
related to certain physical and mechanical properties, such as
improved radio-opacity, rather than efficacy.
It is perhaps not without significance that a rival company,
G D Searle, sought FDA approval for its "Copper 7" IUD on the
basis that the copper content increased its efficacy. The FDA
resolved that the presence of a non-inert substance took it into
the category of a new drug, rather than a device, thus subjecting
it to the (then) more onerous pre-marketing and other testing
requirements. In legal proceedings in 1984 a former Robins in-house
lawyer, Roger Tuttle, gave evidence that Robins had lied to the
FDA about this matter.
Given the allegations of large-scale harm, important questions
arise concerning the role of governmental and regulatory bodies:
(a) when the device was developed and marketed and (b) when
the defects became increasingly apparent.
Responsibility for ensuring the safety and effectiveness of the
Dalkon Shield in the United States rested with the US Food and
Drug Administration. What was described as a de facto recall of
the product was not undertaken for ten years. The FDA, moreover,
failed to conduct on-site investigations of the company in order
to determine whether the product or the manufacturing processes
were defective until 1983. In its "citizens' petition" of April 1983,
the National Women's Health Network formally requested the
Commissioner of the FDA to: initiate judicial proceedings for
injunctive relief, criminal penalties, and condemnation and seizure
on the grounds that the product was defective in design and method
of manufacture and on the basis of false and misleading labelling;
order public notification of the risk of harm; order Robins to carry
95
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
out, and meet the costs of, a total recall; declare the device banned
as of 2 March 1972; and declare export of the product unlawful,
as of 2 March 1972.
An earlier legal action against Robins by the network was
dismissed in 1982 on the basis that section 521 of the Federal Food,
Drug and Cosmetic Act, 1938 precluded the application of State
law to injunctive remedies. While the FDA had been actively
involved in the Dalkon Shield saga it did not respond in the matter
proposed by the National Women's Health Network in their
"citizens' petition". The petition itself was ultimately denied by
the US Department of Health and Human Services in late 1986.
Although the FDA has extensive powers, its failure to take more
drastic action arose out of a combination of a lack of power before
the introduction of legislation governing medical devices; a lack
of jurisdiction in relation to foreign activities of United States
corporations; a tendency to rely on "voluntary" corporate activity
rather than mandatory regulatory action; an alleged failure on the
part of Robins to notify it of various matters crucial to the FDA's
deliberative processes; and inadequate independent investigation
and reliance on company data. The limitations of United States
laws in relation to the export of hazardous products have been
the subject of increasing attention and recent legislative reform. 5
Whatever the limits of the FDA's jurisdiction and powers, its
regulatory role stands in marked contrast to that of Australian
health authorities. Part of the problem in Australia arises out of
the separation of powers between the Commonwealth and the
States. In general, the Commonwealth has responsibility only for
regulating imports of "therapeutic" goods whereas the States are
responsible for the application of standards to domestically produced
therapeutic goods and substances.
Commonwealth
Legislation
The Therapeutic Goods Act 1966 confers powers on the Minister
for Health to obtain information concerning the composition of
goods, to prescribe standards, to determine requirements in relation
to labelling, packaging and containers, and to prohibit the import
%
THE DALKON SHIELD
of goods which do not meet prescribed standards or labelling and
packaging requirements.
Although the Act covers IUDs, no standards have been prescribed
and thus no degree of regulatory control has been exercised over
the Dalkon Shield under this legislation. Although the Act provides
for regulations which may make provision for the examination,
testing and analysis of imported therapeutic goods, the Dalkon
Shield was not subjected to any such scrutiny.
The Customs Act 1901 provides that regulations may be made
prohibiting the importing of goods into Australia, unless specified
conditions or restrictions are complied with. In 1970, legislation
was passed to bring imported therapeutic substances, including
certain IUDs, within the ambit of the Customs (Prohibited Imports)
Regulations 1956. Those drugs and devices falling within the
regulatory scheme are evaluated by the Australian Drug Evaluation
Committee (ADEC) to ensure that only goods of adequate safety,
efficacy and quality are allowed to be imported. The committee
requires the manufacturer to provide evidence of previous clinical
trials and toxicology testing and the regulatory scrutiny extends
to both the conditions of use and the promotional material and
prescribing information prepared by the manufacturer. 6
Apart from that, there are provisions in the Trade Practices Act
for statutory product safety standards. However, there are no
prescribed standards in relation to contraceptive products or
devices.7
Notwithstanding the existence of this legislative scheme, it would
appear that the Dalkon Shield was not subjected to detailed scrutiny.
Presumably, this was on the basis that it was classified or
represented as being an inert device. As noted above, the device
contained copper and evidence indicates that the copper was
included because of its contraceptive effect and not merely for nontherapeutic reasons (e.g, to enhance its radio-opacity).
In this respect, it is interesting to note that in the early 1970s
an Australian doctor was seeking Federal Government support for
research and development in connection with a locally developed
IUD. The doctor was advised of the legislative controls exercised
by the Federal Department of Health, and in particular the requirements concerning research studies. According to the assistant
97
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
director-general of the Therapeutic Substances Branch of the
Federal Department of Health:
"These studies are required because Dr (x)'s IUD contains zinc
and copper which is incorporated into (the device). The efficacy
of this product and similar devices is to a large extent dependent
on the metals being slowly released from the rubber or plastic
whilst in the uterus. The metals concentrate to some extent
in the local tissues and some quantity is absorbed into the blood
stream and distributed elsewhere in the body. As these devices
may be used by women continuously for many years it is
important to assess possible long term effects before marketing". 8
In later correspondence with the Federal Minister for Health and
the Director-General of Health, reference was made to reported
problems with the Dalkon Shield, to the requirement imposed on
the Searle Company to have the "Copper 7" IUD tested at Hawthorn
Park Research Facility in Mittagong, NSW, and to independent
tests carried out on the Dalkon Shield and other IUDs in the United
States. In respect of the latter tests, it was pointed out that:
"They found that there was copper acetate put in the Dalkon
Shield which leaked out and had a contraceptive effect. However,
the manufacturer's claim that it was put there only as an antifungal thing. Whichever way it went, the Robins Co. were in
a very difficult situation as they had an FDA certification as
an inert device."
One of the public servants who processed this letter within the
Federal Department of Health made a cryptic and somewhat
prophetic marginal note: "This has broader implications . . ."
Although the assistant-director of the Therapeutic Goods Branch
of the Federal Department of Health acknowledged in 1981 that
imported intra-uterine devices whose effect is attributed in part
to the release of copper in the uterus had been classified as
therapeutic substances and evaluated prior to their approval for
marketing in Australia, it would appear that the Dalkon Shield
escaped such scrutiny.
98
THE DALKON SHIELD
It was not until the problems with the device had become manifest
that the device was voluntarily withdrawn from the market.
State
Legislation
Only one Australian State (Victoria) requires the regulation of
contraceptives. However, even this degree of regulatory control can
be bypassed, as happened with the "Anderson Leaf" IUD, when
the product is manufactured in that State but used in another
State.
While some degree of control over manufacturing processes can
be exercised under State legislation, pursuant to the provisions
of the Therapeutic Goods and Cosmetics Act 1972, NSW (and similar
regulations in some other States), it is clear that this has failed.
The NSW legislation provides for an advisory committee (without
consumer representation), licensing, the promulgation of standards,
control of advertising, the inspection and seizure of goods, and
prescribed offences. One of the difficulties is that "generally the
States do not have the resources to carry out their own evaluation
and rely on the advice of the ADEC . . .".9
By 1985, there had been approximately 15,000 claims against
A H Robins in the United States. The company had by then paid
out approximately $400 million in compensatory damages, $25
million in punitive damagaes, and $100 million for its own legal
costs in connection with the 10,000 claims which had been either
settled or half determined following a trial on the merits.
An additional accounting reserve of $700 million had been
established for the payment of outstanding and projected claims.
This was considered to be inadequate to meet future claims which
were then estimated to be worth in excess of $1 billion. There
has been a plethora of other legal proceedings, most of which have
been brought in the United States.
Proceedings have been brought: against doctors and hospitals,
alleging medical negligence10; against Robins by shareholders;
against officers and directors of Robins alleging personal responsibility and liability on the basis of breach of fiduciary trust,
authorisation of tortious misconduct and fraud; by Robins against
its insurer Aetna; by claimants against Aetna alleging conspiracy
99
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
and a cover up, together with deliberate obstruction, delay and
improper denials of liability in relation to meritorious claims;
against lawyers for professional negligence, criminal conspiracy,
and professional misconduct; against insurance company loss
adjusters alleging a conspiracy with certain lawyers to settle claims
for less than their worth; against a trial court judge, Miles Lord,
for alleged judicial misconduct arising out of his court room address
to corporate officers; against the judge presently presiding over
the bankruptcy proceedings, Judge Merhige, for alleged bias and
improper conduct; against a former in-house lawyer employed by
Robins, seeking to restrain him from giving evidence about the
destruction of damaging documents; against Robins in connection
with the alleged suppression and destruction of documents; and
against the German manufacturer of the tailstring which was
attached to the IUD, and other third party defendants.
There have also been additional proceedings, disputes within
proceedings, and appeals in connection with defamation; the
proposed establishment of an emergency fund to meet the medical
expenses of Dalkon Shield victims; the most appropriate forum
for the resolution of cases; the question of whether Robins is
estopped from constantly re-litigating the issues of negligence and
breach of warranty; advertising by lawyers seeking to attract
Dalkon Shield clients; fee arrangements; and numerous class
actions arising out of claims for both compensatory and punitive
damages. This litigation has been in progress for over ten years
and the Dalkon Shield has now become the most litigated product
in history.
Following substantial awards of compensatory damages and large
punitive damages awards, Robins filed for voluntary bankruptcy
in August 1985 under chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy
Code. It had previously failed in a further attempt to have a class
action certified.
Lest it be thought that this was the final stage, there were of
course the inevitable legal challenges to the bona fides of the
bankruptcy application and also a challenge to the judge presently
presiding over the bankruptcy proceedings following his dismissal
of the original claimants' committee.
Further proceedings have arisen out of allegedly improper
100
THE DALKON SHIELD
payments made by Robins to corporate officers and the sale of
foreign assets after the bankruptcy proceedings had been initiated.
Also, in view of the bankruptcy, it is likely that many foreign
plaintiffs will now seek to pursue proceedings against foreign
subsidiaries in their domestic courts. Many have already started
actions.
After the bankruptcy proceedings were instituted, a deadline was
set for the lodging of claims by both North American and foreign
claimants. By April 1986 more than 300,000 people had lodged claims
with the Bankruptcy Court in the United States. Australian
claimants comprise almost a quarter of all foreign (i.e, non-United
States) claimants in the bankruptcy proceedings. Notwithstanding
the large number of people who filed claims, many missed out.
An application for an extension of time for the lodging of claims
by foreign women was rejected and this was the subject of an
appeal. The decision of the appeal court is yet to be handed down.
At the time of writing (April 1987), the company had just filed
its own reorganisation plan with the court. The plan provides for
setting up a $US1.75 billion trust to provide payments to Dalkon
Shield claimants. The plan is yet to be adopted by the claimants
of the court and no doubt disputation, and litigation, over compensation arrangements will continue for some time.
There is also on-going litigation over whether the bankruptcy
proceedings were appropriate or justified as a mechanism for
seeking relief from tort liability.11
Those women who are contemplating or currently involved in
litigation have encountered a multitude of problems. Many have
found it difficult to get adequate legal assistance and some have
been deterred from taking action on the basis of erroneous advice.
The problem has been compounded by the fact that most of the
Australian lawyers have simply not been in possession of relevant
information and documentary evidence. In part this has been
because of the suppression and destruction of information and
documents by the company, but the tyranny of distance has
exacerbated the problem.
101
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Choice of Jurisdiction
Having resolved to take action, Australian claimants need to
consider whether to bring proceedings in Australia and/or in the
United States. The limitations of the Australian legal system are
evident from the fact that almost all Australian plaintiffs (and other
foreign claimants) have chosen to bring proceedings in United States
courts. Although the evidence and witnesses relating to the
company's actions are primarily located in the United States, this
is counteracted by the presence of evidence in Australia concerning
the insertion, identification of the device and the subsequent damage
and the possible necessity for claimants and witnesses to travel
to the United States, at their expense—if the proceedings result
in a hearing. Moreover, there is the expense of United States lawyers
having to come to Australia for the purpose of obtaining evidence
in the pre-trial stages.
However, these competing considerations are outweighed by the
substantive and procedural advantages of litigating in the United
States. In particular:
(a) The doctrine of strict liability makes it easier to recover
compared with jurisdictions like Australia which require
proof of negligence.
(b) Compensatory damages are higher and the possibility of a
large award of punitive damages is an added incentive.
(c) United States lawyers will handle the cases on a contingent
fee basis and thus no legal fees will be charged unless a
successful recovery results.
(d) Costs do not follow the event and thus unsuccessful claimants
will not be ordered to pay the other side's legal costs.
(e) There are more liberal laws governing the time period in which
legal proceedings must be started and the limitation period
stops running on the filing of a class action or bankruptcy
application.
102
THE DALKON SHIELD
(f) A number of United States law firms have invested
substantial amounts of money in investigation/research and
have commissioned experts to obtain evidence giving rise to
economies of scale and defraying the expense involved.
(g) Many United States law firms have been involved as
specialists in Dalkon Shield litigation for up to 10 years and
during this period have amassed voluminous documentation
and evidence and acquired considerable expertise.
A number of these factors—together with the fact that the United
States legal system has evolved a mechanism for the resolution
of large scale litigation of this sort (the class action)—serve to
highlight the limitations of Anglo-Australian law. Yet there are
further problems, particularly those relating to traditional tortbased litigation strategies.
MEDICAL RECORDS
Claimants have been disadvantaged, and in some instances cases
prejudiced, because of the lack of a clearly defined legal right of
access to medical records in Australia.
Practices and policies vary between States, within States between
private and public hospitals, and between different medical
practitioners. In many instances, patients have been denied access
to their records; told that the records had been deliberately
destroyed; asked to pay inordinate fees, or told that the records
would only be produced on subpoena.
The move toward freedom of information and legal rights of access
to documents in the public sector, particularly at a Commonwealth
level, has not extended to the States (with the exception of Victoria)
or the private and professional sectors. The equivocation about
policy in relation to patients' access to their own medical records
is matched by a pervasive uncertainty or confusion about legal
rights of access. It is likely that the abovementioned barrage of
litigation arising out of the Dalkon Shield saga will soon be added
to with the initiation of legal proceedings against doctors and
hospitals denying access to records.
103
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
LIMITATION PERIODS
Legislative limitation periods vary between States, between the
States and Commonwealth and between different causes of action.
Moreover there is much scope for argument, and much litigation,
about the interpretation of time limit provisions. The problem is
of course compounded in the absence of judicial discretion to temper
the obvious injustice arising out of the extinction of legal rights
before a latent injury becomes apparent or before plaintiffs become
aware of the fact that they have a cause of action. 12
In some jurisdictions a "discovery rule" has developed which
provides that the cause of action accrues not at the time of the
injury, but when the injured person discovers the injury and its
cause. As one commentator has observed:
Largely, this development has been the work of judges,
occasionally aided and sometimes hindered by . . . legislatures. 13
However, even in jurisdictions—such as a number of those in
the United States—which have adopted a discovery rule, difficult
legal questions arise concerning whether foreign courts will still
apply Australian law; whether the limitation period legislation
serves to bar the remedy or extinguish the legal right; and whether
limitation periods can be waived or apply only if specifically pleaded.
The answers to such questions are outside our scope here, but
the questions themselves highlight some of the legal problems to
be overcome. Although restrictive limitation periods may deny
plaintiffs a remedy for certain injuries, ongoing problems and
separate injuries may give rise to additional causes of action.
However, normally a plaintiff may not postpone bringing
proceedings until the full extent of the damage is ascertained. In
many instances, Dalkon Shield victims have been disadvantaged
by the operation of restrictive limitation period provisions.
LIMITS OF THE TRADE PRACTICES ACT
The Trade Practices Act provides for certain remedies of relevance
to Dalkon Shield claimants. Sections 52 and 53 related to misleading
and deceptive conduct, and the manufacturer's liability provisions
104
THE DALKON SHIELD
create a form of strict liability if the injured consumer can establish
that the goods are not fit for the purpose; fail to correspond with
the description; are not of merchantable quality; don't correspond
with samples; and don't comply with express warranties which
are broadly defined and extend to promotional or advertising
materials.
However, the latter provisions were only inserted into the Act
in 1978 and actions may only be sought within 3 years after the
cause of action accrues.
As noted earlier, the Trade Practices Act a\so provides for statutory
product standards, but no relevant standards have been
prescribed. 14
FOREIGN COMPANIES AND AUSTRALIAN SUBSIDIARIES
The Australian assets of A H Robins Pty Ltd are limited. The assets
of the parent American company are under siege from hundreds
of thousands of American and foreign plaintiffs and, at this stage,
protected pursuant to bankruptcy proceedings.
Moreover, the insurance cover of the American corporation has
been largely exhausted and there are a large number of unanswered
questions concerning the insurance cover for its Australian
subsidiary. The product was manufactured by the United States
parent and the local activities of the Australian subsidiary were
carefully controlled from the United States. Moreover, most of the
shares in the Australian company are held by members of the parent
company.
Given that the claims of Australian (and other) women were
being frustrated by the United States bankruptcy proceedings (while
the parent company and its foreign subsidiaries continue to trade
profitably) some important policy questions arise as to:
(a) Whether multi-national corporations should be allowed to
trade in Australia only if they can demonstrate sufficient
assets to meet claims against them by injured consumers;
(b) Whether some form of financial bond should be required;
105
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
(c) Whether separate product liability insurance should be
compulsory;
(d) Whether product liability insurers should be able to avoid
paying claims under the policy on the basis of non-disclosure
of relevant information by the company. 15
A UNITED STATES SOLUTION?
Given the limitations of the Australian legal system and the
procedural and substantive advantages of bringing legal proceedings
in the United States, it is hardly surprising that most Australian
plaintiffs have chosen this option. Thus, the United States
corporation, and the United States courts, are bearing the burden
arising out of the failure to regulate or control the export of
hazardous products.
However, the volume of litigation has led to protracted delays
and, as noted above, almost exhausted the insurance cover and
has now raised questions about the ability of even a large profitable
multi-national company like A H Robins to meet its legal liabilities.
Earlier procedural battles over class actions, multi-district
litigation, forum shopping and limitation periods have been superceded by a new wave of wrangling arising out of the bankruptcy
proceedings. The Bankruptcy Court is now seeking to balance the
interest of the claimants with those of the corporation and its
shareholders. All parties have a vested interest in the survival and
profitability of the company.
Positive effects of the bankruptcy proceedings are that the
limitation period has stopped running (in the United States in so
far as the A H Robins Company is concerned); all claims will be
considered equally and the interests of potential or future claimants
will be taken into consideration (provided that the user lodged
notification with the court before the end of April 1986); controls
will be exercised over legal fees thus encroaching on the market
forces which determined the pre-existing contingent fee arrangements; and a simple claims procedure is likely to be instituted which
will hopefully serve the interests of both represented and
unrepresented claimants.
106
THE DALKON SHIELD
The regulation of legal fees will itself have some far-reaching
implications given that almost $250 million of the funds paid out
by the company to date have gone to lawyers. During the course
of the litigation there has been considerable abuse of the contingent
fee system. Many lawyers have attracted clients, negotiated a
contingent fee deal, taken a percentage of what could only be
described as a "finder's fee", and transferred the files to other
firms to carry out the work. Fees based on a third to 40 per cent
of gross damages recovered are usual and there are a number of
firms with an excess of 1,000 clients.
The bankruptcy proceedings also bring to an end the large awards
of punitive damages in individual cases. These awards were
beginning to have some disturbing implications given that the
company was being repeatedly punished; the diminishing funds
available for the payment of compensatory damages; and the
spectacular variation of awards between different juries.
Negative consequences of the bankruptcy include the ongoing
delay, the endless procedural disputation, the mind-boggling
problems of trying to evaluate questions of liability and quantum
in connection with 300,000 claims from all over the world, and
the prospect that many claimants will not receive adequate
compensation.
Initial reports of adverse reactions to the Dalkon Shield in
Australia led to the establishment of a working party of the National
Health and Medical Research Council to review IUDs. In its 1977
report, the Committee recommended that women who were using
the device successfully at the time, and who were not pregnant,
neeed not have it removed although it had been withdrawn from
the American market in September 1975 and from the Australian
market some time later.
In the process of reviewing the regulatory system in force in
relation to contraceptive devices, several bodies expressed concern
at the absence of screening and evaluation for devices marketed
in Australia. 16
The 1981 amendments to the Therapeutic Goods Act provided
for the establishment of a National Register of Therapeutic Goods
which will encompass pharmaceuticals, contraceptives and devices.
In 1984, the Federal Minister for Health announced proposals for
107
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
the evaluation and regulation of high risk medical devices, following
heart valve failures leading to deaths. 17
It is of course possible to control the import of all IUDs by
including them in Schedule 8 of the Customs (Prohibited Imports)
Regulations. This would require the establishment of standards
or guidelines and prohibit import without the permission of the
Minister for Health.
This regulatory approach has in fact been adopted for condoms
and diaphragms. It seems somewhat incongruous that devices
which are less of a health risk and less intrusive than IUDs should
be subjected to greater regulatory control.
However, a working party has now been established by the
National Biological Standards Laboratory to look at guidelines for
IUDs which will cover physical properties of the devices.
Notwithstanding important developments in recent years, it is
submitted that the Federal regulatory system remains manifestly
inadequate. Problems include:
(a) Lack of control over locally manufactured products;
(b) Limited scrutiny of some imported products;
(c) Lack of investigative staff and the shortage of technical
expertise and testing facilities;
(d) Absence of prescribed standards;
(e) Limited reporting of adverse reactions and the lack of
mandatory reporting requirements;
(f) Absence of a legislatively prescribed mandatory recall scheme
for defective products18;
(g) Limited statutory penalties for regulatory offences.
These and other problem areas are referred to in a submission
by the Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations to the
Federal Minister for Health19, and in submissions to the Minister
108
THE DALKON SHIELD
by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in relation to the Dalkon
Shield. In his recent response to the PIAC submission, the Minister:
(a) Refers to the difficulty in drawing up product standards;
(b) Points out that all contraceptive devices imported and
marketed in Australia since around 1978 have been subject
to full evaluation;
(c) Expresses opposition to legislatively prescribed mandatory
reporting of adverse reactions given that, for the first three
years of marketing of any new IUD approved by the
department, there is a requirement for the company to notify
all reports of suspected reactions and to provide postmarketing reports which must include details of any on-going
studies or reports relating to the product's safety and efficacy.
It would thus appear that some of the implications of the Dalkon
Shield saga are yet to make an appreciable impact on departmental
and ministerial thinking.
Although the Australian company and the Australian Drug
Evaluation Committee both undertook a publicity campaign in 1974
to alert the public and the medical profession to problems associated
with the device and calling on the medical profession to provide
details of problems encountered, only 74 reports were received. The
inadequacies of such a reporting system are revealed by the fact
that the number of Australian claimants in the US litigation now
exceeds 7,000.
According to the Minister for Health, there had been no reports
of any problems occurring in Australia up to 1974 and thereafter
the reported problems represent an incidence of only 0.05 per cent
based on an estimate of 147,000 devices sold in Australia. The fallacy
is, of course, to infer that the incidence of reported problems bears
any relationship to the incidence of actual problems. Significant
numbers of women in fact suffered problems before 1974 at a time
when there were, according to the Minister for Health, no adverse
reports. According to a recently published book:
109
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By Robins's own conservative estimate in April 1985, 4 per cent
of the wearers were injured—that is, nearly 90,000 women in
the United States alone.20
Notwithstanding the 1974 publicity in Australia, and the 1975
withdrawal of the product from the market, it is clear that devices
were subsequently inserted, that many women continued to wear
the device and suffer personal injuries, in some instances, up to
10 years later, that consumers themselves did not receive adequate
notification of the problems with the device and that the overwhelming majority of doctors and health care professionals who
became aware of problems experienced by their patients failed to
notify health authorities, and, in some instances, were themselves
negligent in relation to insertion and/or failure to advise on adverse
effects or the need for removal of the device.
It was not until 1980 that health care professionals were formally
notified by the company that any devices still in situ should be
removed. Moreover, it was not until the end of 1984, some 10 years
after the problems with the product were known to corporate and
government officials, that a comprehensive public education and
publicity campaign was undertaken by the company.
This was to be repeated in early 1986 in Australia and in other
foreign companies where the product was sold, by order of the
Bankruptcy Court in the United States in a decision handed down
in late 1985.
THE LONG ROAD TO REFORM
As long ago as the mid 1970s the ACT House of Assembly Standing
Committee on Education and Health recommended complementary
State and Federal legislation governing the production and evaluation of all contraceptive devices. Although the recommendation
was limited to those devices manufactured in Australia, it is clear,
as the Federal Minister for Health has recently acknowledged, that
there are:
"Some limitations in the Federal Acts over the importation and/or
marketing of contraceptive products in Australia." 21
110
THE DALKON SHIELD
At the International Conference on Population in Mexico in 1984,
Australia formally moved an amendment to the international
declaration under consideration to the effect that countries should
ensure that contraceptive methods conform to adequate standards
of quality, efficacy and safety. 22
THE LIMITS OF THE LEGAL SYSTEM
The Dalkon Shield case has highlighted the limitations of the
Australian legal system and placed severe strains on United States
courts. Mass product liability of this sort, and on this scale, raises
a number of important legal and policy questions:
(a) Should the courts and the regulatory system be more concerned with preventive rather than remedial measures?
The early implementation of legislatively prescribed or
judicially created mandatory recall procedures would have
prevented or substantially lessened the problem. Apart from
proposals for legislative reform, it is of interest to note that
there has been some recent judicial creativity. Courts in the
United States have used punitive damages as a mechanism
for inducing corporate defendants to take products off the
market (as in the case of tampons alleged to cause toxic shock)
or make good the damage they have caused (e.g, by cleaning
up an area where groundwater had become polluted). Large
punitive damages awards were imposed but suspended or
reduced on condition that corporations carried out such
measures. This raises a variety of interesting and important
issues concerning the overlap between civil and criminal or
quasi-criminal penalties.
(b) Would preventive and regulatory goals be better achieved by
uniform federal legislative action and the setting up of a
National Consumer Product Safety Commission? Should
governments take affirmative action on behalf of individual
victims or should they be left to take individual action through
the courts? It is interesting to note that following Bhopal,
the Indian Government itself took action to help claimants
111
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
file a class action in the United States. By way of contrast,
the Australian Government has left Dalkon Shield victims
to fend for themselves. The onus of publicising the deadline
for the filing of claims in the United States was left with
the company and the majority of advertising and expenditure
on advertising was confined to the United States. Not
surprisingly, therefore, after the expiration of the deadline
it was found that more than 90 per cent of claimants were
residents of the United States whereas only 60 per cent of
the products were distributed in the United States. Moreover,
the overwhelming majority of the claims settled before the
bankruptcy proceedings were instituted involved American
women.
(c) Has the traditional mechanism for the award of "once and
for all" damages been in the interests of claimants?
The delay in resolving litigation and the limits on the award
of interim damages have in many instances served to
disadvantage both plaintiffs and defendants. As noted above,
there have been proceedings seeking the establishment of an
emergency fund to meet medical expenses (e.g, in relation
to payment for in-vitro fertilisation, repair of damaged
fallopian tubes, evaluation of fertility, and psychiatric
counselling).
Lawyers seeking the establishment of such a fund contend
that it is not only in the interests of the clients for medical
services to be provided before they get beyond child-bearing
age, but also in the company's interests given that the value
of a claim based on infertility would be reduced from $350,000
to $100,000 if medical efforts to restore a woman's fertility
are successful.
Other obvious problems in assessing damages arise in
trying to assess loss which may or may not arise (e.g, in
cases of partial infertility where it is not known whether
a child or further children will be conceived).
Recent legislative reform in the United Kingdom has
conferred on courts the power to award provisional damages
for personal injury. 23
112
THE DALKON SHIELD
(d) Should the existing principles relating to exemplary and
aggravated damages be extended to encompass punitive
damages in the United States sense? If so, how should this
be regulated to ensure that defendants are not unduly
punished and that some plaintiff do not receive awards of
punitive damages at the expense of awards of compensatory
damages to other plaintiffs, (where limited funds are
available)?
The issue of punitive damages raises important questions
about the purpose of law. Is it merely to provide for
individualised forms of compensation or is it intended to serve
a broader social purpose?
(e) Are "class actions" or compensation funds a preferable and
more equitable, expeditious and less costly alternative than
a multitude of individual awards of compensatory and
punitive damages?
The question of class actions was recently considered by
the Australian Law Reform Commission.24 Recent problems
with large-scale asbestos litigation have led to the establishment of compensation funds in the United States and similar
proposals in Australia. 2 5 Problems with various
pharmaceuticals which are alleged to have caused large-scale
injuries have led to proposals for voluntary compensation
schemes in the UK.26
(f) Are alternative dispute resolution mechanisms a better
method of determining questions of fact and liability than
court-based litigation?
If so, should developments in this area extend to largescale complex product liability issues rather than continue
to be confined primarily to minor individual "backyard"
disputes and commercial disputes?
(g) Should presently restrictive limitation-period legislation be
liberalised and should there be uniformity between Australian
jurisdictions?
113
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
(h) Should Australia follow the United States and recent
European proposals and adopt some form of strict liability
for compensating persons injured by hazardous products in
lieu of the principles of negligence and the limited "no fault"
remedies available under the Trade Practices Act ?
These are just some of the important legal and policy issues which
the Dalkon Shield product liability litigation has served to highlight.
The lessons to be learnt from this saga extend far beyond the
interests of the particular claimants and the one company.
The case raises important questions concerning the conduct of
national and multi national corporations and the legal culpability
of corporate officers; the role and ethical responsibilities of both
corporate and plaintiffs' lawyers; the ambit of governmental and
regulatory control; the substantive and procedural legal rights of
consumers, corporations and shareholders. In short, the case
highlights a multitude of fundamental legal and policy questions
concerning the role of law in society.
In conclusion, it should be noted that to date almost all legal
claims have been by white women from English-speaking common
law countries (the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States,
Australia and New Zealand). The product was of course distributed
on a large scale in 80 countries, including many third world
countries through international aid organisations. Large numbers
of the devices, many sold at a discount without sterilisation, were
dumped abroad after the product was taken off the market in the
United States. Whatever one may think of the plight of women
claimants in their struggle with the company and the legal system,
one should not lose sight of the fact that unknown numbers of
women are still wearing the device and untold others have suffered
illness and injury without ever becoming aware of the fact that
legal redress is available.
It is a long way from the villages of Bangladesh to the courtrooms
of the United States.
POSTSCRIPT
On 7 October 1988, a trust fund set up to handle claims against
114
THE DALKON SHIELD
A.H. Robins began making payments to some of the injured women.
There were at the time some 196,000 active claims pending against
the company from women around the world.
On 19 January 1989. A.H. Robins announced acceptance of a U.S.
$700 million takeover bid from American Home Products, a large
American pharmaceutical manufacturer. The bid was endorsed by
Dalkon Shield claimants after American Home proposed to pay court
ordered compensation in the amount of U.S. $2,475 billion into
the trust fund at the conclusion of bankruptcy proceedings. By
mid 1989, these had yet to be consummated. The interest forgone
pending final determination of proceedings exceeded millions of
dollars per week.
Claimants' and corporate legal fees arising from the litigation
are estimated to exceed U.S. $1 billion. Before the device was
withdrawn from sale, A.H. Robins' total profit on the Dalkon Shield
was U.S. $500,000.
1. See generally, Mintz, M (1985), At Any Cost: Corporate Greed, Women and
the Dalkon Shield, New York, Pantheon Books; Engelmayer, S and Wagman,
R (1985), Lords Justice: One Judge's Battle to Expose the Deadly Dalkon Shield
IUD, New York, Anchor Press/Doubleday; Perry, S and Dawson, J (1985),
Nightmare: Women and the Dalkon Shield, New York, Macmillan.
2. Mintz, op cit, 116 ff.
3. Ibid, 121.
4. Ibid, 124.
5. Harland, D (1985), "Legal Aspects of the Export of Hazardous Products", 8
Journal of Consumer Policy 209.
6. Siedlecky, S (1985), "Commonwealth Department of Health Regulations" in
Contraception and Consumer Protection: Conference Papers, Public Interest
Advocacy Centre, 104-109.
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7. Nagarajan, R (1985), Product Liability Law and Statutory Product Standards:
A New Approach to Product Safety in Australia, Draft manuscript (unpublished).
8. Letter to Assistant Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs, Canberra, 27
June 1973.
9. Siedlecky, op cit supra note 6.
10. Thornton, G R (1986), "Intrauterine Devices: Malpractice and Product
Liability", 14 Law, Medicine and Health Care 1, 4; Thornton, G R (1986a),
"Intrauterine Devices" Trial, (November) p 44.
11. Note: University of Pennsylvania Law Review (1983), "Relief From Tort
Liability Through Re-Organisation", 131 University of Pennsylvania Law Review
1227.
12. See the Report of the WA Law Reform Commission and, in the UK, section
33 of the Limitation Act 1980. See also, Do Como v Ford Excavations (1984)
52 ALR 231: The recent report of the NSW Law Reform Commission on the
Limitation Act 1969 (NSW).
13. Owles, D (1985), "The Dilatory Plaintiff", Product Liability International, July,
111-112.
14. Nagarajan, op cit supra note 7.
15. See, e.g, the recent battle in NSW between a local asbestos producer and its
insurers: James Hardie Industries Limited. Decision of Rogers, J, 19 November
1984. See Goldring, J, "Asbestos—Who Pays?" Legal Service Bulletin, February
1985, and the letter by Justice Andrew Rogers in the October 1985 edition.
16. National Health and Medical Research Council (1977), Report of the Working
Party on Intrauterine Contraceptive Devices, Canberra, AGPS; The Standing
Committee on Education and Health of the ACT Legislative Assembly referred
to anomalies arising out of separate State and Federal legislation. Moreover,
although one State (Victoria) requires registration of all contraceptives,
including devices, this did not cover those manufactured in that State and
sold elsewhere. One particular device (the Anderson Leaf) was not registered,
although manufactured in Victoria, because it was used principally in New
South Wales. Moreover, those in whom the devices were inserted would appear
not to have been informed that the device was on trial.
17. There is currently a considerable amount of litigation in the United States
against the manufacturers of heart valves.
18. See generally, Office of Consumer Affairs, Recall of Unsafe Products, Canberra,
AGPS, 1985. Recent amendments to the Trade Practices Act, 1974 make provision
for the mandatory recall of unsafe products in circumstances where the safety
of the public is threatened and the situation cannot be handled adequately
by voluntary recall schemes or other means. (Section 65F.)
19. AFCO (1984), Deadly Neglect: Regulation of the Manufacture of Therapeutic
Goods, Submission to Federal Minister for Health.
116
THE DALKON SHIELD
20. Mintz, op cit supra note 1, 7.
21. Letter to Public Interest Advocacy Centre, November 1985. Recent proposals
for legislative reform in Victoria are incorporated in the Therapeutic Goods
and Cosmetics Bill 1984. The proposed legislation represents a substantial
improvement within the constraints of unilateral State action to deal with
what is obviously a national and international problem.
22. Siedlecky, op cit supra note 6.
23. Section 32A, Supreme Court Act (UK), in force from 1 July 1985. See generally
Product Liability International, August 1985, p. 121 and the New Order 37
of the Supreme Court Rules (UK).
24. Australian Law Reform Commission (1985) Standing in Public Interest
Litigation, (Report No. 27), Australian Government Publishing Service,
Canberra. Recent amendments to the Trade Practices Act 1974 enable the Trade
Practices Commission to bring proceedings on behalf of named consumers
seeking damages or other relief (Section 87).
Recent procedural reforms have also been introduced in both South Australia
and Victoria to enable representative or "class" actions to be brought on behalf
of groups, including where damages are sought.
See: Rule 33 Supreme Court Rules, South Australia, 1987; Sections 34 and
35, Supreme Court Act 1986 (Vic.), Order 18, General Rules of Procedure in
Civil Proceedings, 1986 (Vic.).
25. See Product Liability International, August 1985,125; July 1985,109.
26. Mcintosh, D (1985), "Litigation Against Pharmaceutical Companies in the
United Kingdom", Product Liability International, December 1985 (Part 1),
January 1986 (Part 2).
117
r many it's fun. For many others it means profit. But the
leasure and the profit from smoking come at a hideous price.
The use of tobacco became a habit in Western societies long before
the European colonisation of Australia. Over the past two centuries,
millions of Australians have derived genuine satisfaction from
inhaling tobacco smoke. Cigarettes were part of every digger's
rations, and indeed were even included in Red Cross packages for
prisoners of war. While the number of Australian smokers has
declined slightly in recent years, nearly one in three Australians,
almost four million people, are smokers today.
In addition to any physical pleasures, the benefits from tobacco
consumption are widespread.
• Tobacco farmers in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria
derive their livelihood from the crop.
• Thousands of people are employed in the manufacture and sale
of tobacco products, a $2,000 million a year industry.
• The advertising industry and the media derive some $60 million
* Peter Grabosky is a benign non-smoker.
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THE MEDIA, TOBACCO AND PUBLIC HEALTH
a year from the promotion of tobacco products, whether through
direct advertising in newspapers, magazines and on billboards,
or indirectly through widely publicised sporting and cultural
events.
• Australian governments obtain enormous financial benefit from
the tobacco industry—Commonwealth and State governments
receive tax revenues in excess of $1,200 million a year.
Yet nicotine, an essential ingredient of tobacco, is addictive. It
may also contribute to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
Tobacco smoke contains tars—organic particulates—which are
carcinogenic; it contains a variety of pathogenic substances,
including phenols, nitrosamines, and hydrogen cyanide, some of
the substances emitted from coke ovens; it also contains carbon
monoxide, the inhalation of which is harmful to the respiratory
and circulatory systems. Cigarette smoking during pregnancy is
associated with prenatal death, retarded foetal growth and birth
defects.
The major cause of death in Australia is heart disease. Some
25 per cent of deaths from heart diseases are attributable to smoking.
The second largest cause of death in Australia is lung cancer. An
estimated 90 per cent of lung cancers are attributable to smoking.
Health authorities estimate that tobacco is the major causative
factor in the deaths of 16,000 Australians each year. 1
In addition to the human tragedy which these statistics reflect,
smoking in Australia entails other costs. Smoking-related illnesses
impose burdens on the economy, in the form of absenteeism and
lost productivity. Of the major tobacco companies active in Australia
today, all but one are subsidiaries of British and US multinationals—the profits which these firms repatriate are lost to the
Australian economy. Those Australian firms with subsidiaries or
sales outlets in Papua New Guinea or other Pacific nations themselves repatriate valuable foreign exchange and divert funds which
might otherwise be spent on nutrition or other productive domestic
investment. 2 In many parts of the world, tobacco growing competes
with food production, and requires intensive use of potentially
hazardous pesticides. Tobacco curing also requires large quantities
119
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of wood fuel, which can be scarce in some developing economies.
There seems little doubt that cigarette manufacturers, with the
assistance of the advertising industry and the media, are
aggressively marketing an extremely hazardous drug of addiction,
which significantly increases the risk of death or disease in those
who use it.
There are no mysterious explanations couched in organisational
theory to account for the behaviour of cigarette manufacturers,
the advertising industry or the media in contributing to such a
massive health problem. The simple answer is the pursuit of profit.
As noted above, the promotion and sale of cigarettes are extremely
lucrative enterprises. Advertising enhances sales. Tobacco accounts
are extremely valuable to agencies in the highly competitive
advertising industry. Tobacco advertisements make a significant
contribution to sustaining the profitability of the print media.
Some may be tempted to accuse executives in the cigarette
industry of knowingly condemning thousands of Australians to
their deaths each year. In the course of their work, industry
executives rarely have contact with cancer patients. In a psychological sense, they are thus able to distance themselves from those
who are harmed by their product.
Moreover, those who profit from the manufacture and promotion of tobacco products tend not to accept evidence which
suggests the hazardous consequences of smoking. The official
industry position is to acknowledge the existence of scientific
controversy on the issue, but to maintain that definitive conclusions
may not be reached from the evidence accumulated thus far. The
work of Eysenck, funded in part by the tobacco industry, has
challenged the conventional wisdom regarding the health consequences of smoking by suggesting that it is not smoking, but
rather personality factors and genetic disposition, which lead to
illness. 3
There is no question that those with a stake in, or with a
commitment to, the tobacco industry demand a higher standard
of proof than do their adversaries. Human cognitive processes are
such that dissonant information is less readily accepted than are
data consistent with one's existing beliefs.
There exists, moreover, a strategic incentive for such a public
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THE MEDIA, TOBACCO AND PUBLIC HEALTH
position. Under the common law of product liability, to manufacture
a product which one knows to be hazardous places one at fault
in the event that the product causes death or injury. Publicly to
concede that cigarettes are dangerous would render manufacturers
vulnerable to a tidal wave of damage claims. To deny outright
the possibility of hazard would be ludicrous in light of accumulating
evidence to the contrary. To maintain that the precise causal
processes which determine why some smokers become ill and others
do not remain unclear, and that further evidence is necessary to
reach a definitive determination, is the safest legal course of action
for the cigarette manufacturers. To this end, they even seek to
demonstrate their concern for the truth by sponsoring medical
research on the consequences of smoking.
The failure of Australian governments effectively to protect the
health of the citizens from the hazards of tobacco lies primarily
in the diverse coalition of interests which they would confront.
As noted above, smoking became a way of life in Australia before
its risks became fully apparent. A sizeable and intense minority
of Australians, whether fatalistic, defiantly independent, or
addicted to nicotine, would prefer to be left to their own devices.
Tobacco farmers stand ready to challenge any threat to their
livelihood. Cigarette manufacturers wield considerable economic
power. Advertising and media interests play an extremely
influential role in shaping the consciousness of the Australian
public. No Australian government, State or Federal, has been secure
enough to undertake a significant challenge to such intense vested
interests.
Moreover, smoking and its consequences for public health are
not perceived as a serious problem by the Australian public. It
is ironic, but not surprising, that so much media attention and
concomitant public indignation have been focused on illicit drugs,
when the costs which they impose on Australian society pale in
comparison to those inflicted by tobacco.
As the health risks associated with tobacco smoking became
apparent in the 1960s, Australian governments were slow to
respond. At no time has outright prohibition of the product been
under serious consideration. Most of the measures taken have been
superficial.
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More forceful action, such as the prohibition of some forms of
advertising or the requirement of warning messages on packaging
or advertisements, followed overseas precedents, usually after a
number of years had passed. For example, television advertisements
for cigarettes were banned in Britain in 1965, in the US in 1970,
and Australia in 1976. The requirement that cigarette packs include
a health warning label was introduced by the US in 1965, by Britain
in 1971 and by Australia in 1973.4 In any event, many of these
initiatives have been easily circumvented by the tobacco industry.
Smoking control initiatives by state governments have taken
three basic forms. All states derive some revenue from cigarette
excises, and these have been increased from time to time. In addition,
States have introduced restrictions on the sale of tobacco to children.
Since the late 1970s considerable State resources have been invested
in anti-smoking campaigns. These have been directed at children
through school health ourricula, and at the public in general through
advertising campaigns which underscore the health risks associated
with smoking.
The first significant Federal Government initiative to restrict
the advertising of cigarettes was the Broadcasting and Television
Amendment Act 1976. Section 100(5A) prohibited commercial radio
and television stations from broadcasting "an advertisement for,
or for the smoking of, cigarettes tobacco". Thus excluded from
the electronic media, the cigarette industry increased its reliance
on newspaper and magazine advertisements, outdoor advertising
(billboards), and cinema advertising.
Use of the electonic media was not entirely precluded, however.
As a concession to the industry, the legislation permitted what
is called "perimeter advertising"—the presentation of content for
which the radio or television station receives no remuneration.
Because of this loophole, it became all but impossible to view a
televised sporting event which did not have cigarette advertising
in the background to the course or playing field.
In 1977, the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare
recommended a complete prohibition of cigarette advertising, 5 but
the proposal was rejected by the Fraser Government. No similar
proposals have since been given serious consideration.
Realising that continued aggressive advertising of cigarettes
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THE MEDIA, TOBACCO AND PUBLIC HEALTH
through alternative media was soon likely to invite a hostile
response from governments, the tobacco and advertising industries
proposed a scheme of self-regulation.
The Voluntary Advertising Code for Cigarettes in Australia
(VACC), drafted by the industry and authorised by the Trade
Practices Commission in 1977, is subject to annual review by State
and Federal health authorities, the tobacco industry and the
Australian Publishers' Bureau. It operates under the auspices of
the Media Council of Australia (MCA), which represents press,
radio, magazine, television, cinema and outdoor media interests.
The Code consists of ten provisions:
1. Cigarette advertising shall be directed only to adult smokers
and intended to effect a change of brand.
2. Except in a crowd or other scenes, where the background
is not under the control of the advertiser, no characters shall
be employed in cigarette advertisements who are under 25
years of age.
3. No family scenes of father and/or mother handling cigarettes
in front of children may be included.
4. No advertising for cigarettes may include persons who have
major appeal for children or adolescents under 18 years of
age.
5. Where a cigarette pack is included in advertising it will bear
the health warning.
6. Advertisements shall not include well-known past or present
athletes or sportsmen smoking cigarettes nor anyone smoking
cigarettes who is participating or has just participated in
physical activity requiring stamina or athletic conditioning
beyond that of normal recreation.
7. When an advertisement depicts success or distinction it shall
not be implied that this is due to cigarette smoking. Adver123
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
tising may use attractive models or illustrations thereof,
provided there is no suggestion that the attractiveness is
due to cigarette smoking.
8. Cigarette advertising must be aimed only at smokers, but
must not be intended to imply or convey that all persons
are smokers. In practice, where there is a group of at least
four people featured in an advertisement, at least one shall
be shown as a non-smoker.
9. Cigarette advertising must not show exaggerated satisfaction
from the act of smoking.
10. No advertisement may claim health properties from any
cigarette. 6
The first challenge to an advertisement under this code was made
in 1978 by an anti-smoking activist who claimed that a series of
advertisements for Winfield cigarettes featuring Paul Hogan
contravened that provision of the code which forbade advertisements including persons having major appeal for those under the
defined age.
One year later, after three separate follow-up requests, and no
communication from the MCA, the complainant was advised that
his communication did not constitute a formal complaint, as it
referred to an advertising campaign in general rather than to a
specific advertisement. A formal complaint was duly lodged, and
held to be without merit by a sub-committee of the MCA. Six months
later, an appeal against this decision was upheld by the Chairman
of the Advertising Standards Council, Sir Richard Kirby. The Hogan
advertisements were finally withdrawn six weeks later.
One of the virtues of deregulation, according to the advertising
industry, is the facility of registering a complaint, and the speed
with which complaints may be adjudicated. While this may not
have characterised the response to the Hogan complaints, the
regulatory apparatus responded much more quickly to complaints
lodged by industry representatives against government-produced
anti-smoking advertisements. A "Quit for Life" campaign sponsored
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THE MEDIA, TOBACCO AND PUBLIC HEALTH
by the NSW Health Commission featured a photograph of twins,
one of whom was holding a cigarette. The caption read "Which
twin will die first?" In contrast to the delay which characterised
the Hogan matter, this advertisement was suspended immediately.
It was required that the caption be changed to "Which twin is
more likely to die first?" 7
Numerous submissions to the Trade Practices Commission which
are critical of advertising industry self-regulation have met with
less than sympathetic response. Cynics have pointed out that a
recent chairman of the TPC was previously a director of Amatil,
the Australian cigarette and snack food conglomerate.8
The year 1983 saw activity on the part of four State and Territory
legislative bodies to place greater restrictions on cigarette
advertising. 9 In South Australia, a private member's bill was
defeated. In Tasmania and the ACT, legislation was referred to
committees. By far the most ambitious initiative was that of the
Western Australian Government's Smoking and Tobacco Products
Advertisements Bill. The proposed legislation had three basic
thrusts—a significant increase in the State cigarette excise, a public
anti-smoking information campaign, and a ban on the advertising
and promotion of tobacco products. It was supported by the
Australian Medical Association, various Royal Medical Colleges,
and the Heart and Cancer Societies.
Needless to say, the tobacco industry lobbied strongly against
the bill. A special team of lobbyists was sent to Perth for that
purpose, and cigarette advertising in the Western Australian press
increased during the period.10 Perhaps coincidentally, editorials in
the local press criticised the proposed legislation. In the event, the
measure was defeated by two votes in the opposition-controlled
upper house:11
In late 1985, the Commonwealth Government announced that
it would require larger and more assertive warnings on cigarette
packets. It originally intended that the warning message take up
no less than 20 per cent of the packet and include, among other
statements, the messages "SMOKING KILLS" and "SMOKING
IS ADDICTIVE". Vigorous lobbying by the tobacco industry,
however, succeeded in reducing the size of the warning to 15 per
cent of the packet, and limiting the messages to "SMOKING
125
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REDUCES YOUR FITNESS", "SMOKING DAMAGES YOUR
LUNGS", "SMOKING CAUSES HEART DISEASE" and
"SMOKING CAUSES LUNG CANCER".
In the absence of firm governmental response to the tobaccorelated health issue, some of the more forceful action against the
cigarette industry has been taken by private citizens. Damage claims
against tobacco manufacturers are being filed with increasing
frequency in the United States by terminally ill smokers or their
estates. 12 By late 1985 about 75 product liability lawsuits were
pending against cigarette companies. In addition to disputing the
causal connection between smoking and disease, cigarette
companies argue that smoking is an act of choice. Plaintiffs contend,
on the other hand, that tobacco companies were for many years
aware of the addictive and carcinogenic properties of chemicals
contained in tobacco smoke, but failed to warn consumers. While
no such action had yet succeeded, similar suits are being brought
in Australia. In August 1986, a terminal cancer patient in Melbourne
began an action against the manufacturer of Peter Stuyvesant
cigarettes. She withdrew, however, as her health deteriorated
further, and died in December 1986.
A number of claims for workers' compensation for disabilities
caused by tobacco smoke have also been lodged in recent years
in the US and in Australia. In October 1985 the Commonwealth
Administrative Appeals Tribunal upheld the claim of a public
servant who maintained that he had been incapacitated because
of the presence of tobacco smoke in his workplace. Re Bishop v
Commonwealth of Australia (No. 2) (1985) 8 ALN N 219.
Under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986, ex-service personnel
or their surviving dependants are entitled to a pension for disability
or death arising from a smoking habit begun or intensified as a
result of war service. The Repatriation Commission may not refuse
such a claim unless it is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that
there is no sufficient ground for linking the disability or death
to that smoking habit. The Repatriation Commission is subject
to a mandatory legislative presumption that requires it to find that
such a link does not exist if all the material before it does not
raise a reasonable hypothesis establishing that link.
In 1988, a non-smoking former Melbourne bus driver won a
126
THE MEDIA, TOBACCO AND PUBLIC HEALTH
$65,000 out-of-court settlement after he contracted cancer which
he blamed on passengers' cigarette smoke. The settlement heralded
an increased number of damages claims by passive smokers against
their employers, and an increased pressure on employers to ban
workplace smoking.
In May 1985, United Telecasters, owner of Channel 10 in Sydney
and at the time a subsidiary of the Murdoch News Corporation
empire, was committed for trial in the New South Wales District
Court under the Broadcasting and Television Act. The station was
charged with a violation of Section 100 (5A) for having televised
an entertainment sequence, the "Winfield Spectacular", which
allegedly constituted an advertisement for cigarettes. The event
occurred during the 1983 NSW Rugby League Grand Final, at which
the Prime Minister of Australia was in attendance. The charges
were brought not by the Commonwealth Government nor by the
Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, but by a private individual, an
anti-smoking activist who was president of the Non Smokers'
Movement of Australia. With the committal, further responsibility
for conduct of the prosecution rested with the Commonwealth
Director of Public Prosecutions. The case came to trial in September
1987, four years after the alleged offence. On 16 September 1987,
after more than eight hours of deliberations, the jury brought in
a verdict of guilty. On 9 October 1987, Channel 10 was fined $2,000.
Following an appeal to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal the
conviction was quashed and a re-trial was ordered on the basis
that inadmissable evidence was presented to the jury during the
trial. It was uncertain whether the Crown would receive special
leave to appeal to the High Court of Australia or whether a retrial would occur.
Some of the more extreme actions by private citizens have taken
the form of defacing outdoor advertising of tobacco products. A
group based in Sydney called Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against
Unhealthy Promotions (BUGA UP) has transformed a number of
cigarette advertisements into embarrassing editorial commentary.
Among the changes wrought have been the transformation of
"Anyhow, Have a Winfield" to "Anyhow, it's a Minefield" or "Man
how I hate Winfield". Such actions, of course, are quite illegal.
When, from time to time, members of BUGA UP are charged with
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an offence, they offer the defence of necessity, arguing that their
actions were essential to prevent a greater harm from occurring.
Regardless of the legal propriety of the BUG A UP campaign,
postcard depictions of some of their more imaginative creations
have been displayed for sale at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
The private sector, too, has begun to recognise and to respond
to the deleterious consequences of smoking. About 30 life insurance
offices in Australia offer discounts to non-smokers.13
By the end of 1988, the power of the tobacco, advertising and
media industries in Australia, while still formidable, could be seen
to waver. Governments continued public information campaigns
and imposed further restrictions on cigarette advertising. In 1988,
the Victorian Parliament prohibited such promotional strategies
as the distribution of free samples of cigarettes and unsolicited
leaflets. Cinema advertisements of cigarettes were banned and all
outdoor advertising of cigarettes was to be phased out by 1991.
The South Australian Parliament imposed restrictions on sporting
and other sponsorships, with the exception of certain major events
such as the Grand Prix. Smoking was prohibited on domestic air
flights from December 1987. Tobacco taxes may be expected to
increase gradually, except in Queensland, where government pride
in low taxes and concern for the local tobacco industry have
prevailed. In a year when an estimated $23 million were spent
by Australian children on cigarettes, the 1986 Federal Budget
imposed a 10 per cent excise on fruit juice, but left existing tobacco
excise unchanged. 14
In the interim, the cigarette industry seems likely to continue
a three-pronged strategy. First is diversification. Cigarette
companies are part of multinational conglomerates which have
already begun to insure against the eventual decline of the cigarette
industry by investing in other areas. Amatil, the Australian
cigarette conglomerate, also produces Nobby's Nuts and Smith's
Crisps, and bottles Coca-Cola. Philip Morris (Australia) Ltd has
extensive holdings in the wine industry, including Lindeman's, Leo
Buring, and Rouge Homme. In 1985, R J Reynolds Industries paid
US$4,900 million for Nabisco Brands Inc. Later that year Philip
Morris, already the owner of massive brewing and soft drink
manufacturing operations in the United States, announced that
128
THE MEDIA, TOBACCO AND PUBLIC HEALTH
it would buy General Foods Corporation for US$5,800 million. Such
diversification is a logical step on the path to an eventual winding
down of the cigarette industry. Consumer groups are nevertheless
concerned that former cigarette manufacturers will apply the ethics
of tobacco marketing to the marketing of junk food and alcoholic
beverages.
The eventual decline of the cigarette industry is years away,
however, and meanwhile, there are thousands of millions of dollars
to be made in selling cigarettes. Faced with fairly static markets
in western industrial societies, and at best, a maintenance of the
regulatory status quo in Australia, cigarette companies are looking
increasingly to the third world as a source of new markets. And
potentially lucrative markets they are indeed, with hundreds of
millions of new smokers in Asia, Africa and Latin America.15
There remains in addition the lingering hope that scientific
research can produce a "safe cigarette". To this end, cigarette
companies continue to invest in research to identify and reduce
harmful substances in their products.
While the story continues to unfold, an estimated 16,000
Australians will die of smoking related illnesses next year.
1. South Australian Health Commission (1983), Not so Much a Lobby . . . More
a Revolution: the Case for Freedom from Tobacco Multinationals, South
Australian Health Commission, Adelaide.
2. Brott, K (1982), "Lung Cancer Makes a Profitable Export to the Third World",
Habitat, 10, 26-28.
3. Eysenck, H (1980), The Causes and Effects of Smoking, M T Smith, London.
4. Taylor, P (1984), Smoke Ring: The Politics of Tobacco, The Bodley Head, London.
5. Australia, Senate, Standing Committee on Social Welfare (1977) Drug Problems
in Australia: An Intoxicated Society? Australian Government Printing Service,
Canberra.
129
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6. Australian Advertising Industry Council (1982), Self Regulation in Australian
Advertising (3rd ed), Australian Advertising Industry Council, Sydney, 26.
7. Blakeney, M and Barnes, S (1984), "Advertising Deregulation: Public Health
or Private Profit", in R. Tomasic (ed), Business Regulation in Australia, CCH
Australia, Sydney, 177-196.
8. Coleman, G (1985), "The Great Ad Wars", Australian Society, 4,10,11-14.
9. Chapman, S (1984), "Not Biting the Hand That Feeds You: Tobacco Advertising
and Editorial Bias in Australian Newspapers", The MedicalJournal of Australia,
14 April, 480-482.
10. Castleden, W, Nourish, D and Woodward, S (1985), "Changes in Tobacco
Advertising in Western Australian Newspapers in Response to Proposed
Government Legislation", Medical Journal of Australia, 142, 305-8.
11. Woodward, S (1983), "The 1982 Western Australian Smoking and Tobacco
Products Advertisements Bill", The Medical Journal of Australia, 5 March,
210-212; Chapman, op cit supra note 9.
12. Molotsky, I (1985), "Tobacco Companies are Facing Many Days in Court",
The New York Times, 6 October, E7.
13. Muir, P R (1984), "Non Smoker Contracts in the Australia Life Market", All
Journal, November, 6-8.
14. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (1986), Quantum, 9 September.
15. Multinational Monitor (1984), "Multinational Marketing: Cigarettes for the
South", Multinational Monitor, 5, 10-11, 21-22; Chapman, S (1985), The Dying
Trade, International Organization of Consumer's Unions, The Hague; Wall
Street Journal (1985), "Cigarette Companies Develop Third World as a Growth
market", 5 July, 1; Brott, op cit supra note 2.
130
D
eborah Lawrie had one all-consuming passion—flying. And her
one dream was to make it a full-time career. She applied to be
a trainee pilot with Ansett Airlines. Deborah passed all the tests with
flying colours, but there was one thing against Her. She was a woman.
And that began a long and painful fight through the courts.
This story really began in the mid 1970s when Deborah Jane
Lawrie was a teacher at Chandler High School in Victoria. Introduced to flying by her father at the age of 16, she pursued it with
diligence and skill. By 1975, in addition to her full-time teaching
duties, she held a commercial pilot's licence and worked part-time
as a flying instructor at Moorabbin Airport.
Then Lawrie decided to make flying a full-time career. The holder
of a Class 1 instrument flying classification, having already logged
more than 500 hours total flying time, and having acquired a morse
code rating and additional theory qualifications necessary for a
senior commercial pilot's licence, she applied for a position as a
trainee pilot with Ansett Airlines.
In addition to gender, Deborah Lawrie differed from most
prospective commercial pilots in that her qualifications and flight
time were all acquired at personal expense. By contrast, most
Australian airline pilots learned to fly as members of the Defence
131
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Forces (an opportunity then denied to women) at a cost to the
Australian taxpayer approaching $1 million each.
The process of gaining employment as an airline pilot is a slow
one. For Lawrie it was to be considerably slower than usual. When
an airline requires an augmentation of its pilot strength, a senior
pilot conducts screening interviews with those candidates whose
applications are pending.
Deborah Lawrie was interviewed on 24 October 1977, and was
advised that her interview had been successful. In accordance with
standard airline procedure, Lawrie attended a second interview with
a panel of senior pilots in June 1978, and underwent a battery
of psychological tests. The panel reconvened shortly thereafter to
select from the pool of candidates the required number to be accepted
as trainee pilots on that particular intake.
In a letter dated 20 July 1978, Lawrie was advised that her second
interview was unsuccessful. Although resigned at first, she learned
informally that based on the results of her psychological tests she
had been highly recommended, and that no candidate receiving
such an endorsement had ever been refused before. Confident of
her ability and aware that her competence and potential were no
less than that of many successful candidates, Lawrie knew that
the only reason she was not accepted as a trainee pilot was because
she was a woman.
Since the proclamation of the Equal Opportunity Act 1977 (Vic.),
it had been unlawful in Victoria to discriminate against a person,
with regard to employment, on the basis of sex. On 2 August 1978,
more determined than ever to embark on a career as an airline
pilot, Lawrie lodged a written complaint with the Registrar of the
Equal Opportunity Board (EOB).
At stake for Lawrie was more than a matter of principle. Her
earning power in the aviation industry would be more than double
that of an educator. And the issue of equal opportunity had profound
economic implications, not only for Lawrie, but for millions of
Australian women.
Despite the fact that South Australia was the first jurisdiction
in the common law world to extend the franchise to women,
Australia's record of discrimination in general was a poor one. This
was, after all, the land of the White Australia Policy, which excluded
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SEX DISCRIMINATION: WARDLEY V ANSETT
non-caucasian immigrants for most of the 20th century. It was,
in addition, the land that denied its Aboriginal people the right
to vote in Commonwealth elections until 1962 and excluded them
from census enumerations for five years thereafter. Married women
were prohibited from permanent employment in the Commonwealth
Public Service until 1966.1
At the time of Lawrie's encounters with Ansett, women throughout Australia were denied equal employment opportunities and
equal pay for work of equal value. Over and above the affront to
emerging standards of fairness and justice, the lack of equal
employment opportunity for Australian women often compounded
their economic dependence.
A great proportion of government funds allocated to welfare
services and to income maintenance programmes in Australia today
have been necessitated by this history of discrimination against
women. Australia as a society continues to bear significant costs
for failing fully to utilise the skills of many of its most talented
people.
The difficulties which Lawrie experienced at the hands of her
prospective employer were symptomatic of attitudes which were
deeply entrenched in Australian culture—attitudes which had only
just begun to erode. The structure of the Australian workforce
reflected traditional conceptions of women's roles—women were
over-represented in subordinate service-oriented positions, and rare
indeed in executive or managerial jobs.
In 1979, there was no Federal anti-discrimination law. Only three
States had anti-discrimination statutes—South Australia, Victoria
and New South Wales. The legislation which was in place in these
jurisdictions reflected the caution with which male-dominated
parliaments might have been expected to address the issue.
Coverage of the Victorian act was relatively narrow, and it provided
for many exemptions. Penal provisions were mild, and applied not
to discrimination per se, but to failure to comply with an order
of the EOB, and knowingly to publish an advertisement indicating
an intent to breach the act, e.g Help Wanted: Men Only. Implementation of anti-discrimination policy was based largely on the
mediation of disputes between complainants and respondents. It
was up to the individual to come forward with the complaint. This
133
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
process often pitted lone, disadvantaged individuals against large
and powerful interests. Thus, traditional Australian values of male
dominance, espoused at the highest levels of Ansett management,
were but meekly challenged by the laws of Victoria.
The reluctance of Ansett Airlines to recruit female pilots was
reinforced by the attitudes of its founder and chairman, Sir Reginald
Ansett. A pioneer of Australian aviation (he held pilot's licence
number 419), Ansett built the largest private enterprise transport
system in the southern hemisphere from a second hand Studebaker
which transported passengers and goods between Hamilton and
Melbourne in 1931.
The quintessential self-made entrepreneur, Ansett had long
resented government regulation of business, except where such
regulation benefited his own business interests. When the Victorian
Government refused him a licence to continue his road transport
service between Hamilton and Melbourne because it competed with
Victorian Railways, he obtained a fruit vendor's licence, sold each
of his prospective passengers an orange for what would ordinarily
have been the price of a fare, and gave them a "free" ride. Ironically,
Sir Reginald later became a staunch defender of the two airline
policy, which prevented smaller firms from competing with Ansett
Airlines.
As a man of his generation and predisposition, Sir Reginald
resented the suggestion that an airline might be required to hire
a female pilot. Despite his status as a knight of the realm, his
attitude toward actual or potential female employees was
occasionally lacking in chivalry and civility. He gained notoriety
on one occasion for referring to striking flight attendants as a "pack
of old boilers".2 Sir Reginald's dominance of the company's board
of directors made it less likely that the values of equal employment
opportunity for women would prevail without some external
pressure.
Under the laws of Victoria prevailing at the time, it was the
responsibility of an aggrieved party to seek redress with the
Commissioner for Equal Opportunity. This Lawrie had done. Ansett
Airlines applied for an exemption from having to employ women
pilots and this was denied. To address the possibility of industrial
resistance to Lawrie's prospective employment, the Commissioner
134
SEX DISCRIMINATION: WARDLEY V ANSETT
for Equal Opportunity approached the Airline Pilots' Federation
to determine its attitude toward the matter. The Federation advised
that it already had a number of female members, who presumably
were employed by charter and transport companies. Attempts by
the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity to conciliate the dispute
between Lawrie and the defiantly intransigent Sir Reginald were
unsuccessful, as he continued to rail publicly about "a woman's
place". The case was set down for hearing by the Equal Opportunity
Board.
Meanwhile, Lawrie had married a Mr Wardley and had begun
to identify herself by her husband's name. The case would thereafter
be known as Wardley v Ansett Transport Industries (Operations)
Pty Ltd. On 12 January 1979, before Mrs Wardley's case had been
heard by the Board, Ansett Airlines contacted her and invited her
to apply for a pilot intake to start on 21 May 1979. This she did.
Wardley was invited to attend a further "second interview" but
this was deferred indefinitely by Ansett.
The hearings before the Equal Opportunity Board started on 31
January 1979, and it became apparent from evidence introduced
in the proceedings that Wardley had indeed impressed her interviewers. The average score she was given was higher than that
attained by half the applicants who were accepted into Ansett's
training programme at that intake. The EOB noted that one of
the successful candidates performed less well than Wardley on each
of the standard interview and test criteria except for his age—
which was the same as hers.
Ansett argued that Wardley had failed to make out a prima facie
case, and there was thus no case to anser. The EOB found that
Ansett had unlawfully discriminated against Wardley, and ordered
that she be the next trainee pilot hired by the company. Mrs
Wardley's battle was far from over, however. The following day
Ansett contended that the board had prejudged the matter in
Wardley's favour, having ruled prematurely, precluding Ansett
from presenting material in rebuttal of Wardley's case.3 The
company formally applied to the board to disqualify itself from
further involvement in the matter. On 9 February, Ansett applied
to the Supreme Court of Victoria for a writ of prohibition against
the Board. The matter was heard by Mr Justice Beach, who found
135
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
that the Board had prejudged the matter, and was to be prevented
from proceeding. The matter was reheard by a new Board, appointed
under section 7(1) of the Equal Opportunity Act, and Ansett was
given the opportunity to introduce evidence.
Ansett's case rested on the argument that the prospect of
pregnancies would inevitably entail absences during the early years
of a flying career, which would impose additional costs on the
employer. Lawrie (as she then was) had informed the interviewing
panel that she was engaged to be married, that she intended to
have children, and that she intended to maintain her profession
whether she had children or not. It was stated that the interview
panel had recommended rejection because of the likely interruptions
to her career. Ansett argued the likelihood of future pregnancies
placed her in a situation which was materially different from that
of the successful candidates.
It was submitted that "such a propensity relative to a male
applicant would have told against that applicant no less . . . than
it weighed in the minds of the selection panel against Mrs Wardley"
(Wardley v. Ansett Transport Industries (Operations) Pty Ltd,
reported in CCH Australia, 1984, 75, 261).
The Board nevertheless held that to discriminate against Wardley
on the grounds of child-bearing potential was to discriminate against
her on grounds of sex. Child-bearing potential was, after all, the
very essence of the distinction between the sexes, and the legislation
prohibiting sex discrimination did so without limitations. On 19
June 1979, the Board ordered that Ansett employ Wardley as a
trainee pilot not later than its next intake of pilots and that it
pay her the sum of $40 a day until her first payday. In addition,
the board awarded Wardley damages totalling $14,500.
Sir Reginald Ansett would still not accept defeat gracefully,
however. A battler by nature, he was that year confronted by some
formidable challenges in addition to that posed by Mrs Wardley.
Earlier in the year, Ansett's finance subsidiary, Associated
Securities Limited, had collapsed.
Moreover, no less than four different giants of Australian
industry, among them Peter Abeles, Rupert Murdoch and Robert
Holmes k Court, were contemplating takeover raids on Ansett's
shares. Under the circumstances, Sir Reginald Ansett was in
136
SEX DISCRIMINATION: WARDLEY V ANSETT
something less than a conciliatory mood.
As the Wardley case and the intransigence of Ansett received
increasing public visibility, a boycott grew among individuals and
organisations opposed to the airline's discriminatory practices.
Among those organisations leading the boycott were the Women's
Electoral Lobby, the Australian Federation of Business and Professional Women, and the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor
Party. While Ansett management denied the boycott was having
any economic effect, it was reported that the airline's passenger
growth ran to only about one third of anticipated levels during
the 1978-79 financial year.4
Within one week of the Victorian Equal Opportunity Board's
order in favour of Wardley, the company gave notice of appeal to
the Victorian Supreme Court. Ansett argued that it was not subject
to the Equal Opportunity Act, since the Act was inconsistent with
the Airline Pilots Agreement 1979, which had been reached with
the Airline Pilots' Federation under the Commonwealth Conciliation
and Arbitration Act. On 10 October 1979, Ansett had still not hired
Wardley, and applied to the Victorian Supreme Court for a stay
on the order of the EOB until the appeal had been heard. The
application was refused and Wardley joined Ansett Airlines on
5 November 1979.
The various takeover attempts resulted in Sir Reginald's losing
control of the company at the end of October 1979 to Murdoch
and Abeles. For the time being, Ansett and Abeles were co-managing
directors. The appeal went ahead, however. Under section 109 of
the Constitution, Commonwealth law prevails in the event of
inconsistency between Commonwealth and State law. Since determination of such an issue is ultimately a question for the High
Court of Australia, the Attorney-General of Victoria applied for
the removal of the case to the High Court. In addition to counsel
for Wardley, the Attorneys-General of Victoria, New South Wales
and South Australia each argued there was no inconsistency
between the Victorian Act and the law of the Commonwealth.
Ansett's originating summons was dismissed, with costs, on
4 March 1980. The airline had exhausted its last available avenue
of appeal, and Deborah Jane Wardley's career as an airline pilot
was no longer threatened by discriminatory practices.
137
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
Not long after Sir Reginald Ansett was forced to yield to the
Abeles-Murdoch takeover forces, he became ill. He died on 23
December 1981. The Wardley case became a milestone in Australian
equal opportunity law. The image of a determined and very capable
woman prevailing over the defiance of one of Australia's leading
businessmen, and over the legal resources of one of Australia's
largest public companies, was an inspiration to many. The extensive
publicity which the Wardley case attracted was to have a profound
impact on equal employment opportunity law and policy in
Australia. The very principle of equal employment opportunity
gained greater public acceptance. Respect for the capability of
Australian women was significantly enhanced. Australian business
leaders, realising that Sir Reginald Ansett had presided over a public
relations disaster, learned that discriminatory practices may be
costly indeed. Organisations such as the Women's Electoral Lobby
and the Australian Federation of Business and Professional Women
were strengthened and inspired to seek further gains. Equal
opportunity offices in Victoria and New South Wales, previously
denigrated as "paper tigers" and "Mickey Mouse" organisations,
acquired a new legitimacy.
The Commonwealth Government enacted sex discrimination
legislation in 1984, albeit in a form somewhat watered down by
parliamentary opposition. The following year, it introduced an
affirmative action plan designed to enhance economic opportunity
for women by first encouraging, then requiring, self-regulatory
initiatives on the part of employers. Ansett Airlines was a willing
participant in the pilot programme.
Later in 1985, the Commonwealth Government moved to place
affirmative action in women's employment on a statutory basis.
The scheme envisaged would not require the attainment of quotas,
but rather would involve a firm of supervised self-regulation.
Companies would be required to report regularly to a special
statutory authority on their employment policy and objectives,
recruitment and promotion practices; and would need to consult
with trade unions and employees. In the face of considerable
resistance from employer groups, a compromise was reached
whereby the scheme would be delayed, penalties for non-compliance
would be minimal, and companies with fewer than 100 employees
138
SEX DISCRIMINATION: WARDLEY V ANSETT
would be exempt. A firm not in compliance could be named in
parliament, but no other sanctions imposed. Firms with more than
1,000 employees would be required to comply by 1988, those with
between 500 and 1,000 employees by 1989, and those with between
100 and 500 employees by 1990.
Western Australia joined the ranks of States with antidiscrimination legislation, leaving only Queensland, Tasmania and
the Northern Territory without even a symbolic statement of
women's rights. Ironically, Commonwealth Government policy
continued to deny women equal opportunity in aviation careers
within the Defence Forces. A significant breakthrough did occur
in mid 1988, however, with the graduation of the first two female
pilots in the Royal Australian Air Force.
As more and more complaints were lodged with the various antidiscrimination bodies around Australia, the concept of sex
discrimination was to expand. In 1983 the New South Wales Equal
Opportunity Tribunal held that sexual harassment was a form
of sex discrimination. Soon thereafter, the legislation in South
Australia, Victoria and Western Australia explicitly defined it as
such, as did the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984.
In 1984, Victoria enacted a new Equal Opportunity Act, combining
in one statute provisions relating to discrimination on grounds of
sex, race, political or religious beliefs, marital status or physical
impairment. The legislative passage was not a smooth one, however.
The Opposition objected to omnibus anti-discrimination legislation,
preferring a multiplicity of statutes. It succeeded in blocking a
provision which would prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual
preference. Moreover, there remained a basic philosophical objection
to government intervention in business practices. One could almost
hear Sir Reginald Ansett speaking from the grave when the National
Party Leader said during debate on the bill:
I fail to see why an employer should not be able to set his or
her standards of what is wanted of an employee. Race should
not be a factor. Sex in some cases is a legitimate factor, in my
view, because in some jobs there is no doubt that women are
more suitable than men and in other jobs men are more suitable
than women. If a person, for obvious good reasons, wants to
139
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
employ a man rather than a woman or a woman rather than
a man, I can see no objection.
The point is that a private employer should have the right
to choose the staff he or she wants. A private employer should
be able to choose someone who fits in with the employer's work
standards. A private employer should have the right to set his
or her own standards for those he or she wishes to employ
(Victoria Parliamentary Debates, Assembly, Session 1983-84, v.
371,17 August 1983, 400-401).
In discussing the section relating to sexual harassment, he added:
There are going to be some dull Christmas parties after this
{Victoria Parliamentary Debates, Assembly, Session 1983-84, v.
371,17 August 1983,405).
Because the basic framework of anti-discrimination policy in
Victoria—as elsewhere in Australia—is complaint-based
conciliation, some victims of discrimination may lack the psychological or financial resources to come forward. That government
services and legal remedies are generally more accessible to the
more assertive appears to be reflected in Victorian statistics which
show that 26 per cent of those complaining of discrimination on
grounds of sex or marital status in 1983-84 were male.5 People
employed in relatively junior positions within an organisation may
find themselves in a particularly vulnerable situation when
confronted by discriminatory practices.
The year 1985 saw further developments in the law of sex
discrimination. Until 1983, Qantas Airways, Australia's flag carrier,
had denied women the opportunity to obtain promotion to certain
senior cabin crew positions.
After this practice had been discontinued, female flight attendants
nonetheless remained at a disadvantage with regard to subsequent
promotional opportunities because their seniority in grade was less
than it might have been were it not for previous barriers to
promotion.
In August 1985, the NSW Equal Opportunity Tribunal held that
140
SEX DISCRIMINATION: WARDLEY V ANSETT
such adverse consequences of previous discriminatory practice
themselves constituted unlawful discrimination. One flight
attendant was awarded $20,500 in compensatory damages following
a successful challenge (Squires v Qantas Airways Limited, NSW
Equal Opportunity Tribunal (1985), 12 IR 21, 30.
A second important case was decided the following month, when
the New South Wales Equal Opportunity Tribunal upheld claims
of indirect discrimination by 34 female iron workers who had been
retrenched or threatened with retrenchment by Australian Iron
and Steel Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of BHP. The women, whose initial
hiring by the company in the late 1970s was impeded by
discriminatory practices which then prevailed, were among the first
to be threatened with retrenchment under the "last hired, first
fired" principle when the steel industry began to falter in the early
1980s. Thus, employment practices, which might on their face
appear non-discriminatory, are nevertheless unlawful if they fail
to neutralise the effects of earlier discriminatory practices
(Nadjovska v Australian Iron and Steel Pty Ltd, NSW Equal Opportunity Tribunal (1985), 12 IR 250.
Australian Iron and Steel argued that its recruitment of women
was impeded by section 36 of the New South Wales Factories, Shops
and Industries Act, which prevented women from being employed
in jobs requiring the lifting of weights in excess of 16 kilograms.
Under NSW law, this took precedence over the Anti-Discrimination
Act. It was, however, established that the company had, in fact,
employed women in such "weight barred" positions, and that
company officials were at the time unaware of which positions
were indeed covered by section 36.
Meanwhile an Ansett pilot now flying under the name of Deborah
Lawrie quietly pursues her career. In September 1985, Ansett
proudly announced that as first officer on a Boeing 737 bound from
Sydney to Port Vila, Vanuatu via Brisbane, she became the first
Australian woman to take the controls of an international
commercial flight. When asked to comment on the achievement,
Deborah Lawrie replied with nonchalance, "It's no big deal."
{Sunday Telegraph, 29 September 1985.)
141
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
1. Scutt, J (1983), "Legislating for the Right to be Equal: Women, the Law and
Social Policy", in Baldock and Cass (eds), Women, Social Welfare and the State,
George Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 223-245.
2. Monks, J (1981), "The Aussie Battler who Built an Empire", The Australian,
24 December, 7.
3. Hann, D (1979), "Wardley's Long Battle", Legal Service Bulletin, 184-186.
4. Chubb, P (1979), "Boycott Cuts into Ansett", The National Times, 19-25 August,
5.
5. Victoria, Commissioner for Equal Opportunity (1984), Seventh Annual Report,
Government Printer, Melbourne.
142
TJlrll ©[rOQQJ£)[^[lIM ®(F
M > (Fswfsttn? am® lP*s®§(?
If3!^!!*
P
ort Pirie claims with pride to have the world's largest lead
smelter. But pride has its price.
Over the years since smelting first began in the South Australian
town in 1889, thousands of tonnes of lead have been deposited in
the surrounding environment. And the real victims are today's
children.
Port Pirie on the Spencer Gulf has 15,000 residents. It refines
the ores being extracted from the century-old mines at Broken Hill.
The Port Pirie smelter is operated by Broken Hill Associated
Smelters Pty Ltd (BHAS), 70 per cent of which is owned by the
mining conglomerate CRA, whose principal shareholder is the
multinational Rio Tinto-Zinc Corporation Ltd. The remaining 30
per cent of BHAS is owned by the mining company North Broken
Hill Holdings. The plant has the capacity to smelt 300,000 tonnes
of ore concentrate and to produce 230,000 tonnes of refined lead
each year.
The process of refining lead is complex, and the escape of lead
in fume or dust is characteristic of smelting operations. Lead is
a toxic substance, and those who work in a lead-processing plant
* An earlier version of this chapter was presented at the Third Australian Law
and Society Conference "Power, Regulation and Resistance", Canberra College of
Advanced Education, December, 1985.
143
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
are at risk of damage to kidneys, red blood cells, and the nervous
system.
Lead poisoning, or "plumbism" as it was called in the old days,
was not uncommon among Port Pirie smelter workers earlier this
century. In 1910, the chairman of the Central Board of Health
estimated that 150-200 cases of lead poisoning were detected among
workers in the three years since 1907.1
But it is not only lead which has escaped as a by-product of
the smelting operations. Other metals such as arsenic, cadmium
and zinc have been emitted from the smelter. In addition, the
emission of significant quantities of sulphur oxides has been
regarded by authorities during most of the existence of the smelter
as the most pressing environmental problem associated with its
operation.
The health problems associated with lead were the source of
considerable attention earlier this century, but were thought to
have been redressed until new concern arose during the 1970s about
the impact of low-level exposure to lead.
Fume abatement measures were introduced in the smelter as
early as 1902, but a significant increase in the reported incidence
of lead poisoning in smelter workers during the early 1920s gave
rise to the appointment of a royal commission.1 Following the
commission, growing awareness of the hazards of lead exposure
inspired BHAS to make improvements in working conditions, in
industrial hygiene and in engineering to reduce the risks faced
by lead workers.
Lead smelting, however, has its deleterious effects beyond the
workplace. It is estimated that during the history of smelting
operations at Port Pirie, some 160,000 tonnes of lead have been
deposited in the surrounding environment. In the early days of
operations, lead emissions reached 5,000 tonnes a year, nearly all
of which was deposited on the township itself. Throughout the
20th century, there have been significant reductions in lead
emissions from the smelter. Current yearly emissions amount to
less than 20 tonnes, and are much more widely dispersed. A further
40 tons of effluent (including lead) are discharged into Spencer
Gulf each year.
Such long-term improvements have arisen from technological
144
LEAD POLLUTION AND THE CHILDREN OF PORT PIRIE
improvements in the efficiency of smelting operations, and because
of the introduction of emission controls through clean air
regulations in the 1970s. While technological advances elsewhere
during the first half of this century gave rise to new control
techniques—such as the electrostatic precipitator for particulate
emissions—BHAS has preferred to retain the more traditional
technology of baghouses to control fume, on the basis that it is
considered more effective. During the 1970s, BHAS spent upwards
of $40 million on pollution control measures, including the
construction of a 205 metre stack.
Despite growing environmental awareness on the part of both
BHAS and the South Australian Government, the citizens of Port
Pirie still suffered the legacy of the early days of lead smelting.
Environmental monitoring at various locations in Port Pirie began
in the 1960s. In the mid 1970s, a team from the CSIRO Division
of Soils documented considerable heavy metal pollution in the soil
of Port Pirie and environs. 2 In the early 1980s, considerable traces
of lead could be found in household dust, rainwater tanks, and
in gardens and public open spaces. Readings from sections of one
public park in the city reached 40 times the recommended maximum
levels.
Children are most vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead because
of their physiology. Because of their developing metabolism,
children suffer adverse effects of lead at lower body burdens than
adults. In addition, the maturational changes which occur during
the ageing process reduce the absorption of ingested lead. While
the average adult will absorb less than 20 per cent of the lead
which he or she ingests, children may absorb more than 50 per
cent. Children, moreover, because of their characteristic hand-tomouth behaviour and play habits, are more likely to ingest
environmental lead than are adults.
The effects on children of low-level exposure to lead are still
open to debate. Nevertheless, some evidence of the possible risks
posed by environmental lead, specifically in the vicinity of lead
smelters, was available as early as 1975.3 Overseas research findings
published in the mid to late 1970s reported a strong suggestion
of an association between blood lead levels in excess of 35-40
micrograms per 100 ml and neuropsychological impairment. 4 This
145
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
was alleged to manifest itself in a lower IQ, impaired motor develop
ment, and general behavioural problems. An accumulating body
of evidence from Port Pirie and elsewhere suggests that even at
levels below 40 micrograms per 100 millilitres (ug/dl) there may
be a subtle but irreversible reduction in children's intelligence.5
The general thrust of these findings has been disputed by those
who maintain that the alleged relationship between lead levels and
intellectual impairment has not been definitively established, or
has been confounded by socio-economic factors. 6 Children exposed
to lead tend also to live in disadvantaged social circumstances, and
disentangling the effects of lead from those of social deprivation
is a difficult methodological task.
Clearly, the debate on adverse effects of low blood lead levels
has yet to be resolved. Workers at the Port Pirie smelter have
undergone regular blood tests since 1972. While trade unions and
the company were involved during the 1970s in discussions with
the government concerning systematic community blood testing,
this was not pursued by the government on grounds of resource
limitations and lack of interest. 7 Want of governmental concern
is reflected in the fact that in the city which boasted the world's
largest lead smelter, health authorities did not initially possess
the equipment for testing blood lead levels.
In the late 1970s, an apparent increase in the incidence of stillbirths finally prompted a monitoring of blood levels among pregnant
women and babies. Toward the end of 1981, four Port Pirie children
who were tested for blood lead levels showed readings of 60
micrograms per 100 ml of blood, twice the "level of concern"
specified by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Late in 1981, concern in one school district was sufficient to
move a school council to request blood-lead testing of all children.
A testing programme was implemented involving nearly half the
eligible children in Port Pirie of the 1,239 children tested, 87 (or
7 per cent) had blood lead levels above the National Health and
Medical Research Council level of concern. It was thus estimated
that up to 200 children in Port Pirie may have been suffering from
elevated blood lead levels.
A consultant retained subsequently by the South Australian
Health Commission was to state the problem bluntly:
146
LEAD POLLUTION AND THE CHILDREN OF PORT PIRIE
Can Port Pirie afford the permanent, albeit invisible loss, from
the group of children with blood lead levels of greater than 40
ug/dl of the one child in 20 with truly superior intelligence; and
can Port Pirie afford, for the group of children with blood lead
levels of greater than 40 ug/dl, a concomitant quadrupling in
the number of children with intellectual impairment? 8
It would be difficult to characterise the elevated blood lead levels
in the children of Port Pirie as having resulted from incompetence,
much less intent, on the part of the company. At worst, company
management was overly tolerant of conditions which had characterised the city of Port Pirie for nearly a century, and was disinclined
to accept responsibility for the alleged consequences.
Much of the history of efforts by the company to reduce plant
emissions reflected a desire to avoid the loss of marketable product
rather than environmental concern. The substantial expenditure
by BHAS within the smelter in recent years to ensure the health
and safety of its workers and on pollution abatement technology
follows the introduction of tighter worker safety and clean air
requirements. Other sources of lead pollution outside the smelter
received less immediate attention.
Uncovered piles of slag remained exposed on smelter premises,
vulnerable to wind and rain. Ore concentrates transported from
Broken Hill were similarly exposed. These conditions persisted until
the 1980s. While their contribution to overall environmental lead
levels was minor, preventive measures could have been taken at
relatively negligible costs. Furthermore, it is reasonable to assume
the company understood this problem for some years, given that
the impact of insufficient control of lead impregnated dust was
observed at the RTZ smelting works at Avonmouth, UK, in 1972.9
But it is primarily past practices which have contributed to
environmental lead levels in Port Pirie. As the city developed, entire
suburbs were built on land reclaimed from the marshes adjoining
Spencer Gulf. Slag and ash waste products from the smelting
process were used as landfill. Smelter workers were able to buy
salvaged bricks and materials—some of which contained high
concentrations of lead—from the smelter at a nominal fee. These
practices have long since been discontinued, but Port Pirie residents
147
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
continue to live with their consequences.
The South Australian Government historically was inattentive
to environmental lead levels in Port Pirie for a number of reasons.
First, it was quite rightly assumed that the greatest health hazards
arising from exposure to lead were faced by workers in the smelting
process. Only in the mid to late 1970s did the possible risks of
low-level exposure become gradually apparent. Hence, government
and company concern for many years was directed principally at
sulphur oxide and arsenic emissions rather than lead. Second, its
regulatory orientation to pollution control has been characterised
by negotiation and compromise, rather than by strict enforcement.
Criminal prosecution is regarded as a last resort, and governments
of both political persuasions have been generally reluctant to
antagonise business through informal requests, much less through
the threat or reality of court action.
The desire not to offend business interests is particularly
discernible with regard to air emission standards, including lead,
in South Australia. While New South Wales, Victoria and
Queensland set emission standards for lead and many other
substances during the 1960s, standards were not introduced in
South Australia, home of the world's largest smelter, until 1973—
ten years after the enabling act was proclaimed. According to South
Australian Government sources, the delay was attributable to
industry resistance and to antagonism on the part of government
medical officers to the concept of emission standards.
Some particular deference appears to have occurred with respect
to lead. The standard eventually set in 1973, 20 milligrams of lead
per cubic metre of air, was twice that specified in 1972 by the
National Health and Medical Research Council for new smelting
facilities. The South Australian standard was not brought into
conformity with the recommended NH&MRC level until 1984, two
years after government responsibility for air quality had been
transferred from the health authorities to the Department of
Environment and Planning. However, the tighter standard is of
no relevance to the Port Pirie smelter, since the 1984 legislation
allowed existing sources to continue to emit in accordance with
the standards imposed in 1973.
Given the age of the Port Pirie smelter, even the 20 milligrams
148
LEAD POLLUTION AND THE CHILDREN OF PORT PIRIE
per cubic metre (mg/m 3 ) standard for existing plant was well beyond
its immediate capabilities. Pursuant to a ten year emissionsreduction programme negotiated between the company and the
government during 1973, exemptions were granted and renewed
regularly for various parts of the smelter. 10 Although most of these
no longer apply, some minor exemptions continue to operate with
respect to particular discharge points within the smelter.
The overall level of emissions has been reduced substantially
under the agreed programme, to the extent that the SA Department
of Environment and Planning reported in 1983 that it doubted
whether any further control measures which it could force on BHAS
would be of major benefit to the community. Monitoring indicates
that lead in air levels at Port Pirie are generally within the
NH&MRC recommended ambient levels, although such levels are
currently under review.
The history of lead pollution at Port Pirie illustrates an
increasingly familiar defect in the law. Companies may engage in
lawful conduct, not perceived to be harmful in the light of knowledge
available at the time, only to cause significant and unforeseen
damage to health, property and environment at some later date.
The Port Pirie experience is analogous in some respects to the Love
Canal affair in the United States. There, the leaching of toxic wastes
from a long abandoned but legally operated storage facility caused
considerable ill-health and necessitated the evacuation of an entire
neighbourhood. Of course, in the Port Pirie case, the existence of
harm remains open to debate. Such situations nevertheless pose
difficult moral and legal issues, with respect to corporate and
governmental responsibility, to those affected by the particular
activity.
The legal remedies available under such circumstances are
severely limited. To succeed in a private civil action for negligence,
a Port Pirie plaintiff would be required to prove, on the balance
of probabilities, the existence of personal injury directly attributable
to acts or omissions on the part of smelter management. This causal
link is tenuous, given that controversy surrounds the effects of
low lead-levels in blood, and that there are other sources of lead
in the environment of Port Pirie quite independent of smelter
operations (e.g, lead enters the environment directly from the
149
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
combustion of petrol and from lead-based paint). A negligence action
would be particularly difficult, given the requirement that the injury
or harm must have been reasonably foreseeable by the company
at the time of the emissions. These considerations substantially
reduce the chances of successful civil action against the company.
An action against the government (e.g, on the basis of its failure
to regulate adequately) would be even more speculative. Hence,
relief is essentially dependent on recognition by the company and
the government respectively of a moral duty and a political need
to assist the affected parties. Such relief is directed at attenuation
of the problem rather than compensation of individuals.
Governmental response to evidence of widespread elevated blood
lead levels in the children of Port Pirie was extremely cautious.
The South Australian health and environmental authorities were
most reluctant to suggest that the conduct of BHAS in any way
may have amounted to misconduct. After all, the harm in question
had resulted from the insidious accumulation of toxic materials
over the best part of a century, and BHAS itself had taken demonstrable and costly abatement measures over the previous decade.
Moreover, the Labor Government was elected in 1982 with a
narrow majority in the lower house and lacked control of the
Legislative Council. Brought into office on a pledge to revitalise
the state's economy, the government was disinclined to antagonise
one of the state's largest employers.
Governmental response was also constrained by public opinion.
While some residents of Port Pirie were deeply concerned about
the health hazards posed by environmental lead, most were less
so. Many had spent their entire lives in the shadow of the smelter,
with no apparent adverse consequences. Many owed their livelihoods to BHAS, and would be hard pressed to find alternative
employment in a depressed economy, whether in Port Pirie or
elsewhere in the state, should the smelter be forced to curtail
operations. Others expressed a certain fatalism, resigned to accept
what they had come to regard as a fact of life in an industrial
city. Home owners were also resentful at declining property values
occasioned by the adverse publicity. Some residents of the provincial
city were concerned about intrusive interference in local affairs
by outsiders from Adelaide and beyond. Thus, in the face of
150
LEAD POLLUTION AND THE CHILDREN OF PORT PIRIE
considerable opposition from within the community to a firm
regulatory response, a powerful lobby which might have goaded
the government to act aggressively was conspicuous in its absence.
In light of these constraints, the government proceeded with the
utmost caution. Following a case-control study of Port Pirie school
children by the South Australian Health Commission during 1982,
a task force was appointed in May 1983 to examine the results
of the study and to better define the nature of the problem.
In August 1983, the task force presented an interim report which
concluded that environmental lead contamination was a personal
and public health problem for the residents of Port Pirie. It
recommended a remedial programme involving housing decontamination, treatment of public parks and open space areas, road and
footpath sealing and educational and promotional campaigns. 11
Such action did not follow immediately, however. The state
Minister of Health, who had viewed the health risks attending lead
pollution more seriously than had State Cabinet or even the
residents of Port Pirie themselves, sought to obtain a second opinion
from an independent outside consultant. The individual recruited
for the task was a world renowned expert, Dr Philip Landrigan,
Director of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations and Field Studies at
the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
The Landrigan assessment differed in a number of important
respects from that of the task force. First, in contrast to the lowkey approach of the South Australians, Landrigan perceived the
situation to be more urgent:
Reduction of children's exposure to lead in Port Pirie and
prevention of any further lead-induced neuropsychological
impairment requires urgent interventive action [emphasis in the
original]. Although further studies can and should be undertaken
to define more precisely the limits of the problem, the basic issues
have already been well delineated. Accordingly, proposals for
additional studies should not be used to postpone intervention. 12
Landrigan departed significantly from the task force approach
by recommending that serious consideration be given to the
possibility of evacuating the population from the most heavily
151
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
contaminated areas of the city. In addition, he was also critical
of BHAS' housekeeping practices:
To the present time, BHAS management have done very little
to reduce entrainment of lead dust into air from the slag heaps
and ore stockpiles on their property. 13
BHAS was as critical of the Landrigan report as the report had
been of the company. F H Osborn, Chairman and Managing Director
of BHAS, referred to the report as "questionable" and called for
its conclusions to be dismissed. The alleged association between
blood lead levels and intelligence deficiency was "nonsense and
totally unsupported by scientific finding". The General
Manager-Operations of BHAS called Landrigan "a crusader against
the lead industry". 14
Meanwhile, during 1983, a government-appointed Lead
Implementation Group had been preparing recommendations for
a programme of action for consideration by the state government.
Given the conflict in opinion following the task force and Landrigan
reports, the chairman of the Health Commission sought further
independent advice. Professor Michael Rutter, an eminent British
authority on the effects of lead contamination, was approached
to review the existing reports and the draft report of the
implementation group. Rutter's comments were not published
explicitly, but the report of the Lead Implementation Group at the
end of 1983 stated that Rutter did not support Landrigan's views
on relocation. Bolstered by this opinion, the implementation group
predictably recommended action strategies which were reflective
of the earlier task force report proposals and dismissed the
Landrigan suggestion concerning relocation.
The measures recommended by the implementation group
included decontamination of homes and public places with high
levels of lead-contaminated dust, the removal of all lead-based paint
from houses, the "greening" or revegetation of Port Pirie, and the
introduction of a comprehensive environmental health programme.
An Environmental Health Centre was opened in 1984, and
decontamination of dwellings began. Costs of these measures, to
be met by the state government, were substantial: from December
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LEAD POLLUTION AND THE CHILDREN OF PORT PIRIE
1983 to June 1985, a total of $1.4 million was committed, while
the 1985-86 allocations reached $2.8 million. Furthermore, in
November 1984, Cabinet agreed to provide an additional 200 houses
and cottage flats in Port Pirie over the following five years, at
an estimated cost of $11 million, thereby doubling the South
Australian Housing Trust programme for Port Pirie for that period.
Approaches to the Commonwealth government for special
assistance in meeting the costs of these programmes were
unsuccessful.
The BHAS contribution to the action programme focused
principally on internal ameliorative measures. More than $1.8
million was spent on upgraded changeroom, shower and laundry
facilities for workers, improvements which serve also to reduce
exposure of workers' family members.
An additional $1.5 million was allocated in 1984 for plant
improvements to reduce atmospheric emissions. Also, the batters
of completed slag dumps were faced with rock mulch. Smelter
management began an education programme to instruct workers
in the importance of personal hygiene and in the need for thorough
and regular housecleaning to reduce household dust levels.
Company contributions to the external clean-up programme have
been at a much lesser scale and cost than the measures undertaken
by the government. The company donated industrial vacuum
cleaners and provided drivers and trucks to help remove contaminated material from the community. Company officials also
assisted in the greening of Port Pirie by donating trees and by
experimental planting of different types of plants and trees in soil
and slag. BHAS also provides free of charge all analyses of lead
in blood and rainwater.
Overall, the attitude of BHAS has been defensive and cautious.
It is clearly fearful of legal proceedings and, accordingly, will
undertake no remedial action which could in any way be implied
to constitute an admission of fault. Hence, while the company
contributed a significant proportion of the initial expenditure to
the action programme, this was directed primarily to introducing
changes within the plant. In the community, it provided manpower
and equipment on a limited scale and made a small contribution
to the greening programme.
153
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
The general response of the government also has been distinctly
restrained. In view of government statements that emissions of
lead and other pollutants to the atmosphere are now at satisfactory
levels, it would appear that further demands on the company to
achieve more reductions are unlikely. The government has sought
to downplay the nature of the harm involved, to avoid a "panic"
reaction within the Port Pirie community. The report of the
implementation group was deliberately low-key and non-alarmist
in its references to the nature of the harm in question:
The evidence suggests that in Port Pirie there may be a small
number of children who because of elevated blood lead levels
may be at risk of developing IQs a few points lower than would
have been the case without these high levels. That is not
unimportant and for the involved individuals is a major concern.
The overall risk, however, must be kept in perspective.15
Indeed, there does remain a genuine element of uncertainty within
medical and scientific circles concerning the extent, if any, of the
alleged harm. But, overriding these considerations, government
caution would seem to be motivated by a practical and political
disinclination to adopt a tougher stance with respect to an industry
which supports a township of 15,000 in an electorate traditionally
held by the Labor Party. Such a stance would have been particularly
ill-suited with respect to an operation that, by its own admission,
is barely viable economically at present and has a limited future
unless a massive investment is made soon in technological
innovation.
More recent information reveals that the level of financial commitment required of the State Government may be considerably greater
than was envisaged in the report of the Lead Implementation
Group.16 A report to Cabinet by the South Australian Health
Commission in November 1984, which reviews early progress with
the Port Pirie programme 17 , indicates that the State is faced with
a bill which could reach $24 million for the decontamination of
houses and a further charge of $9 million for the replacement of
substandard dwellings. Cabinet responded to this report by
approving an expanded housing construction programme together
154
LEAD POLLUTION AND THE CHILDREN OF PORT PIRIE
with the expenditure on decontamination fot" the periods 1984-85
and 1985-86 mentioned earlier. However, some doubts remain
concerning the nature of the commitment required from the State
Government over the longer term of seven to ten years for the
complete decontamination programme.
In November 1984, Cabinet approved in principle a decontamination programme at an estimated cost of $25 million. However,
this approval was "subject to Commonwealth assistance", which
in fact has not been forthcoming and seems most unlikely to be
provided in the future. To what extent the State Government will,
or is able to, foot the whole bill itself remains to be seen. In July
1985, Cabinet reaffirmed its commitment to a seven-year
programme to combat lead pollution in Port Pirie, without
specifying the extent of the financial commitment involved.
A significant aspect of events at Port Pirie was the lack of resort
to the legal process. South Australian authorities have been
reluctant to prosecute violations of the air-quality legislation at
the worst of times, preferring instead to rely on a regulatory strategy
of negotiation, compromise and the provision of technical assistance.
In this case, any breaches which may have occurred (and the authors
are aware of none) were likely to have been avoided by the grant
of exemptions to the company following the introduction of controls
in 1973.
Civil action has also been significantly absent in the particular
situation. The parent of one Port Pirie child with an elevated blood
level sought during 1984 to initiate an action against BHAS, but
the ambiguity of medical evidence and consequent legal
uncertainties in relation to establishing negligence have delayed
this from going ahead. As noted earlier, there is no common law
duty to guard against a risk which was not foreseeable at the
relevant time. As the risk of low-level exposure to environmental
lead only became apparent in the 1970s, there was no evidence
to suggest that BHAS emission control policies during the earlier
years of heavy emissions posed a threat to public health in the
light of the medical knowledge then available. Thus, neither civil
nor criminal remedies have appeared feasible in the circumstances.
It should be noted, first, that the lead pollution problem at Port
Pirie did not contribute to any significant changes in South
155
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
Australian law or policy. Policy options were constrained primarily
by economic realities. The long-term effectiveness of the strategies
which have been adopted remains open to question.
It is highly possible that the depletion of the Broken Hill ore
body will lead in the near future to the closure of the Port Pirie
smelter. Three basic factors will influence the future of smelting
operations in Port Pirie. The first is market demand and prices.
Because of the toxic effects of lead, alternatives are being sought
to a number of its traditional uses. Lead-free petrol is now required
in many Western societies. Domestic use of lead-based paint has
been significantly curtailed. These and other factors have combined
to produce sluggish demand and lower prices for the metal. The
second is availability of a suitable supply of ore. The third is the
related matter of technology innovation.
A new smelting technology called KIVCET, currently under
development in the Soviet Union, might be capable of efficiently
processing lower grade ores, and of treating concentrates from mines
other than at Broken Hill. The long-term availability of concentrate
supplies is by no means certain, however, and the changeover costs
to KIVCET technology would be massive, in the order of $100
million. The KIVCET technology, if introduced, also will not give
rise to significant reductions in levels of emission to the environment, but could lead to reductions in fugitive emission levels which
would have a beneficial effect within the smelter.
Whether the South Australian Government would be in a position
partially to subsidise such a changeover is yet another factor which
may determine its ultimate implementation. The South Australian
Government could face the unenviable choice of having to pay dearly
to subsidise the operations of BHAS, or having to pay dearly for
the social services required by the 15,000 inhabitants of a depressed
city, should the plant close down.
Given these considerations, it seems clear that the State
Government will bear the bulk of the financial burden in the longerterm in addressing the problems of lead pollution at Port Pirie.
The question of whether companies have a moral, if not a legal,
obligation to contribute to the rectification of unforseeably harmful
practices was not really raised.
Whether the continuing economic viability of a town dominated
156
LEAD POLLUTION AND THE CHILDREN OF PORT PIRIE
by one major industry is sufficient redress in itself is a point that
remains to be debated.
Smelter management continue to assert that no valid relationship
has yet been established between low-level exposures and neuropsychological defects in children. At the same time, they maintain
that public health remains a public responsibility. In the words
of the General Manager-Operations:
Our attitude has always been that given reasonable care and
hygiene, then you can live with the level of contamination from
past emissions (Port Pirie Recorder, 20 February 1984).
The most important long-term consideration, obviously, is
whether the existing decontamination programme will be sufficient
to protect the health of residents at Port Pirie, especially those
younger ones who are particularly at risk. Authorities presently
adopt, as a test of "sufficiency", the objective of reducing blood
lead levels in all Port Pirie children below 25 ug/dl. This standard
was changed in 1987 from 30 ug/dl and could become even stricter
in the future with further gains in medical and scientific knowledge
concerning the health effects of lead.
Whether this objective of the Port Pirie programme will be
achieved within the next seven to ten years seems open to doubt
on several scores. The commitment of sufficient resources by the
State Government is one area of concern. Existing Cabinet
resolutions do not put the estimated necessary expenditure of some
$24 million beyond doubt, particularly given the absence of
Commonwealth assistance. A related concern is the effectiveness
of the specific strategies being pursued under the programme. The
level of resources required to achieve its objectives could increase
or decrease as experience is gained and results become clearer.
And the strategies themselves have been the subject of debate since
they were first proposed by the task force. Landrigan, in his report,
criticised their adoption by the Lead Implementation Group:
"In my opinion, all of those proposals constitute the elements
of a reasonable short- and mid-term control strategy. With regard
to the long-term, however, it appears to me that these proposals
will bog down under their own weight."
157
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
For the residents of Port Pirie, the long-term prognosis is indeed
uncertain, despite the current programme. The level of resources
required, the effectiveness of the strategies being pursued, and the
commitment by both the government and the company to provide
whatever resources are needed to rectify the lead pollution problem,
are clouded in doubt.
That this doubt is in at least some regards unavoidable in the
circumstances is unlikely to provide much consolation or
reassurance to those actually or potentially affected.
1. South Australia (1925), Report of the Royal Commission on
Government Printer, Adelaide.
Plumbism,
2. Tiller, K (1977), "The Environmental Pollution of the Port Pirie Region: a
Research Program of the Division of Soils, CSIRO", in N Holmes and S Clark
(eds), Proceedings of the First Australian Workshop on Environmental Studies,
Victorian Ministry for Conservation, Melbourne.
3. Landrigan, P et al (1975), "Epidemic Lead Absorption Near an Ore Smelter:
the Role of Particulate Lead", New England Journal of Medicine, 292,123-129.
4. de la Burde, B and Choate, M (1975), "Early Asymptomatic Lead Exposure
and Development at School Age", Journal of Paediatrics, 87, 638-64; Perino,
J and Ernhart, C B (1974), "The Relation of Subclinical Lead Levels to Cognitive
and Sensory Impairment in Black Pre-schoolers", Journal of Learning Disorders,
7, 26-30; Landrigan, P et al (1975a), "Neuropsychological Dysfunction in
Children with Chronic Low Level Lead Absorption", Lancet, 1, 708-712.
5. Needleman, H L et al (1979), "Deficits in Psychologic and Classroom
Performance of Children with Elevated Dentine Lead Levels", New England
Journal of Medicine, 300,584-695; Bellinger et al (1987), "Longitudinal analyses
of prenatal and postnatal lead exposure and early cognitive development", New
England Journal of Medicine, 316, 1037-43; McMichael, A J et al (1988), "Port
Pirie Cohort Study: Environmental Exposure to Lead and Children's Abilities
at the Age of Four Years", New England Journal of Medicine, 319, 468-475.
6. Great Britain, Medical Research Council (1984), The Neuropsychological Effects
of Lead in Children: A Review of Recent Research 1979-1983, Medical Research
Council, London; Grant, L et al (1983), "Draft Air Lead Criteria Document",
Appendix 12C US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington.
158
LEAD POLLUTION AND THE CHILDREN OF PORT PIRIE
7. Smith, D (1983), "Living with Lead", The National Times, 22-28 July, 44.
8. Landrigan, P (1983), Lead Exposure, Lead Absorption, and Lead Toxicity in the
Children of Port Pirie: A Second Opinion, South Australian Health Commission,
Adelaide, 28.
9. Great Britain, Medical Research Council (1984). The Neuropsychological Effects
of Lead in Children: A Review of Recent Research, 1979-1983, Medical Research
Council, London. In commenting on an earlier draft of this chapter, BHAS
officials referred to this sentence as "irrelevant and mischievious at this point,
as BHAS operates as a corporate entity entirely separate to RTZ". We
nevertheless have chosen to retain the reference to illustrate that dust control
has been of concern in the smelting industry since the early 1970s.
Indeed, in evidence given to the Royal Commission on National Insurance
in 1924, the then Plant Superintendent of BHAS testified that dust control
was a matter of high priority for management: "The whole of the works are
mapped out, and each department carries a plan showing the extreme range
of the area for which they are responsible, and the heads of the departments
are hauled over the coals if the watering down is not properly attended to.
Watering down is done twice a shift throughc it the works." 0. H. Woodward,
Minutes of Evidence Before the Royal Cor., mission on National Insurance,
Melbourne, Government Printer, 1925-7, p. 612.
"A previous witness before the Royal Commission observed that the Port
Pirie Town Council had discharged its gardening staff, because damage to
local vegetation by lead and sulphur fumes had made gardening futile." Walter
Robinette, Minutes of Evidence Before the Royal Commission on National
Insurance, Melbourne, Government Printer 1925-7, p. 602.
10. South Australia, Department of Environment and Planning (1983), Lead in
Air: Port Pirie, Department of Environment and Planning, Adelaide.
11. South Australian Health Commission (1983), Task Force on Lead Contamination
of the Environment of Port Pirie—Interim Report, South Australian Health
Commission, Adelaide.
12. Landrigan, op cit, 29.
13. Ibid, 30.
14. The Advertiser, 23.
15. South Australian Health Commission (1983), Report of the Lead Implementation
Group, South Australian Health Commission, Adelaide.
16. We acknowledge the assistance provided by the Department of Premier and
Cabinet, South Australia, in relation to the information which follows
concerning State Government expenditure and commitment to future
expenditure on the Port Pirie programme. However, interpretation of this
information, and of that obtained from other sources, is entirely the work
of the authors.
17. South Australian Health Commission (1984), Review of Port Pirie Program,
South Australian Health Commission, Adelaide.
159
W ^ M i l J W T W
re M M
M
I
i
®
t was a "gassy" mine. That was a common talking point about
the Appin coalmine in NSW. It had been plagued with problems
of methane gas build-up since it opened in 1962. For seventeen years
the highly inflammable methane was kept more or less under control.
Then on 24 July 1979 tragedy struck.
It was just another working Tuesday for the men at Appin. One
shift had ended, a new one begun—and one of the maintenance
jobs that needed seeing to during that shift was an auxiliary exhaust
fan which helped to suck the methane out of the network of tunnels
hundreds of metres underground.
An electrician went down with a supervising "deputy" in charge
of operations. The electrician found the trouble and fixed the
problem. One last thing to do—test the fan. He threw the switch.
The motor sparked. And the methane exploded. The fireball killed
14 men that day—including the electrician and the "deputy".
So who was to blame? The electrician? The supervising "deputy"?
The mine managers? The government safety inspectors? The
workers?
Those 14 men died—arguably as a result of a series of criminal
acts and omissions. A judge who carried out a major inquiry into
the explosion found that the law had indeed been violated, but
recommended against any prosecutions. 1
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CRIME WITHOUT PUNISHMENT: THE APPIN MINE DISASTER
Explosions of this type are a recurrent feature of coalmining
history and an elaborate body of regulations has been developed
in an attempt to prevent them. These regulations are of two types:
those designed to prevent the build-up of dangerous concentrations
of gas and those designed to eliminate all sources of ignition.
Violations of both types were associated with the Appin explosion.
IGNITION
The major source of ventilation in the mine is an exhaust fan which
draws air through the colliery tunnels. This is supplemented by
auxiliary fans near the work faces. The auxiliary fans, as well
as the mining machinery, are electrically operated and the sparks
which they generate are thus potential ignition sources. 2
Both starting and stopping such a fan involves the creation of
a spark. For this reason the starter wiring is enclosed in a metal
box at the rear of the fan. The box has a heavy hinged door which,
when closed, is tightened down around the edges with 24 bolts
which can only be turned with a special key. The fan is operated
by stop and start buttons on the outside of the door. When properly
bolted down, the door, and hence the whole box, is "flameproof".
This means that even though the spark inside the box may ignite
any methane gas which happens to be present, the flame will not
be able to escape and ignite gas outside.
During the shift on which the explosion occurred, one of these
auxiliary fans had apparently been giving trouble and an electrician
had been asked to fix it. He had switched off the fan, opened the
box and remedied the problem. He then apparently wished to check
his work by running the fan, and rather than tightening down
all 24 bolts, had merely closed the door and inserted one bolt, giving
it only two turns. The box was thus not in a flameproof condition
and it was the test start or stop in these circumstances which
triggered the explosion.
Regulation 21 of the 7th Schedule to the NSW Coal Mines
Regulation Act 1912 provides that:
In any gassy place a flameproof enclosure shall not be opened
when the voltage is switched on to any conductor or electrical
161
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
apparatus within the enclosure nor shall the voltage be switched
on to any such conductor or apparatus while the enclosure
remains open.
Clearly, then, the explosion was more immediately the result
of an illegal act on the part of the electrician. He was not, however,
alone in this. According to Judge Goran, who carried out the inquiry,
the "deputy" in charge of operations underground during the shift
on which the explosion occurred was present when the electrician
carried out his task and must have condoned the violation.3 Here
are the judge's words:
I find myself constrained by the evidence to find that this was
a flagrant breach of a safety regulation which must have occurred
with . . . (the deputy's) knowledge, at least.4
The issue of prosecuting these men does not arise since they
were both killed in the explosion. Liability for the violation is,
however, more extensive. (In what follows all references are to
the 1912 Act, in force at the time of the explosion. The Coal Mines
Regulation Act 1982 became operational in 1984, but the change
does not affect the argument of this paper.) Section 56 of the Coal
Mines Regulation Act provides as follows:
Every person who contravenes or does not comply with any of
the general rules in this Act shall be guilty of an offence against
this Act; and in the event of any contradiction of or noncompliance with any of the said general rules in the case of
any mine to which this Act applies, by any person whomsoever,
the owner, agent, and manager, shall each be guilty of an offence
against this Act, unless he proves that he had taken all reasonable
means, by publishing and to the best of his power enforcing
the said rules as regulations for the working of the mine, to
prevent such contravention or non-compliance.
This section imposes what is known as "vicarious liability" on
senior company officials for the actions of their subordinates. It
specifies, in other words, that senior mine managers and company
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CRIME WITHOUT PUNISHMENT: THE APPIN MINE DISASTER
directors are liable to prosecution for the electrician's violation,
unless they can show that they had used "all reasonable means"
to enforce the rule concerned.
In his inquiry Judge Goran found evidence of widespread
violations of the regulations covering electrical equipment in the
mine:
I have already dealt with those flagrant breaches . . . (involving
the opening of the flameproof box). I am certain that these were
not isolated cases and that risks were taken although lip service
was paid to safe practices.
He went on to list other breaches discovered during the investigation and concluded that they demonstrated a "general attitude
of carelessness for regulation". 5 This view was echoed in a
subsequent inquest into the deaths of the 14 miners in which the
coroner found that "there existed in the mine an atmosphere of
complacency confirmed by the evidence of breaches of proper
standards of safety". 6 In the light of these findings it is obvious
that top management had not used "all reasonable means" to enforce
the rule which the electrician had breached. Management was
therefore liable for his offence.
Following the publication of the Goran report, the Minister for
Mines wrote to Judge Goran asking him specifically whether there
were grounds for prosecution arising from his report. In his reply,
which has never been made public, Judge Goran is known to have
expressed a distaste for vicarious liability, apparently believing that,
although the law clearly imposes vicarious liability on owners and
managers, it ought not to do so. He thus chose to give expression
to this personal view by recommending against prosecution.
The disinclination to make use of the vicarious liability provisions
was shared by the Minister. In a speech to colliery owners about
the proposed new Coal Mines Regulation Act, which retains the
vicarious liability provisions of the 1912 Act, he sought to allay
the fears of managers and owners with the following statement:
I have been unable to find out how often persons have been
prosecuted under the vicarious liability provisions in the distant
163
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
past but I can say that in more recent times the provisions have
not been called into use. I can see no reason why the position
should change under the proposed new legislation.7
As far as the judge and the Minister are concerned, then, vicarious
liability is a dead letter and colliery owners need have no fear of
the law ever being enforced in this respect.
Although the owners and managers of the Appin colliery were
not prosecuted for the electrician's violation of the safety regulation,
it is clear that they could have been. Whether they could have
been prosecuted for causing the deaths of the 14 workers is another
matter. For such a prosecution to succeed it would be necessary
to show "beyond reasonable doubt" that the electrician's act was
the cause of the explosion. This was certainly Judge Goran's view.
But the coroner was not so certain in his report. He canvassed
an alternative possibility that a defective safety lamp had been
the ignition source and found himself unable to decide positively
between these two competing explanations.
Although the starter box theory was clearly the most likely on
the evidence, the element of doubt which the coroner perceived
makes it unlikely that a prosecution for manslaughter or some
other form of criminal homicide would have succeeded. It remains
the case, however, that the regulatory violation itself was
prosecutable, regardless of whether it was the cause of the explosion.
T h e Build-up o f
Gas
How did the build-up of gas to dangerous levels in the Appin Mine
occur? Air is drawn into the mine through one or more of the main
tunnels. It is then made to follow a path which covers the mine
by means of barriers located at strategic tunnel intersections. These
barriers may be either solid walls constructed for the purpose, or
woven fibreglass material known as "brattice", which is hung from
the roof to the floor. The air finally makes its way out a return
airway through the exhaust fan.
Coal is won from the mine by extending the tunnel system further
into the coal seam. These extensions become dead-end tunnels for
a time until cross or connecting tunnels are driven through. The
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CRIME WITHOUT PUNISHMENT: THE APPIN MINE DISASTER
ventilation of dead-end tunnels poses a particular problem since
air cannot be simply forced through them.
Various solutions are possible, the preferred one being the use
of an auxiliary fan in the dead-end tunnel. The fan draws air to
the tunnel mouth and into the main body of air circulating in the
mine.
The path followed by the air is changed from time to time as
the tunnel network is extended, and shortly prior to the Appin
explosion, management decided to make such a change. In the shift
prior to the explosion, preparations were made for the redirection
of the air flow.
Detailed plans for the changeover had been worked out by senior
management but these plans were not adequately communicated
to the mine officials who supervised the work underground. The
result was that these men were unaware of the importance of
removing a particular brattice barrier—this became a critical
blockage in the changed ventilation system. The changeover was
actually effected—except for the brattice—a few minutes before
the end of the pre-explosion shift. So, the deputy on the explosion
shift went on duty believing that the new ventilation system was
in operation. In fact, there was no ventilation at all at the mine
face.
It is likely that the deputy discovered the dangerous build-up
of gas and it is conceivable (but unlikely) that he realised the cause
and removed the offending brattice.
Even if he did, the build-up of gas would already have been
substantial and would probably not have been entirely dissipated
by the time the explosion occurred more than 3 hours into the
shift. Since all those in a position to know whether the brattice
was in fact removed were killed in the explosion, the judge found
himself unable to decide that failure to remove the brattice caused
the build-up of gas. But on the evidence this was clearly the most
likely explanation.
The company obviously felt that this was what had happened.
Judge Goran found that company officials were systematically lying
to him trying to convince him that clear instructions had been
given to the deputy in the pre-explosion shift to remove the brattice
and that the deputy was at fault in having failed to carry out these
165
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
instructions. Company officials also tried to convince the court that
they had realised at the end of the shift that the brattice had not
been removed and had instructed the incoming deputy to remove
it immediately. The judge found, however, that the witnesses were
lying to him in this matter as well, and that the incoming deputy
had no idea of the true position.8
So the ventilation failure was caused by a failure of communication. Senior officials had planned the ventilation change but had
not explained it adequately to those responsible for carrying it out.
The mine's under managers, who did not participate in the planning
meeting, were later given copies of the minutes of the meeting
which detailed the particular jobs to be done but which did not
explain the purpose behind these alterations. The deputies who
were actually to oversee the changes received nothing at all in
writing. Their orders were verbal—from undermanagers who, as
we have just seen, were not themselves aware of the significance
of the instructions they were giving. Here is the judge's analysis:
What I am stressing highlights an old problem, of course. There
is always a tendency for those who issue instructions to believe
that those who obey them are in as a good a position as themselves
in understanding the instructions. There was a grave communication problem at Appin even though it only came to the surface
at odd occasions. It was good enough to believe that all persons
concerned understood the changeover or the steps needed to bring
it about. 9
The judge went on to find that the mine management had shown
a generally negligent attitude towards the ventilation changeover.
He made two specific recommendations in this connection.
First, that the mine should appoint a ventilation officer whose
prime concern would be to ensure adequate ventilation. Under the
existing system, ventilation was just one of the many concerns of
the deputy on duty and was unlikely to receive the same priority
in his mind as production.
Second, as an elementary precaution, mining should cease during
ventilation changeovers and should not recommence until the new
system has been demonstrated to operate effectively.
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CRIME WITHOUT PUNISHMENT: THE APPIN MINE DISASTER
Very probably, the company negligence in relation to the
ventilation changeover was a key factor in the explosion. But was
that negligence prosecutable? The statute which regulates coalmining in NSW contains a large number of specific rules about
how mines are to be run. Negligent behaviour of the type under
discussion is not specifically prohibited by any of these rules. Thus
the company is probably not guilty of any statutory offence.
There remains the possibility of prosecuting the company under
the general criminal law for some form of "negligent homicide".
A possible precedent here is the prosecution of the Ford Motor
Company in the US for "reckless homicide" after it produced a
car with a known design defect which ultimately led to the death
of several people.10
However, in the present case a prosecution for some form of
criminal homicide or criminal negligence could not succeed. To
succeed, it would be necessary to prove beyond reasonable doubt
that the failure to remove the offending brattice was the cause
of the fatal build-up of gas. While this was certainly the most likely
explanation, we have already seen that the judge found himself
unable to rule out that the deputy on duty in the explosion shift
had in fact discovered the problem and removed the brattice and
that the build-up of gas was caused by some other accidental failure
of the ventilation system.
THE TOLERANCE OF GAS
It is ironic that the most flagrant and continuous violations at
Appin mine were those least directly implicated in the explosion.
They concern the level of gas normally tolerated in the mine. The
Coal Mines Regulation Act
prevents the switching on of the voltage to any electric machine
before a competent person as described makes an examination
for inflammable gas with a locked oil flame safety lamp of the
place where the machine is to work. If gas is found on the lamp
(that is one and a quarter per cent or more being present) in the
place where the machine is to work the machine cannot enter,
if already there can receive no power. Whilst the machine is
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switched on the operator must carry out similar gas inspections
at least every half hour.
If gas is detected on the lamp the person finding the gas must
at once erect a danger fence and report the finding to the deputy
of the district or senior official. The deputy must ensure that
the power is off to the machine and that the trailing cable has
been disconnected at the junction box. Thus, if coaling is taking
place at the time of discovery of gas in such concentration it
must stop11 [emphasis added].
The limit of 1.25 per cent specified above was not, however,
observed at Appin. Deputies routinely found gas levels up to "2
per cent plus" which would be regarded as dangerous, and "1.8
per cent was not abnormal". 12
Moreover, government mines inspectors, who are supposed to
make sure their safety regulations are observed, tolerated these
violations. The Act specifies that in intake airways (i.e, upstream
from the work area), the level of gas must be kept at even lower
levels—below 0.25 per cent. Yet inspectors normally tolerated twice
this figure on the grounds that it was "not practical" to enforce
the 0.25 per cent figure in gassy collieries such as Appin.13
High levels of gas were regularly recorded at the work face at
the end of the dead-end tunnels. This was because the auxiliary
fans being used to ventilate these areas were not powerful enough.
An inspector pointed this out on several visits over a period of
months and each time the mine management promised to install
a secondary fan. This was never done. The judge commented on
this as follows:
One can never escape the inference that gas was tolerated in
this mine unless it was believed to be dangerous . . . What was
in fact allowed to happen was the growth of a philosophic attitude
towards methane as a fact of life. It was a nuisance, it could
hold up production in working places, but it was not a matter
of great concern in standing places where the possibility of
ignition was remote. The officials had their own view of when
gas was permissible. It differed from the standard of the Act.
Even Inspector Mould tolerated it.14
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CRIME WITHOUT PUNISHMENT: THE APPIN MINE DISASTER
Violations in relation to the levels of gas tolerated in the mine
were flagrant and routine. They provide, moreover, evidence of
the general carelessness on the part of the management which,
as we have already seen, was a prime cause of the explosion in
any direct way. As regulatory offences they were eminently
prosecutable and the judge clearly took a serious view of them
as the following statements indicate.
I have already expressed deep concern at the tolerance allowed
by the inspector of Appin's continual breach of statutory
requirements relating to gas . . . Such a position is intolerable
in any law-enforcement body, and no judge should hesitate to
say so.15
And again,
there can be no support for any action which allows a body
of inflammable gas to accumulate, whether there is a source
of ignition present or apparently neither present nor likely.16
Why then did he not recommend the prosecution of company
officials and indeed of mine inspectors? His reasons are not clearly
spelt out, either in his confidential communication to the Minister
or in his report. He did say at one point in his report, however,
that he had given witnesses an undertaking that
the Inquiry was 'not a witch hunt', that any allocation of blame
was a secondary consideration to finding out what really
happened and what could be done to avoid such happenings in
the future. 17
Furthermore, about two of the men most involved in the failure
to remove the critical brattice and who were also found to be lying
to the court, the judge had this to say:
(They were really victims of a communications failure.) They
were also victims of their own belief that they understood—
either that or they were too proud to ask questions and so betray
169
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
their lack of knowledge. Both men were obviously hard working,
willing servants. The importance of their work needed greater
explanation for their benefit. It is important that they not be
misjudged and that their failure should be put into correct
perspective. 18
It is clear from these comments that the judge felt a certain
sympathy for those involved. Despite his finding of widespread
illegality he apparently thought that after all was said and done
the explosion was really an accident for which no one should be
held responsible.
SOME FURTHER COMMENTS
The mines inspectors are, after all, employed by the government
and would appear to have no vested interest in allowing safety
violations. However, over time they undergo the process of "cooptation" to which those who work in regulatory agencies are so
often prone. 19 When confronted with a problem such as excessive
gas they have a choice. One option is to stop the mining until
the problem is rectified, with the consequent loss of thousands
of dollars of company profit and the loss of workers' productivity
bonuses. Such a choice would generally be opposed by management
and workers alike. Alternatively they may request management
to do something about the problem but allow mining to continue,
knowing very well that the chances are minimal that any particular
violation will lead to death or injury. The pressure to choose the
latter course is overwhelming and since such situations arise
routinely on mine inspections a pattern of non-enforcement
develops.
This pattern of non-enforcement emerged clearly in the prosecution in 1981 of two mining company officials by Mines Department
inspectors, for offences which occurred some time after the Appin
disaster. The charges concerned the use of electrical welding
equipment in a gassy place without adequate safety precautions
(The Picton Post, 29 January 1981). The welding was carried out
in haste to "ensure that production could get underway when the
Easter holiday ended", according to the men's counsel. The court
170
CRIME WITHOUT PUNISHMENT: THE APPIN MINE DISASTER
was told that "someone with a grudge", presumably a mine worker,
had written to the Minister and made allegations about the lack
of safety in the mine. Defence counsel said he could remember
no similar prosecution in the past and drew the obvious inference
that the mines inspectors were prosecutinig in the present case
only because of the promptings of the complainant and because
of the criticism to which they had been subjected following the
Appin disaster. The magistrate took a serious view of the offences,
however, and convicted and fined the defendants noting that they
had obviously been routinely violating the safety regulations with
impunity.
The co-optation of safety inspectors to company viewpoints is
not confined to the coalmining industry. The safety officer of the
AMWSU has given dramatic evidence to a government inquiry of
just how far this process of co-optation has gone in some contexts. 20
He says that a government inspector once refused to listen to
complaints by union safety officials on the grounds that to do so
"would cause him to appear biased". Another inspector refused
to comply with a union request that a safety inspection be carried
out on the grounds that he did not "do deals" with unions. Inspectors
have also on several occasions refused to give union officials copies
of reports dealing with health and safety hazards at establishments
which have been inspected unless they have written permission
from the companies concerned.
As these instances make clear, the co-optation of safety inspectors
to company viewpoints seriously undermines their capacity to
enforce the law. Given the reluctance of the authorities to prosecute
the offenders at Appin, could not other organisations, such as unions
or citizens' groups, or indeed individuals, take it on themselves
to enforce the law? There are insuperable legal obstacles to such
a course of action. In the first place, according to the Coal Mines
Regulation Act, prosecutions must be launched within six months
of the event in question or of the submission of a judicial report
or the conclusion of an inquest. This time limit has long since
elapsed and a criminal prosecution is therefore now impossible.
But even if this were not the case, the Act is written in such a
way as to prevent the possibility of outside prosecutions. Section
72 of the Act effectively prohibits the prosecution of owners and
171
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managers except by an inspector or with the consent of the Minister.
Thus unions would not have been able to initiate prosecutions.
In the view of the Minister of the day this provision is designed
to "prevent any frivolous or vexatious proceedings being instituted". 21 But the effect is to ensure that the government policy of
non-enforcement cannot be circumvented.
The only remaining avenue by which Australian Iron and Steel
might be made to account for its violations at Appin is civil action
for damages brought by the miners or their survivors. Several such
actions were started, but were settled out of court and the outcome
is unknown.
It is obvious from the foregoing that the failure to prosecute
following the Appin explosion is part of a general pattern of nonenforcement. Indeed the annual reports for the two years
immediately before the explosion reveal not a single prosecution
undertaken by the coalmines inspectorate. Interestingly, however,
there were five prosecutions initiated by management against
workers for offences such as riding on coal conveyor belts.22
These prosecutions are indicative of an attitude which is very
general throughout the coalmining industry that it is not the
companies but the workers who are really responsible for the failure
to observe safety regulations. What is at work here is the wellknown response of "blaming the victim" for his or her misfortune.
(Other examples of this are blaming the unemployed for their failure
to find work and blaming the rape victim for putting herself in
situations where she might be raped.)
This attitude of company management is also, perhaps more
surprisingly, the attitude of government: in an article in the miners'
journal Common Cause the Minister wrote at considerable length
about the need for workers to observe safety regulations for their
own sakes (Common Cause, 28 January 1981). Most surprisingly,
the tendency to blame the workers is exhibited by mine union
officials. Almost every issue of Common Cause carries articles by
union safety officers urging miners to be more safety conscious
and implicitly blaming the workers themselves for many of the
accidents which befall them.
There seems little doubt that miners are prone to cut corners
in relation to safety matters, and to this extent their behaviour
172
CRIME WITHOUT PUNISHMENT: THE APPIN MINE DISASTER
can be seen as a contributory factor in certain accidents. Miners
are paid a wage plus a productivity bonus which depends on how
much coal is produced. Safety regulations which slow production
or which require the temporary cessation of mining thus work
to the miners' economic disadvantage. The companies have so
structured the situation that miners have a vested interest in
ignoring safety regulations when they interfere with production.
It is clearly up to governments to legislate against this situation.
A worker's safety should not be at the expense of his income. Indeed,
workers should be entitled to refuse to work in situations where
safety regulations are being violated, and to continue drawing the
highest possible pay while the problem is being rectified. It is quite
inconsistent to exhort miners to be more careful while at the same
time subjecting them to economic pressures to cut corners.
Since this article was first published certain changes have occurred in the regulation
of coalmines. First, the mines inspectorate was moved in 1982 from the old
Department of Mineral Resources and Development to the Department of Industrial
Relations. The record of prosecutions has not improved, however. In the year to
30 June 1983 there was only one prosecution initiated by the inspectorate, that
of an electric mechanic. He was fined $30 on each of two offences.
Second, the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1982 came into force along with a totally
redrafted set of regulations in 1984. It is too early to evaluate this legislative change
but it unlikely to affect the pattern of non-enforcement. It is abundantly clear that
the problem is not so much a matter of inadequacies in the law, although there
are certainly plenty of these23, but rather the total lack of enthusiasm on the part
of the authorities for enforcing existing law.
1. Goran, A J (1980), Report on the Appin Explosion, unpublished, NSW Department
of Industrial Relations, Sydney.
2. Ibid, 105.
3. Ibid, 77.
4. Ibid, 107.
5. Ibid, 176-7.
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STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
6. Hiatt, J (1980), Transcript of Findings of Coronial Inquiry of 19 December
1980, at Campbelltown Court House.
7. Mulock, R (1981), "The NSW Government's Proposed Legislation to Replace
the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1912", The Australian Coal Miner, June.
8. Goran, op cit supra note 1, 73-76.
9. Ibid, 78.
10. Schmitt, M (1979), "Beyond Product Liability: the Legal, Social and Ethical
Problems Facing the Automobile Industry in Producing Safe Products", Journal
of Urban Law, 56, 1021-1050; Clark, G (1979) "Corporate Homicide: A New
Assault on Corporate Decision Making" Notre Dame Lawyer, 54, 911-924.
11. Goran, op cit supra note 1,45.
12. Ibid, 55.
13. Ibid, 87-88.
14. Ibid, 87.
15. Ibid, 172.
16. Ibid, 47.
17. Ibid, 77.
18. Ibid, 79.
19. Carson, W G (1970), "White Collar Crime and The Enforcement of Factory
Legislation", British Journal of Criminology, 10,383-398.
20. AMWSU & FEDFA (1980), Submission to NSW Government Inquiry into
Occupational Health and Safety (the Williams Inquiry), AMWSU, Sydney.
21. Murlock, op cit supra note 7.
22. Department of Mineral Resources and Development (1979), Annual Report,
Government Printer, Sydney, 55-56.
23. Hopkins, A and Parnell, N (1984), "Why Coal Mines Safety Regulations Are
Not Enforced", International Journal of the Sociology of Law, 12,179-94.
174
INTRODUCTION
E
arly in 1983, a 16-year-old apprentice at Kellogg's Sydney plant,
Jeff Cleary, was working inside a large pressure cooker when a
burst of steam enveloped him for 90 seconds.
He staggered out in agony, his skin peeling, and died nine hours
later of burns said by a plastic surgeon who attended him to be worse
than any napalm burn he had seen during the Vietnam War.
How did the accident happen? Rice bubbles are cooked at Kellogg's
Sydney plant in a bank of nine pressure vessels, each large enough
for a man to enter. The vessels are connected by a common line
bringing steam from a central boiler. Flavour is also fed into the
vats from a common pipe line. Finally, there is an outlet from each
vessel to a common steam-release line.
The vats are rotated slowly to ensure even cooking. If the
electricity supply is interrupted, rotation ceases, potentially
endangering the contents of the cookers. The system was designed
to open the aspirator valves of all the cookers automatically in
the event of a power failure, releasing the steam along the aspirator
line.
The problem was that if any of the vats was not in use and
its lid open, steam from the other cookers, rather than flowing
along the escape line, would vent through the open cooker. Anyone
working inside the open cooker would thus be caught in the escaping
steam. This is exactly what happened to Jeff Cleary.
175
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Evidence was given at the coroner's inquiry that men who worked
with the vats had been aware that something was wrong with
the system and that there had been more than one close call when
pressurised steam had blasted out of an open hatch while operators
were reloading grain. 1 One employee, in a statutory declaration,
said that at other times he had seen partly cooked rice splattered
some eight to ten feet above the cookers on the ceiling.2 The
company's maintenance engineer states that he had been aware
of the situation and that early in 1982 an unsuccessful experiment
was done to see if the steam could be cooled as it passed through
the aspirator line. His testimony, in question and answer form,
is worth quoting at length:
Q. The object of the exercise of that experiment was to attempt
to avoid the situation where you could get a flow of steam
from one cooker into the aspiration manifold connecting all
cookers, and into an open cooker. Is that what the object
of the exercise was in that experiment?
A. That's correct.
Q. Of course then if that was the object of that experiment then
it was appreciated that that sort of thing could happen, is
that right?
A. That's correct.
Q. Do I take it from that then that you, at least at that time,
realised if steam was released from a cooker into the
aspiration manifold it could vent into an open cooker?
A. Yes that's right.
Q. You realised that?
A. Right.
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DEATH AT KELLOGG'S
Q. And you realised that because I suppose you observed that
happen at some time?
A. Mainly that it has been reported to me that it is a possibility,
and obviously from the mechanics of the installation it's an
obvious fact that it could happen.
Q. Do you recall who had reported an occurrence like that to
you?
A. I believe one of the cooker operators reported it to the plant
manager.
Q. Was there just a single report of this sort of thing happening
or was there a number of reports about it?
A. I believe it has been reported because when the cookers were
manually operated that steam was observed coming out of
the cookers when they were open and the operators informed
each other when they opened aspiration valves for the
particular reason that you were saying.
Q. But certainly so far as your state of awareness goes you'd
heard a number of reports about it, it wasn't an isolated
report?
A. No.
Q. And the experiment was done in the attempt to avoid that
situation perhaps in the future?
A. That's correct.
The problem was only finally eliminated after the accident when
the system was reprogrammed to keep the aspirator valves closed
in the event of a power failure.
In subsequent correspondence with the author, Kellogg's said
that its records indicate that there had been only two close calls,
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one involving the rice splattered on the ceiling above a cooker and
the other, an incident in which an operator had been burnt by
escaping steam when putting a lid on a cooker.
According to the managing director: "No-one apparently made
the deduction that both incidents were related or were, in fact,
the result of a defective system." This no doubt explains why the
company did not see the need to warn people of the hazards or
to instruct them on what to do in case of an emergency, or to
take other measures to protect those working inside a cooker.
The Standards Association of Australia suggests a number of
possible procedures to be followed prior to work inside a pressure
vessel, procedures aimed at effectively isolating the vessel from
all pressure sources.
These procedures include: inserting a mechanical blockage (a
plate or a blank) in the steam line and, alternatively, removing
a section of the connecting pipe work altogether. Unfortunately,
these standards are not prescribed by law in the case of normal
maintenance work and were not in fact observed by Kellogg's. It
is noteworthy that pressure vessels are required by law (regulation
43 of the Boiler and Pressure Vessel Regulations made under the
Factories, Shops and Industries Act) to be effectively isolated from
sources of steam when a government inspection is carried out.
THE CORONIAL INQUIRY-EVIDENCE OF
MANSLAUGHTER?
Following a death such as Cleary's the police notify the coroner
who is obliged to hold an inquest. One of the coroner's obligations
under the Coroners Act is to assess whether there is prima facie
evidence that the death occurred as a result of an indictable offence,
that is an offence which is sufficiently serious to warrant a trial
by judge and jury. If he decides that there is such prima facie
evidence the coroner is obliged to terminate the enquiry forthwith
and forward relevant details, with a signed statement setting out
the names of those responsible and particulars of the offence, to
the Attorney-General. 3
Normally, in the case of industrial fatalities the only possibly
relevant indictable offence is manslaughter. The question arises,
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DEATH AT KELLOGG'S
therefore, as to whether in the Kellogg's case the company, the
maintenance engineer or any other person might have been
indictable for manslaughter.
To prove manslaughter, the prosecution must establish beyond
reasonable doubt that the death was due to negligence "of a very
high degree" 4 on the part of the defendant. Now it is certainly
arguable that the company was guilty of negligence ("the failure
to conform to the standard of care to which it is the defendant's
duty to conform". 5 This was in effect the coroner's conclusion when
he found as follows: "Insufficient care and attention was given
by the employer to implementation of a system to enable complete
isolation of a cooker for internal access; or to ensure safe working
procedures, including training programmes, to prevent a possible
flow-back of steam, particularly in the event of a power failure"
(p. 49 of transcript).
There remains the question of whether the negligence was of
a sufficiently high degree. The coroner's decision on this point was
that the degree of negligence did not warrant indictment.
"Notwithstanding the finding (he said) there is no evidence to
support a prima facie case of criminal negligence" (p. 49 of
transcript).
It should be noted at this point that violations of health and
safety statutes are generally not in themselves indictable and the
coroner therefore was under no obligation to consider whether
breaches of these provisions had occurred or to inform relevant
authorities. In light of the extensive powers and forensic support
facilities now available to coroners in Australia 6 , it might well be
appropriate that, at least for industrial deaths, future legislation
extend their duties to include making such notifications. Coroners
are, after all, in a singular position to determine the facts in these
cases.
REGULATORY VIOLATIONS
Although the coronial inquiry did not result in a referral to the
Attorney-General there was still the possibility of prosecution by
the Department of Industrial Relations for violations of the relevant
health and safety provisions.
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It might have been thought that the failure to isolate the cooker
effectively from all sources of steam would violate some provision
of the Boiler and Pressure Vessel Regulations. There is, however,
no relevant provision. Vessels must be isolated during government
inspections but, presumably as a result of a drafting oversight,
such a precaution need not be observed during routine maintenance
work. There was thus no obvious provision on the basis of which
a prosecution might be launched.
The new Occupational Health and Safety Act in NSW augments
the Factories, Shops and Industries Act by imposing an additional
general duty on employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably
practicable, the safety, health and welfare of their workforces
(section 15[1]). However, this Safety Act was not in force at the
time of the accident.
Notwithstanding the absence of any clear legal violation,
departmental officials told the author that in this case they felt
under some obligation to prosecute and therefore searched the
legislation for some provision which might cover the situation. In
the end they decided to make what they called "innovative" use
of section 27 of the Factories, Shops and Industries Act, which
requires dangerous machinery to be fenced; not, it might be thought,
a directly relevant provision.
They also charged the company under section 44 with failure
to instruct workers on the dangers of machinery they work with.
The company pleaded guilty on 6 February 1984 in the Chief
Industrial Magistrates Court and was fined $750 on the first count
and $2000 on the second, respectively half and just under half the
maximum penalties possible.
In justifying his failure to impose heavier fines, the magistrate
cited the prior "good record" of the company. Since 1959 it had
been prosecuted only three times for failure to guard dangerous
machinery. Moreover, the fact that after the tragedy the company
had taken steps to prevent a re-occurrence was to its credit, he
said.
While not disputing the magistrate's assessment, the decision
perhaps highlights the problem of applying traditional reasoning
about individual offenders to cases involving corporate violations.
Undoubtedly, compared with most defendants before the criminal
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DEATH AT KELLOGG'S
courts, an individual who had broken the law just three times in
30 years, and who had taken immediate steps to rectify the problem
causing the most recent violation, would deserve a lenient sentence.
In the author's view, however, major companies employing large
numbers of people should be judged by a different, and higher,
standard. One commentator (Workers News, 21 February 1984) has
alleged that this was the third fatality at the plant in 14 years.
If this was the case, and if the other incidents also involved an
element of negligence, surely the time had arrived to review closely
the company's record of industrial safety.
Given that there was no obvious provision of the Factories, Shops
and Industries Act violated by the company in relation to the fatality,
the question arises as to why the department chose to prosecute
at all. It is well known that violations of health and safety
regulations are routine in most industrial environments and seldom
result in prosecutions. Indeed, the usual response of departmental
inspectors who discover violations is to try to persuade employers
to observe the regulations without recourse to legal threats. 7 So
why a prosecution in this case? To answer this question we need
to know something of how the department operates.
Most departmental inspections occur in response to complaints
or accidents. The resources of the department are such as to make
a programme of routine inspections virtually impossible. The author
was told that it is departmental policy to make a routine inspection
of every factory in the State at least once every five years.
Following an accident such as that which occurred at Kellogg's,
a departmental inspector based in the local area would have gone
to investigate. He would have seen that it was a pressure vessel
matter and handed over to a boiler inspector. The latter would
have reported that there were no apparent violations of the Boiler
and Pressure Vessel Regulations. His superior, the Chief Inspector
of Pressure Vessels, would have seen this report and in this case
passed the matter on for further examination. Normally, a
committee made up of the relevant inspectors with certain of the
department's legal officers would examine any reports coming to
head office to determine whether a prosecution was warranted.
On this occasion, however, this process was short-circuited when
the department's prosecuting officer was instructed by a superior
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to look into the matter. It was as a result of this instruction from
above that the "innovative" use of section 27 was decided on.
In effect, it seems the department decided that, if at all possible,
action should be taken against Kellogg's, and it searched for a
provision under which this might be done. The reasons for such
a course of action are not clear, but it is possible that the publicity
surrounding the case and the persistent representations and phone
calls to the department by the boy's father may have had some
bearing. Nor can we entirely discount the possibility that one of
the family's relatives being a Minister in the State Government
at the time played its part.
Whatever the reasons, the department's reaction is consistent
with a range of research findings on the way departments charged
with the responsibility of enforcing health and safety legislation
operate. 8
Leaving the Kellogg's case aside for the moment, there is no
doubt that violations of health and safety regulations generally
go unpunished. It is normally only when a violation leads to death
or injury that a prosecution may be launched. The fact is that
violations are not regarded as especially culpable. Thus when a
prosecution is launched, the psychological reality is that the
defendant is prosecuted for causing the harm, not for the regulatory
violation.
But although penalties specified in legislation are arguably
appropriate for a regulatory violation, they are inadequate when
called on to function as retribution for injury or death caused to
a worker. It is for this reason that the penalties imposed in such
circumstances inevitably appear to the community as a whole to
be ludicrously and unjustly inadequate.
Returning to the Kellogg's case, there is no doubt that this is
how the fines for failing to guard machinery were seen. Among
newspaper headlines at the time were these: "Company fined $950
for death—but it is only par for course" (Tribune, 15 February,
4); "Company's $950 fine an insult" (Daily Mirror, 7 February,
2); and "Only $950 fine for life of apprentice" (Workers' News, 21
February, 11). The boy's father said this: "We are bitterly
disappointed by the small fine. It is an insult. Surely Jeff's life
was worth more than that." (Daily Mirror, 7 February, 21). It is
182
DEATH AT KELLOGG'S
clear from these comments that in the public perception, the
company had been prosecuted not for a regulatory violation but
for causing Jeff's death and that viewed in this way the penalty
seemed preposterously small.
How then are such problems—of a discrepancy between public
expectations and the realities of what occupational health and safety
legislation can do—to be avoided? Since there are no general
prohibitions in safety legislation on causing death or injury, and
since departments are constrained to prosecute only for violations
of the legislation they administer, there is really no suitable way
they can legitimately prosecute a company for causing death or
injury.
One way around this problem would be to enable departments
charged with responsibility for health and safety to launch
prosecutions under the general criminal law, for example, for
manslaughter. In this connection it is worth noting that although
manslaughter has traditionally been seen as an individual offence,
there is no logical reason why a charge of manslaughter could not
be brought against a company. 9 Corporate homicide was recognised in United States law as long ago as 1855 (BC and M Railroad
v State (1855) 32 NH 215), and there have been several successful
prosecutions recently of companies for such offences
(Corporate Crime Reporter, Vol. 1, No. 2 (20 April 1987); No. 3 (27
April 1987).10
To establish the necessary mental element—negligence of a high
degree—it would be necessary to treat the negligence of senior
company officials as negligence on the part of the company, but
there is ample precedent in the criminal law for such a strategy. 11
Moreover, to prosecute companies rather than individuals for
manslaughter would circumvent the reluctance of many
enforcement agencies to hold individuals personally responsible for
industrial fatalities. Were companies rather than individuals held
responsible, prosecutions for manslaughter might well be more
common.
An alternative solution would be to make it an offence under
the relevant health and safety acts for a company negligently (or
deliberately) to cause death or injury. Given that a manslaughter
charge is theoretically possible in these circumstances, the creation
183
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
of such an offence might seem unnecessary from a strictly legal
point of view. An analogous situation occurs in relation to death
caused by negligent driving. The refusal of juries to convict
defendants on manslaughter charges has led to the creation in
various jurisdictions of a new type of offence (e.g in NSW, culpable
driving occasioning death) for which convictions seem somewhat
easier to obtain. The creation of a new offence—industrial
homicide—might well have similar consequences. The legislative
enactment of such an offence has been suggested from time to
time in the literature 12 and indeed was advocated before the
Williams Inquiry into Occupational Health and Safety in NSW.
Unfortunately Williams dismissed the suggestion without giving
it serious consideration.
It should be emphasised that in discussing these possible new
approaches, the intention is not to imply that Kellogg's could or
should have been prosecuted for manslaughter—or for that matter
for any other indictable offence. The fact is that after considering
all the circumstances of Cleary's death, the coroner did not see
it as appropriate to make a recommendation along these lines.
Nonetheless in reviewing community and media reactions to this
and other cases, one cannot help but feel that if relevant legislation
were wider, and included an offence of industrial homicide, there
would be much less likelihood of public dissatisfaction and concern
at the way the legal system deals with such problems. Many
members of the public undoubtedly feel that when there is a
workplace death and a company has been guilty of serious neglect,
the authorities should be able to prosecute for some form of
homicide.
(Once again it should be emphasised that the author is not
implying that had an offence of industrial homicide been available,
Kellogg's would or should have been prosecuted under it. Such
a course of action would have depended, among other things, on
the precise definition of the offence.)
In reviewing the specific Cleary case it should be acknowledged
that the New South Wales Occupational Health and Safety Act, which
came into effect after the incident, contains a general requirement
that companies ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the
health, safety and welfare of employees, the maximum penalty for
184
DEATH AT KELLOGG'S
a violation being $50,000 in the case of a corporation and $5,000
in the case of an individual.
The convictions in the industrial court provide at least some
grounds for believing that Kellogg's failed to ensure Cleary's safety
and that it would have been reasonably practicable to do so.
In the future, such a case might well give rise to a prosecution
for failure to ensure the safety of an employee. However, even though
in these circumstances the prosecutor would be able to use the
fatality as evidence of the company's failure to ensure a safe work
place, prosecution would still be for the safety violation and not
for causing the death. Moreover, the scale of penalties is essentially
that which legislatures see as appropriate for regulatory violations
and not what might be expected for an offence of industrial homicide.
Prosecutions under the new provisions are thus unlikely to have
the same impact as prosecutions for manslaughter or industrial
homicide. Unless solutions such as those suggested above are found,
regulatory agencies are likely to continue to use regulatory laws
for purposes for which they were not designed, thus perpetuating
community feeling that in cases of industrial death or injury the
law is grossly biased in favour of employers.
COMPENSATION AS RETRIBUTION?
Feeling that the departmental prosecution had failed to provide
adequate retribution for Jeff Cleary's death, his father sought other
means of making the company pay a penalty more appropriate to
the crime as he perceived it. He considered suing the company
for compensation.
The fact is, however, that the family incurred no significant
economic loss as a result of the tragedy and compensation was
therefore not possible on this basis. Nor did they experience physical
pain or suffering, also potentially compensable. Their undoubted
psychological anguish, their acute sense of loss and the disruption
to their lives is not compensatable. Thus their demand for courtordered compensation, in effect a demand for retribution, has gone
unmet. They are now seeking damages for the psychosomatic
problems which they have experienced since the tragedy.
Following the company's conviction for safety violations, Mr
185
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
Cleary wrote a long letter to the Attorney-General asking that
something further be done to make amends for his son's death.
As a result of this letter, the Attorney-General directed that an
investigation be undertaken to ascertain whether sufficient
evidence existed to warrant an ex officio indictment for some form
of criminal negligence. However, witnesses were by this stage
reluctant to testify, and the matter was quietly discontinued.
All this has prompted Mr Cleary to press the NSW Government
to change the law, so people in his situation can sue for what
they regard as adequate compensation. In a letter to the AttorneyGeneral dated 9 July 1984 he wrote as follows:
We, as a family, do not want anything from Workers
Compensation (which we know is not applicable in Jeff's case
anyway), nor do we want anything from any governmental body
of financial resources. All we want is for the law to be altered
to allow people like ourselves (in the position we are in regarding
Kellogg's proven negligence and guilt) to have a free right to
sue the corporate body for a sum which is not laid down, or
controlled, by State Government. We want the right to be able
to sue Kellogg's for a hefty maximum sum without restrictions.
THE COMPANY RESPONSE
Union officials have argued that before the accident the company
had apparently given safety a relatively low priority. They claim,
moreover, that it had resisted union attempts to set up worker
safety committees on the site.
Whatever the case, there is no doubt that the company instituted
a series of changes after the accident. The cookers were immediately
reprogrammed so that in the event of a power failure, steam would
not be released from cookers in use, thus ensuring that the particular
sequence of events which occurred in the Cleary case could not
recur. But beyond this, a task force consisting of senior company
officials with consultants from an outside firm of specialists (no
workers were included) was set up to plan a health and safety
strategy.
The task force set about implementing the system of safety
186
DEATH AT KELLOGG'S
committees envisaged under the NSW Occupational Health and
Safety Act. Several such committees were established, one for each
department of the plant, each consisting of six or seven elected
workers' representatives, plus supervisors, the company's health
and safety co-ordinator and departmental managers if required.
These committees met monthly and after some assistance from
the health and safety consultants on how to conduct meetings
effectively, functioned well, according to company officials. The
committees have served mainly as forums for the discussion of
management-initiated safety procedures, but they have also begun
to function in a limited way to channel safety suggestions from
workers to management.
Another change has been to replace the company's previous safety
officer, a relatively lowly official with little scope for influencing
company policy, with a higher paid health and safety co-ordinator.
This man, because of his better qualifications and status, has
greater access to the company's managing director. He also has
a budget of $180,000 a year which is spent mainly on training.
The health and safety co-ordinator has initiated a number of
procedural changes of which perhaps the most important is the
"permit to work" system.
A range of potentially dangerous jobs (for example, working inside
cookers) has been specified and before carrying out these jobs
employees are required to obtain a permit signed by the relevant
foreman. One of the features of these permits is that the foreman
must specify the precautions to be taken in carrying out the work.
A check list of possible precautions is provided. Thus, for example,
a foreman authorising work inside a pressure vessel is encouraged
to specify that a blank be fitted in any lines connecting the vessel
to a source of steam.
A second procedure which has been introduced is the system
of danger, caution and warning tags for use in different situations.
The most important of these is the "Danger—Do Not Operate"
tag which must be placed on any potentially dangerous machinery
by any person working on or around the machinery. The tag must
not be removed by anyone other than the persons who placed it
there and any contravention of this rule is regarded as a serious
offence.
187
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
Union officials are sceptical of these procedures. They regard
them literally as "paper" solutions and they are particularly critical
of any system which requires workers' signatures. Workers, they
say, often feel constrained to sign when asked, regardless of whether
they understand the documents given to them. Such a system,
they say, cannot guarantee safety, and serves merely- to shift
responsibility from the company to the workers who sign.
Moreover, danger tags can blow away or be removed by
"skylarkers". A more effective system would have locks on
dangerous machines with keys issued only to people authorised
to work on them. Notwithstanding the doubts of union officials,
the shop steward at Kellogg's believes that the new safety
procedures are working well.
The procedures outlined above are in fairly widespread use in
sections of Australian industry, and when conscientiously
implemented, are credited with bringing about a substantial
reduction in accident rates.
According to the present Kellogg's health and safety co-ordinator,
implementing these procedures in his previous place of employment
saw a decrease in the accident rate over a five-year period from
86 to 28 lost-time accidents per million man hours.
Unfortunately, there are as yet no data on the effectiveness of
the new arrangements at Kellogg's. Whether, as union officials
claim, they are only "paper" solutions must await further
investigation.
CONCLUSION
As stated earlier, most of the relevant legal decisions about the
Kellogg's tragedy have been made, and there is little point in or
justification for speculating about possible alternative outcomes.
Nonetheless, there can be no doubt that cases such as this do tend
to give rise to expressions of concern about the adequacy of current
law.
In Jeff Cleary's death, as in most such industrial fatalities, the
coroner was unable to recommend an indictment for manslaughter,
and this effectively ended the case as far as the conventional
criminal justice system was concerned.
188
DEATH AT KELLOGG'S
The Department of Industrial Relations was able to prosecute
the company for regulatory violations associated with the death.
However this meant that for at least some members of the
community, these proceedings were made to carry the weight of
their demand for some form of retribution for Cleary's death, a
purpose for which they were not designed and for which they proved
totally inadequate. In such cases, it is almost inevitable that the
public will be left with a sense that justice has not been done.
It is also obvious that the fines imposed on Kellogg's are hardly
likely to induce a large company to modify its practices. The larger
fines now possible under the new legislation (up to $50,000) may
go some small way towards rectifying this situation.
Ultimately, though, it is difficult to see how these problems can
be finally resolved without modifying the legal system itself. In
particular, it is essential that laws and procedures be amended,
or new ones introduced, to ensure convictions for manslaughter
or industrial homicide—followed by fines calculated to really affect
shareholders' returns—in appropriate cases. Until this is done the
public perception will remain that there is one law for the rich
and one for the poor.
1. Transcript of evidence, Coroner's Court Glebe, 5 July 1983,11.
2. Barran, J (1983), Statutory Declaration, Sworn in Sydney, 21 May.
3. Waller, K M (1982), Coronial Law and Practice in New South Wales (2nd edn),
The Law Book Company.
4. Howard, C (1982), Criminal Law (4th edn), The Law Book Company, Sydney.
5. Williams, G (1978), Textbook of Criminal Law, Stevens, London.
6. Waller, op cit supra note 3.
189
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
7. Gunningham, N (1984), Safeguarding the Worker, Law Book Company, Sydney;
Braithwaite, J and Grabosky, P (1985), Occupational Health and Safety Enforcement in Australia: A Report to National Occupational and Safety Commission,
Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra; Hopkins, A (1981), "Crime
Without Punishment: The Appin Mine Disaster", reprinted as ch. 11 in this
volume.
8. Braithwaite and Grabosky, op cit supra note 6.
9. Howard, op cit supra note 4.
10. See also Cullen, F, Maakestad, W and Cavender, G (1987) Corporate Crime
Under Attack: The Ford Pinto Case and Beyond. Anderson Publishing Company,
Cincinatti.
11. Howard, op cit supra note 4.
12 Tubbs, M (1982) "Corporate or Industrial Homicide and Criminal Negligence",
paper presented to ANZAAS, Sydney.
190
®mimm(mmm>*
.auute] Uy^ffijii [FSss©®
C
oke ovens can be killers—the medical evidence around the world
is "overwhelming". Workers at steelmaking plants live with the
constant danger of cancer of the lungs, bladder and skin.
But at BHP's steelmaking plant in Port Kembla it took a flexing
of union muscle, screaming newspaper headlines, claims in parliament
and government inquiries to get things moving.
In addition to extensive oil and mineral investments, BHP
monopolises the manufacture of steel in Australia. BHP's largest
steelworks are at Port Kembla, run by its Australian Iron and Steel
subsidiary (AIS). Carcinogenic emissions from coke ovens at Port
Kembla were the subject of an extraordinary series of industrial
disputes between 1979 and 1981. Local unions (the Federated
Ironworkers and Amalgamated Metalworkers) accused BHP of
putting profits ahead of the safety of 1,000 coke oven workers
through intolerable levels of emissions of dangerous gases.
A crucial stage in steelmaking is the conversion of coal to coke
for use in the blast furnaces. Coke is made by cooking coal in
batteries of ovens arranged in rows. At Port Kembla there are four
batteries, each with between 66 and 101 ovens. Many of the gases
driven out of the coal by the cooking processes are captured and
•This is a modified version of Chapter 7 of the authors' book The Impact of Publicity
on Corporate Offenders (State University of New York Press, 1983) updated for the
present volume.
191
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
sold as by-products. However, some of these gases also escape from
the doors at the side of the huge ovens or from the lids on top.
The emissions are a complex mixture of small particles and
vapour, in addition to gases. They include such gases as carbon
monoxide, hydrogen sulphide, benzene, and hydrogen cyanide, as
well as other carcinogens such as benzopyrene and coal tar.
There is voluminous evidence from North America, Europe and
Japan indicating an association between the products from the
carbonisation of coal and cancers of the skin, lungs, and bladder.1
After reviewing this evidence, the US Occupational Safety and
Health Administration (OSHA) described the support for the
conclusion that coke oven emissions are carcinogenic as
"overwhelming". 2 OSHA estimated that 100 US coke oven workers
have been dying needlessly each year from job-related cancer.
In mid 1977, the unions representing Port Kembla workers
became concerned about the health risks faced by their members
working at the coke ovens. On 30 August 1977, the New South
Wales Labor Council requested a conference with BHP to discuss
the issue. Following that meeting, the company reported back to
the Labor Council on 30 November 1977 with plans to improve
the situation. But by 1978, it was the local Port Kembla branches
of the unions that were running the campaign. After being sent
OSHA material on coke ovens by the United Steelworkers of
America and the International Metalworkers Federation, they wrote
to BHP asking to be informed whether the company accepted the
standards laid down in the OSHA regulations, and if it did not,
the reason why not. A campaign began for the application to BHP
of the OSHA prohibition against exposing workers not wearing
protective equipment to coke oven emissions of benzene-soluble
particulate in excess of 0.15 milligrams per cubic metre of air.
The company openly admitted emission levels that reach more
than six times the OSHA maximum. 3 In fact, company records
for 1980 revealed emission concentrations at the worst locations
of over 100 times the OSHA standards. 4
There is no New South Wales or national legislation setting a
legal limit to coke oven emissions. The National Health and Medical
Research Council promulgated a voluntary standard of 0.2
milligrams of benzene-soluble particulate per cubic metre. BHP's
192
COKE AND CANCER AT BHP
Port Kembla ovens, in addition to its ovens at Newcastle and
Whyalla, are routinely in excess of this voluntary standard. A
central plank in the unions' campaign was to persuade the New
South Wales government to enact legally enforceable limits on the
emissions.
Many more specific reforms were also sought. These included:
(a) Air-conditioning and air-filtration of the "cars" which travel
up and down the ovens filling them with coal and pushing
the coke out once it has been cooked.
(b) Employment of additional lidsmen to work on top of the ovens.
The lidsmen are responsible for sealing the lids with clay
to cut down the escape of fumes. With more lidsmen, a better
sealing job can be done, and it would be possible to give
existing lidsmen more time in air-conditioned rest rooms to
recuperate from the hellish heat and fumes.
(c) Installation of the air-conditioned rest rooms and the
introduction of the relief time mentioned in (b).
(d) Annual medical examinations paid for by the company with
the results to be made available in writing to the workers.
(e) Provision by the company of lockers and laundering for
workers' clothes so that there would be no need to take these
home. There is evidence that such carcinogens carried home
in workers' clothes pose a potential threat to their families. 5
(f) Washing time prior to breaks to allow workers to clean
carcinogens from their hands before eating food.
(g) Worker education and training on the dangers of coke oven
emissions.
Steve Quinn, of the Amalgamated Metalworkers and Shipwrights
Union, described the attitude of BHP management to the initial
1977 campaign as "intransigent". 6 The company response was said
193
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
to be "Don't get things emotional and the workers stirred up".
The unions turned to their elected representatives for help. A
government backbencher, George Petersen, castigated BHP in the
New South Wales Parliament, and as a result the government sent
a team from the Health Commission to report on conditions at
Port Kembla.
An inspection led by Dr W Crawford of the Health Commission
took place on 19 December 1979. The team concluded that emission
levels "exceeded the National Health and Medical Research Council
Standards in nearly all the assays undertaken by the company"
and that "the employees are at considerable risk to health by the
physically and chemically hostile environment in which they must
work".
A variety of reforms was recommended, including the
employment of additional lidsmen, the provisions of lockers and
industrial laundering for the work clothes of oven employees, and
the speeding up of engineering improvements to reduce the
emissions.
Four months after the inspection, the contents of the report were
revealed to the company. Between the receipt of the report in April
1980 and September of that year the company introduced no changes
in response to the recommendations of the report. By September,
the unions were wondering why they had heard nothing about
the results of the Health Commission inspection. When they were
told that the government had informed the company, but not the
unions, of the contents of the report five months earlier, the 1,000
coke oven workers went on strike for four days.
The government responded by setting up another working party
to determine the action necessary to implement the Crawford
Report. This was an inter-departmental working party with officers
from the Departments of Industrial Relations and of Health. An
inspection took place on 15 and 16 September 1980. The resulting
report adopted a softer line than the earlier report on the rate at
which leaking oven doors would have to be replaced, although there
were other respects in which tougher recommendations were made.
The Minister for Industrial Relations requested the company to
act on the recommendations.
The company, among other reforms, had already agreed to provide
194
COKE AND CANCER AT BHP
lockers and industrial laundering for workers employed on the
ovens, and these reforms were implemented. This did not satisfy
the unions; they wanted the same benefits to apply to workers
in the vicinity of the coke ovens—mainly in the coal washery (which
washes the coal before it is fed into the ovens) and in the by-products
plant (which processes the gases extracted from the ovens).
At the request of the unions, Dr Crawford was brought in for
another inspection to ascertain whether his recommendations with
respect to workers on the ovens should also apply to those around
the ovens. In this report Dr Crawford exacerbated the dispute with
the ambiguous conclusion t h a t extending the same
recommendations to the 320 by-products and associated workers
would be "desirable" but not "essential". Bitter dispute between
management and employees as to whether these workers should
get the same benefits as those on the ovens continued until the
entire coke plant work force went on strike on 15 May 1981, and
stayed out until 28 May.
On 26 November, the Industrial Commission of New South Wales
decided in favour of the company that laundering and locker benefits
not be extended beyond workers actually on the ovens.7
MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE SCANDAL
Throughout the 1979-81 period, the coke ovens saga was reported
many times on the front page of the Port Kembla newspaper, the
Illawarra Mercury. The Sydney and national press devoted much
more limited attention to the problem. Some of the headlines seemed
to be damaging for BHP: e.g "BHP MEN IN CANCER PERIL AFTER
GOVT ERROR" {Australian, 11 September 1980); "CANCER
KILLING COKE WORKERS" (Illawarra Mercury, 6 September
1980). One front-page story was headlined "AIS CANCER RISK
COVER-UP CLAIM" (Illawarra Mercury, 12 October 1979). This
article reported statements in the New South Wales Parliament
by George Petersen that the company had settled two coke oven
compensation cases out of court so that there would be no evidence
on which to establish a precedent for future claims. BHP issued
a press release denying that this was its motivation in settling
the cases. But as happens so often with corporate scandals,
195
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
allegations of cover-up can draw stronger fire than the material
concerning the offence itself. The worst publicity came in union
journals. For example, one story was headed: "DEATH ON THE
COKE OVENS—BHP STYLE: KEMBLA CHALKS UP 13 KNOWN
CANCER DEATHS" (The Metal Worker, September 1980).
Contrary to complaints made to the authors by BHP management,
not all the press coverage was negative. There were a number of
articles giving the company's side of the story: e.g, "BHP DEFENDS
HEALTH AND SAFETY PROGRAM" (Sydney Morning Herald, 13
October 1979); "COMPANY REFUTES CANCER CLAIMS: AI&S
DEFENDS HEALTH POLICY" (Illawarra Mercury, 13 October
1979). The Health Minister was reported as saying that the coke
oven workers were "being well looked after" by BHP in a story
headed "BHP TREATS MEN WELL" (Illawarra Mercury, 13
October 1979). In addition, there was a variety of newspaper articles
lauding safety improvements made to the coke ovens: e.g "AI&S
ACTS ON CANCER REPORT" (Illawarra Mercury, 23 September
1978); "AIS TELLS OF PLANT IMPROVEMENT" (Illawarra
Mercury, 12 September 1978). However, none of these were frontpage stories.
The industrial confrontation aspects of the problem generated
much of the media coverage. For example, when Dr Crawford and
his team inspected the ovens on 17 December 1979, the company
was at first not agreeable to union representatives accompanying
him on the inspection. In response, a stop-work meeting was held
and a television crew from Channel 10 in Sydney arrived to film
the action. The company backed down and gave permission for
union representation during the inspection. However, Channel 10
was refused permission to enter the steelworks itself and was forced
to film from outside the gates.
Adverse publicity over the occupational health problem led to
a limited amount of snowballing into publicity over related issues.
The main example was pollution from the ovens drifting into the
suburbs of Port Kembla and Wollongong.
Steven Quinn, the union leader, believed that the company "likes
to give the image that they are good for Wollongong".
When the ABC programme Nationwide took their cameras to the
plant in the early hours of the morning to film the fumes emitted
196
COKE AND CANCER AT BHP
at that time, the company was not pleased. Coke oven workers
had long alleged that when the company fell behind with its
production targets, it was the night and early morning shifts that
were required to cook "green ovens"—coke which emits excessive
green fumes because it had not been cooked for long enough. At
2 am there is less risk of billowing fumes alarming members of
the public (or government inspectors). The company categorically
denied these allegations and in its defence showed the authors a
memorandum of 19 February 1979 from the General Superintendent
to battery foremen instructing that:
1. No oven is to be pushed unless it is coked (no matter what
the cooking time).
2. No oven is to be pushed under minimum coking time.
Another related risk—the subject of some adverse publicity in
the Illawarra Mercury, and in a speech to the State Parliament
by Petersen—was that "Escaping fumes from the vats of by-product
liquid materials cause sleepiness and watering of the eyes of
operators". 8
BHP did not run a counter publicity campaign. It was averse
to "feeding the hand that bit us" by paying for advertisements
explaining its position in the press. However, when the authors
visited Port Kembla, Mr M J Burns, the Manager, Coke and Sinter,
could not meet them because he was taking a course at the head
office in Melbourne on handling media appearances and public
relations.
In the four years since the Industrial Commission decision,
particularly as the steel industry went into deep recession in 1982,
accompanied by massive retrenchments, the media, locally as well
as nationally, had virtually ignored coke oven cancer as an issue.
Once the issue returned to being simply one of slow, imperceptible
killing of workers, when there was no longer an industrial dispute
to report, media interest evaporated.
IMPACTS ON THE COMPANY
The financial consequences of the emissions struggle for BHP were
minor. Neither objectively nor subjectively in the minds of
197
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
management could the problem be viewed as having any impact
whatsoever on BHP share prices. From late 1980 to mid 1981, when
the struggle reached its climax with the plant-wide strike, BHP
shares were trading at three times their 1978 prices. The period
was one of a consistent climb in BHP share values.
Since BHP is a virtual monopolist in Australian steel, there was
little chance of reduced production resulting in competitors seizing
a slice of the market. It is doubtful if there was any diminution
in ultimate steel production as a result of the strikes by the coke
oven workers (cf. Australian Financial Review, 24 July 1981). Coke
is stockpiled, and at no point was the stockpile expended. During
the strikes, the ovens, run by the supervisory and management
staff, continued to operate at about 70 per cent capacity. (Coke
ovens cannot be shut down because their life will be reduced if
their temperature is not kept at about 1,000°C). Undoubtedly,
however, the disruptions to other working functions, by pulling
people out of their normal responsibilities, had certain costs in
inefficiency and aggravation of management problems.
The total capital costs of improvements, from new oven doors
to lockers for workers' clothes, could reach a total of $5 million.
However, as noted below, many of these monies might eventually
have been spent without the extra impetus of the union campaign. 9
Another cost was in the double handling of coal during the strikes.
Instead of coal being dropped straight into bins on railway tracks
at the pit-head ready to be transported to the ovens, it had to be
trucked elsewhere and picked up after the strike. Finally, it is
possible that the publicity and antagonism aroused by the campaign
may well provoke some victims of coke oven emissions into damages
litigation against the company. According to the unions, by 1981
BHP had settled 13 cases out of court for payments running up
to $25,000 to the families of deceased coke oven workers.
Whatever the total costs, they will not loom large when compared
with BHP's $6 billion a year sales. Moreover, BHP in the past has
usually managed to employ its monopoly status to pass on to
consumers whatever extraordinary costs it incurs in its steel
operations, although in recent times Australian protectionism has
not been sufficient, given the world steel glut, to shield BHP from
growing import competition.
198
COKE AND CANCER AT BHP
The adverse publicity to which the company had been subjected
was certainly cause for considerable objection and concern over
loss of corporate prestige among the ten executives with whom
the authors spoke during the course of their research. Because
of some hostile coverage, primarily in the Illawarra Mercury, the
company's repute in Port Kembla and Wollongong undoubtedly
suffered as a result of the affair. However, individual executives
were not singled out as villains in this press coverage. Consequently,
our senior informants did not report loss of personal prestige to
match the damage to corporate prestige.
Employee morale was also reported as having suffered. One
executive expressed concern that wives who had been washing
their husband's work clothes for years were now being told that
by doing this they had been putting their families at risk of cancer.
Hence, there was a belief that the morale of the work force was
also being debilitated through family involvement in the issue.
Another adverse consequence of the affair for the company was
a deterioration of already poor industrial relations. On 13 May 1981,
when the workers started work late because of a gate meeting
to consider the company's replies to a number of claims on cancer
and emissions, they were forbidden their normal morning tea break,
docked an hour's pay, and, according to the unions (although denied
by the company), told to handle the same number of ovens they
would push in a full eight-hour shift. It was this kind of event
which badly soured industrial relations at the plant.
Avoidance of publicity was a consideration in many important
management decisions. For example, after being told that the
National Health and Medical Research Council standard for coke
ovens was unrealistic, we asked why management had not
complained to the Council with a view to setting a "realistic"
standard. We were told that appeals against medical judgments
on the grounds of "practical considerations" would only result in
public attacks on the company for putting dollars ahead of lives.
REFORMS
Numerous technological and other emission-control measures have
been introduced since 1977. Machine-operated door and frame
199
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
cleaners have replaced manual cleaning on all batteries, thereby
eliminating one of the jobs with the highest exposures. Fifty
additional workers have been engaged as door adjusters and for
sealing the lids on top of the ovens. Water seals have been introduced
on the standpipes which take gases to the by-products section. There
has been extensive machining of oven lids to improve their seal.
Stage one of the programme, which involved the installation of
air-conditioning and air-filtration equipment on charger cars (which
move up and down the battery dropping coal into ovens) and
establishment of air-conditioned and air-filtered oven-top rest
cabins, was completed in mid 1979. However, the government
inspection of 15-16 September 1980 found that the air-filtering
systems on two of the charger cars were not functioning properly.
A videotape was made to explain the dangers of coke ovens and
means of minimising risk to employees. Workers are now given
five minutes' washing time before tea and meal breaks.
The most expensive engineering improvement has been the
replacement of leaking doors on three of the four ovens with a
new Japanese spring-loaded self-adjusting model.
The unions' view is that the reforms have not gone far enough
fast enough. However, considerable amounts of money have been
expended on a variety of measures. There have been a number
of technological repairs and other changes mentioned above. When
they are all catalogued in the company's public relations handout,
they appear to be an impressive list of improvements. They are
not trivial reforms. However, the question remains whether
emissions levels have measurably improved.
We have been able to obtain only three sets of figures for
emissions, one for 1978-79, another for September 1980, and the
third for the 12 months to August 1983. The first two sets of figures
were the subject of some discussion before the Industrial
Commission of New South Wales on 4 June 1981. As J Bauer pointed
out at the hearing, the two sets of figures indicated that, if anything,
emission levels had worsened.10 There was certainly no evidence
of an improvement up to September 1980. When we visited the
company in 1981, we asked whether it had any data suggesting
an improvement since 1978. We were informed that it did not. We
were then told that if one looked at the whole decade to take in
200
COKE AND CANCER AT BHP
the total programme of upgrading, improvement would definitely
be evident.11 When we asked for evidence from systematic recording
of emission levels throughout the period to substantiate this, we
were informed that no such data existed.
Data for the 12 months to August 1983 showed that emissions
from the batteries with the new Japanese doors had improved
compared to the battery on which the doors were not replaced,
though not dramatically so. It remained the case that over 80 per
cent of workers sampled were exposed to average emissions in
excess of the OSHA standard.
"Valve men" on one of the ovens were exposed to average readings
of six times the permissible US level. BHP has stopped short of
the drastic action which would be needed to create a low-risk
environment at the Port Kembla coke ovens. The oldest and least
productively efficient battery, No. 1, was closed down in 1982.
However, the unions argued that it is the second oldest battery,
No. 3, which should have been shut down because its design results
in excessive emissions. The structural defects of No. 3, it was
claimed, caused it to emit more dangerous fumes than No. 1. But
management opted for closing the least efficient battery rather than
the most dangerous one. Consequently, notwithstanding the new
doors on the other ovens, workers on them are not protected from
emissions above the OSHA standards because of spillover from
No. 3. A year later part of No. 3 (3B) was closed, but 3A remained
in production. The unions expressed the hope that the company
would totally replace battery No. 3 in 1987 or 1988. However, they
were not confident of this; allegedly, the company had consistently
refused to hold talks with them about closing the killer No. 3 battery.
One company spokesperson told the authors that the new battery
was to provide for expansion rather than the replacement of No.
3. Battery 3A remains in production as this is written.
Little of the credit for the reforms which have been introduced
by BHP can be given to the New South Wales government. Witness
the fact that no new initiatives were introduced between the
communication of Dr Crawford's report to the company in April
1980 and its discovery by the union in September. Things started
to happen when the unions flexed their industrial and political
muscle.
201
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
For the same reason, not much of the credit for the reform can
be attributed to adverse publicity. While the publicity undoubtedly
helped the workers in their cause, no change in the pace of reform
was primarily attributable to industrial agitation. Two managers
with whom the authors spoke, while adamant about the unions
not forcing them to do anything they would not eventually have
done of their own initiative, expressed the view that the industrial
threats, backed by adverse publicity, had quickened the progress
of reform. In responding to the authors' draft, however, the company
rejected any interpretation that it had been forced into more rapid
reform by the use or threatened use of the strike weapon. Its position
was that reform should be interpreted in terms of a self-motivated
corporate desire to improve health on the job.
In this case, in summary, adverse publicity played a relatively
minor role in ushering in relatively minor reforms of company
practices. Perhaps more significant was the part that adverse
publicity played in jolting governmental authorities into action.
In 1979, Dr Crawford of the Health Commission was quoted as
saying that the Port Kembla coke:ovens had a good pollution
monitoring and filtering system (Sydney Morning Herald, 17 October
1979). By 4 June 1981, in giving evidence before the Industrial
Commission, Dr Crawford could be heard to describe emissions
from the same ovens as "dangerously high" and "frightful". 12 In
fact, J Bauer in his Industrial Commission judgment, found that
a previously lax approach of the government to monitoring coke
oven emissions, had been replaced by a new, appropriate level of
concern:
Whilst it might reasonably be said that there was a long delay
in the commencement of detailed inspections and formation of
recommendations after the responsible departments had been
or ought to have been seised [stc] of the seriousness of the
problems of industrial exposure to coke oven emissions and other
industrial substances, the present position appears to be that
the problems are being treated by these departments in a manner
commensurate with the risks.
Furthermore, while disquiet might also reasonably be
expressed at the delay in implementing the overall programme,
202
COKE AND CANCER AT BHP
the commendable vigilance of the unions will no doubt ensure
that the departments continue their supervision of the
amelioration of the problem . . . 13
Notwithstanding this improvement, the New South Wales
Department of Industrial Relations has pointed out that its staff
resources are still insufficient to conduct a comprehensive survey
of emission levels at the Port Kembla ovens.
In 1982, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on
Environment and Conservation strongly criticised both BHP and
the health authorities for the tardiness of their responses to the
coke and cancer problem at Port Kembla. 14 Unless the scandal is
more vehemently pursued through renewed industrial agitation and
concomitant media focus, however, this admonition will also
continue to fall upon deaf ears.
PROSPECTS FOR REAL REFORM
BHP is a company with an unimpressive record on occupational
health and safety. 15 While the recession of the early eighties brought
pleas that investment in occupational health and safety could only
be purchased at the price of jobs, the Australian record profits
of recent years make BHP the last company which can credibly
advance such claims.
Unfortunately, BHP is one of those companies which in the past
has often had to be prodded into action on occupational health
by aggressive government or union action. The New South Wales
Department of Industrial Relations is a notoriously weak enforcer
of occupational health laws. Overcoming its inertia would seem
to be every bit as great a challenge as shifting BHP itself. Since
progressive change has been stimulated by union activism in the
past, this remains the hope for the future. However, it is a matter
of considerable disappointment that when the Hawke government,
in one of its early economic achievements, revitalised the industry
with the Steel Industry Plan, the unions did not insist on
commitments to invest in improved occupational health and safety
as part of the plan.
The current stand-off on the coke ovens is devastating. BHP
203
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
claims to have done its bit by investing in the Japanese doors and
the other new technology it has in place. The fact that this money
has been spent without getting emissions down to levels
internationally recognised as an acceptable health risk leaves
everyone perplexed as to where to go now. Government inspectors
do not have the expertise in coke oven technology to tell BHP that
the engineering judgments of the past have not been good enough
and to specify the kind of technology which should be purchased
in future. The government feels reluctant to introduce a standard
which is unattainable at present without more massive investments
in new technology. What is the point of fining the company every
day for non-compliance with a standard which was written in the
full knowledge that the company had no prospect of compliance
for a number of years? To do so would bring the law into disrepute.
Yet to persist in doing nothing continues to bring the government
into disrepute with workers and others who are aware of the
problem. If the law enactment and law enforcement route would
be a farce, then there is one alternative which would place a
recalcitrant company under real financial pressure for reform. This
is to impose emission charges on BHP's coke ovens. For every .01
milligram per cubic metre of air by which coke oven emissions
exceed the OSHA standard of 0.15, BHP could be required to pay
$1,000 per exposed worker per year into a special fund to support
workers' health clinics at Port Kembla (and Newcastle).
Equally, for every .01 milligram per cubic metre of air by which
emissions are below the OSHA standard, BHP could be given a
rebate against the emission charge owed. This would give BHP,
the Big Australian which takes pride in "the pursuit of excellence",
an incentive to pursue innovative, cost-effective solutions to the
problem.
The use of emission charges is a regulatory approach which has
a great number of problems when applied on a wide scale.16 However,
in a situation of regulatory standoff where any other enforcement
solution seems impracticable, and where an enforcement solution
is needed to deal with an affluent company with little willingness
to make further large investments to render the workplace safe,
then a short-term solution which gives the company a financial
incentive to invest in the expertise and technology to solve the
204
COKE AND CANCER AT BHP
problem is perhaps the only road to take. Union mobilisation with
maximum building of community support through the media,
directed at the New South Wales government as well as BHP, is
the only hope for moving down that road.
1. Henry, S A (1946), "Cancer of the Scrotum in Relation to Occupation", Oxford
Medical Publications, 1946, 40-48; Kawai, M and Harada, K (1967),
"Epidemiologic Study of Occupational Lung Cancer", Archives of Environmental
Health, 14, 859-864; Lloyd, W J (1971), "Long Term Mortality Study of
Steelworkers, Part V: Respiratory Cancer in Coke Plant Workers", Journal
of Occupational Medicine, 13, 53-68; Sakabe, Hiroyuki, Tsuchiya Kenzaburo,
Takebura Noburu, Nomura Shigeru et al (1975), "Lung Cancer Among Coke
Oven Workers: A Report to Labour Standard Bureau, Minister of Labour,
Japan", Industrial Health, 13, 57-69; Dole, R, Fisher, R E W, Gammon, E J,
Gunn, W et al (1965), "Mortality of Gas Workers with Special Reference to
Cancers of the Lung and Bladder, Chronic Bronchitis and Pneumoconiosis",
British Journal of Industrial Medicine, 22,1-12.
2. U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (1976) "Exposure to Coke
Oven Emissions: Occupational Safety and Health Standards", Federal Register,
41 (206) 22 October; See also American Iron and Steel Institute v OSHA, 577
F 2d 82S (1978) where the OSHA coke oven emissions standard of 0.15 mg
of benzene-soluble particulate was upheld by the Court of Appeals, Third
Circuit.
3. The company made the following comment in response to a draft of this work
which we sent to it:
There are very few US batteries with water-sealed standpipe caps.
Moreover, there are batteries in the US which today still involve manual
removal of charging lids. Many US batteries, even some of their newest
batteries, do not have mechanical door cleaners on machines and yet the
inference is that, compared to the US situation, Australia (BHP) is behind
and deficient in this area because we choose not to agree with some USA
decisions and regulations. This view ignores the areas where we have
adopted other remedies.
4. The company's response to this sentence in the draft we sent them for comment
was as follows:
This is a true statement but again gives no perspective. We do not deny
that there are instances where such very high figures have been recorded.
However, they are the infrequent exception rather than the rule. As is
the case with the American and other overseas coke ovens, an emission
level of 0.15mg/m3 is routinely not met in many areas but it is rare indeed
205
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
for an exposure level to be 100 times the level. Moreover, in many cases
where very high values have been reported we have doubts as to the
validity of the result in that unrepresentative readings can be easily
generated by holding a sample filter over an emission source. There have
been numerous occasions when this practice has been detected.
Legally enforceable limits in America have not, at this point in time,
resulted in compliance by American batteries, as is the simplistic inference
implicit in the text. The nature of the problem and the stringency of
the standard, notwithstanding the engineering and work practice controls
specified by the OSHA regulations, have meant that the standard is
currently unattainable in a number of areas on all batteries throughout
the world for which we are privy to information.
5. Masek, V, Zdenek, J and Kandas, J (1972), "Content of 3, 4 Benzo(a) pyrene
in the Working Clothes and Underwear of Workers at a Pitch Coking Plant",
Journal of Occupational Medicine, 14, 548-551.
6. The company denies that its attitude was "intransigent":
That there were claims by the unions for changes, which the company
did not accept, is not disputed. Whether any fairminded person examining
what was claimed, what was agreed to, and what effects might reasonably
be expected from not agreeing to all the unions' claims, would conclude
that the company's attitude was intransigent is debatable! Certainly J
Bauer, in his recent judgment, effectively concluded that some of the
unions' claims were not reasonable.
7. Steel Works (Broken Hill Proprietory Company Ltd) Award and Another Award,
Industrial Commission of New South Wales 355 (26 November 1981).
8. NSW Legislative Assembly, Hansard 23 October, 1980,2087.
9. The expenditure on new doors is the major new capital investment, which
the company points out was beginning to take shape before the industrial
campaign:
The decision to install new doors had nothing to do with an industrial
campaign. The trials with Ikio doors were begun in 1976. It was the
company's intention all along to employ these doors subject only to the
doors proving suitable. The initial design did not.
10. Notification under section 25A by Australian Iron and Steel Pty Limited of
a Dispute with the Amalgamated Metalworkers and Shipwrights Union and
Ors Re Claim for Two Lockers for Each Employee and Other Claims—Coke
Ovens Department, Compulsory Conference 281, Industrial Commission of New
South Wales, 4 June 1981.
11. BHP offered this response:
In many cases, e.g, water-sealed standpipe caps, the engineering reforms
were completed prior to the commencement of significant data collection.
We have no doubt that these steps have "measurably improved" the
situation but because statistics were not kept during the period prior
to the steps being taken we cannot statistically evidence our conclusion.
12. Compulsory Conference 281, transcript.
13. Steel Works Award, p. 86.
206
COKE AND CANCER AT BHP
14. House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and
Conservation, (1982), Hazardous Chemicals: Second Report on the Enquiry into
Hazardous Chemicals, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra,
120-123.
15. Kriegler, R (1980), Working for the Company, Oxford University Press,
Melbourne; Hopkins, A (1981), "Crime Without Punishment: The Appin Mine
Disaster", Australian Quarterly, Summer, 455-466; Lewis, S and Matters, P
(1985), "In the Belly of the Monster", Australian Left Review, 91,17-21.
16. Braithwaite, J (1982), "The Limits of Economism in Controlling Harmful
Corporate Conduct', Law and Society Review, 16, 481-504; Stewart, R B (1981),
"Regulation, Innovation, and Administrative Law: A Conceptual Framework",
California Law Review, 69,1256-377.
207
^IBliljliSlMMI^
©»«TJT1 iMJI^W
T
he men worked in a dense cloud of dust . . . it was so
thick they couldn 7 see the walls of the mill just a few yards
away. At times it was so thick, they couldn't even see the man holding
the sack as they shovelled in asbestos dust.
That was life at the Baryulgil asbestos mine owned by the James
Hardie Group of companies between 1953 and 1976.
Who knows how many people died from the asbestos dust?
Could Hardies have saved some of them? And why didn't the
government mines inspectors do more about it?
The public spotlight first fell on Baryulgil in 1977.
An ABC journalist, Matt Peacock, visited the asbestos mine at
Baryulgil near Grafton in northern New South Wales as part of
his research for a series of radio programmes on the theme: Work
as a Health HazardThose programmes brought to public attention
for the first time the plight of the Baryulgil Aboriginal community,
among whom there was thought to be widespread (albeit
unrecorded) asbestos-related disease. It was subsequently alleged
that the mine's former proprietors, James Hardie, had operated the
mine so as to constitute a major health hazard, and that
approximately 100 people had either died or lost their health as
a result. 2
208
ASBESTOS MINING AT BARYULGIL
In the years following Peacock's visit, the fears for the health
of the community and the criticisms of Hardies' conduct intensified,
culminating in the establishment of a wide-ranging inquiry
conducted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee
on Aboriginal Affairs. That Committee made its Report (hereafter
the Baryulgil Report) in October 1984. Here, the allegations made
against the mine operators and others are examined in the light
of the evidence presented to the House of Representatives
Committee.
T h e H i s t o r y and E f f e c t s of t h e Mining
Operation
The existence of an asbestos deposit at Baryulgil in northern New
South Wales was known as long ago as 1918, but it was only in
the early 1940s that any serious attempt was made to mine it.
In 1940, Wunderlich Ltd (later a subsidiary of CSR) began the
development and the mining plant was installed in 1943 and 1944.
In 1944 Asbestos Mines Pty Ltd (AMPL) was formed to operate
the mine with 50 per cent of shares being held by Wunderlich
and the other 50 per cent by the James Hardie Group of Companies
(hereafter Hardies). In 1953, Hardies bought Wunderlich's share
and from that time until 1976 the operating company, AMPL, was
a wholly owned subsidiary of Hardies. The mine was sold to
Woodsreef Mines Ltd in 1976, and finally closed in April 1979.
Throughout the period 1953 to 1976, AMPL operated the mine
through a mine manager employed by that company. The workforce
engaged in the quarry and mill varied between 15 and 40 at any
one time, the greater number being occupied in the quarry. Of
that workforce, a small number, usually four or five, were engaged
in the milling process—separating the asbestos from the host rock.
The workforce consisted mostly of people of Aboriginal descent
drawn from the local community.
There can be little doubt that workers at Baryulgil were exposed
to substantial doses of asbestos dust for much of the period of
the mine's operation at levels which could certainly be anticipated
to cause serious damage to health. 4 Specifically, workers were at
risk of developing any of several serious and often fatal diseases
including lung cancer, stomach cancer, colon-rectum cancer, pleural
209
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
mesothelioma (cancer of the lung lining), peritoneal mesothelioma
(cancer of the stomach lining) and asbestosis, an irreversible lung
disease caused by the scarring of lung tissues with asbestos fibres.
Members of the local community, who were exposed to lesser
levels of dust, were at risk, if not from asbestosis then at least
from the asbestos-induced cancers, which may be associated with
trivial exposure to asbestos. To what extent the health of the
workforce and community actually suffered as a result of asbestos
exposure is less clear.
Although a number of surveys of the health of former workers
and residents at Baryulgil were conducted in 1977, 1981 and 1982
by the New South Wales Department of Health, the results are
inconclusive. It is not possible from this data to form a clear and
quantitative impression of the extent of asbestos disease in the
Baryulgil Aboriginals.5 Nor is there any other basis on which to
calculate rates of past disease or to project future likely rates of
disease, not least because personal records at the mine were
incomplete.
Even given these limitations, there is clear evidence that
asbestosis has occurred in ex-mine workers at Baryulgil:
It was present, at least to a mild degree, in the lungs of three
who were examined post mortem and also in the lung of a woman
who developed lung cancer, who had not been employed in the
mine or mill but had lived in Baryulgil for most of her working
life. On clinical grounds also, given the evidence available to
us, at least five living ex-mine workers probably have asbestosis.
It would appear, however, that it is not severe in comparison
with what is commonly observed in circumstances of long-term
occupational exposure. A number of other ex-mine workers have
some of the clinical features of asbestosis. 6
Further, one case of malignant mesothelioma of the pleura, one
of malignant mesothelioma of the peritoneum, and one case of lung
cancer were found among the Baryulgil population. However, it
is uncertain in any of these cases whether asbestos exposure was
a contributing factor. Moreover, there was an apparently high
incidence of chronic bronchitis in ex-mine workers which might
210
a s b e s t o s mining a t b a r y u l g i l
possibly be causally connected with dust exposure at Baryulgil.7
There are a number of possible explanations for the apparent
lack, to date, of any large amount of asbestos-related disease in
the Baryulgil Aborigines. One might be low exposure, but this is
most unlikely, given the evidence concerning working conditions,
discussed below. A second possibility is lack of diagnosis, bearing
in mind that the Baryulgil Aborigines probably did not have ready
access to the best medical care and cases of asbestosis may have
been missed in the early years. However, more recent investigations
have not revealed any large number of subjects suffering from
asbestosis, although it is possible that X-rays taken of two workers
in 1949 and 1952, which revealed evidence of asbestosis, might
represent the tip of an earlier iceberg rather than the total of
asbestos disease at that time.
Finally, the latent period (the period between exposure and
observable symptoms of disease) for asbestos-induced cancers is
between 15 and 40 years, and for asbestosis 10-20 years. It is possible
therefore, that the toll of asbestos-related disease at Baryulgil will
rise significantly in the future, despite the closure of the mine in
1979. Unfortunately it is impossible to make any valid projection
of future disease rates because of uncertainty as to time of past
employment and duration of employment as well as the actual levels
of exposure to asbestos during employment.8
Assessing Hardie's Role
Accepting that the extent of asbestos-related disease at Baryulgil
is uncertain, there remain a number of questions as to the culpability
of the mine operators. In particular:
• Did the operators know of the health hazards to which they
were exposing their workers?
• If not, as reasonable employers, should they have known?
• Assuming knowledge, how much should the operators have
done, as reasonable employers, to reduce the dust hazard and
protect the health of their workforce?
211
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
More specifically, did Hardies or their operating company (AMPL):
• fail to provide an adequate system of dust extraction and
suppression?
• fail to warn workers of the dangers of exposure to asbestos
dust?
• fail to take reasonable steps to prevent or limit the creation
of asbestos dust during the mining operations?
The House of Representatives Committee faced severe difficulties
in unravelling the story of the Baryulgil mine, given that the events
in question occurred many years ago, and that records were
incomplete. Piecing together the accounts of former employees and
the fragmented documentary material which became available, the
following picture emerges.
For the early period of the mine and milling operation between
1944 and 1958, few records are available and it is not possible to
make any precise assessment of the dust hazard, beyond noting
that conditions were poor indeed. Former employees describe
working in a dense cloud of dust, being unable to see the wall
inside the mill, a distance of a few yards, and shovelling asbestos
dust into sacks while in such a cloud of dust as to be unable to
see the men holding the sack.9 The Committee concluded:
Although the evidence is incomplete, and although there is
uncertainty as to the precise fibre levels to which workers were
exposed, it seems very probable that the then recommended level
of five million particles of dust per cubic foot was routinely
exceeded. Levels of exposure were undoubtedly high enough to
cause a substantial incidence of asbestos-related disease.10
In 1958, a new mill was built which came into operation in 1959.
The mill was undoubtedly less dusty than its predecessor although
there is evidence that in particular areas, dust levels remained
high.11 The Committee concurred with the view of a senior officer
of the New South Wales Division of Occupational Health that
212
ASBESTOS MINING AT BARYULGIL
"extremely dust generating procedures were in use for many years.
It is obvious that the use of dust control measures and respiratory
protection were extremely limited".12
A much more precise assessment of the dust hazard can be made
for the period 1970-76. Not only was dust-counting technology itself
dramatically improved with the introduction of the membrane filter
method in 1970, but in the same year, Hardies themselves
established dust-counting stations to monitor airborne dust levels
at particular locations in the quarry and mill.
The internal company records of many of these dust counts came
into the hands of the Aboriginal Legal Service (representing the
Baryulgil community) and were submitted as evidence before the
Committee. These records provide a substantial insight not only
into the extent of the dust hazard at Baryulgil, but also into Hardies'
response to this information.
Although great care must be taken in interpreting the results
of the dust surveys, 13 they leave little doubt that dust levels between
1970 and 1976 were excessive, judged by the standards of the time,
which for practical purposes may be assumed to be 4 fibres per
cubic centimetre (i.e, 4f/cc, averaged over an 8 hour shift 14 ). Dust
levels routinely exceeded the acceptable (4f/cc) level and in some
cases readings were far higher. The Committee concluded that "the
mining of ore, crusting and fibre separation, bagging and tailings
disposal, all produced excessive levels of atmospheric dust". 15
Among the most revealing evidence contained in the internal
company documents is the comments made by Hardies' Industrial
Hygiene Engineer, Mr Winters, and by its Federal Medical officer,
Dr McCullagh. For example, Mr Winters, commenting on Hardies'
first industrial hygiene survey in September 1970, states:
It can be said that at locations where men are working for 8
hours per day dust levels are reasonable, however. . . dust levels
at [certain] locations are alarmingly high, the bag shaking
operation recording an average count of 245 f.p.c.c. and the
emptying operation recording 302 f.p.c.c. The operator is subject
to dust levels created by the shaking operation for about 1 hour
per day and by the emptying operation for about 2 hours every
2 to 3 days. 16
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As the committee pointed out, workers would only have to be
exposed to such concentrations of fibres for a brief period to exceed
the recommended 4f/cc limit (averaged over an 8 hour shift). Since
Hardies' internal company record indicates that the general dust
level in the mill was 19f/cc, the overall exposure of workers in
the mill, and particularly those involved periodically near the two
worst locations, would have exceeded the recommended level.17
Both Winters and McCullagh noted the urgent need for dust
control measures to safeguard the workforce, but only limited
improvements were achieved in the following months. In February
1972, V. Gerrard, acting in McCullagh's absence, reported that
"standards of hygiene are still deplorable" and later drew attention
to conditions in the sack and dust collector building:
This is unquestionably the worst dust source. I inspected the
mine on a mild still day after much recent rain. Nonetheless
billowing clouds of fibre could be seen coming from this building
and Mr Burke [the mine manager] tells me he has on occasion
seen such clouds from distances of several miles. We have on
previous occasions obtained counts of about 1,000 fibres/cc here
and I have no doubt that the count was of that order when
I made my inspection.18
Winters and McCullagh continued to express grave concern about
dust levels at particular locations, and optimistic assessments and
descriptions of improvements were punctuated by comments about
"alarmingly high" levels at particular dust-counting stations.
Not all the evidence pointed in the same direction. Gradual
improvements were achieved between 1970 and 1976. Moreover,
dust counts conducted by the government agencies during the same
period sometimes recorded much lower dust levels.19 However,
where disparities exist between Hardies' surveys and those of the
regulatory agencies there are, for reasons discussed below, "strong
reasons for believing that some of the government agencies' figures
are substantial underestimates". 20
In summary, in the period 1953-1976, during which Hardies
controlled the Baryulgil operation:
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ASBESTOS MINING AT BARYULGIL
They only infrequently achieved their own stated objectives in
relation to dust control, and they often breached the legal limits
which applied after 1964. Before 1970 they made no systematic
effort either to monitor or control the dust hazard. After 1970,
they did implement a number of controls and dust levels were
progressively reduced. However, the improvements were often
delayed, piecemeal and spasmodic, and were insufficient to bring
dust levels in some areas within the legal or recommended levels,
or to provide the degree of dust control achieved elsewhere in
the organisation. Even in August 1976, shortly before Hardies
sold the Baryulgil operation, they had not managed to achieve
compliance with the legal standard at three of nine dust stations
monitored.21
There can be no doubt that workers at Baryulgil were exposed
to levels of asbestos that were excessive by modern standards and
in the asbestosis-producing range. 22 Was this a consequence of
corporate neglect, of industrial irresponsibility or culpability on
Hardies' part, or did Hardies act reasonably in the light of the
then available knowledge and technology?
The evidence suggests the former. Although the public and
industry generally remained largely unaware of the hazards of
asbestosis until the 1970s, there are reasons to believe that Hardies
were not similarly ignorant. Although by 1953 (the year Hardies
took over Wunderlich's share of APL) the link between asbestos
and cancer had not been established beyond doubt, the connection
with asbestosis, a severe and often fatal fibrosis of the lungs, was
clear. Regulations to control the use of asbestos had been introduced
in Britain in 1931 and in Victoria in 1945. It is most unlikely that
Hardies, a major asbestos manufacturer, could have been unaware
of this evidence and indeed it was conceded before the inquiry that
"asbestosis was known in the [Hardie] group as a serious problem
in the 1950s".23
In 1956, a study commissioned by Hardies diagnosed a number
of their employees as suffering from asbestos-related disease, and
that report was presented to Hardies in 1957.24 Yet, despite the
extent of Hardies' apparent knowledge and awareness of the hazards
of asbestos, for many years they took little interest in the dust
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hazards at Baryulgil.25 The committee concluded that Hardies could
and should have done far more to achieve dust control at Baryulgil
and to safeguard the health of the workforce, and that Hardies'
response fell short of that which could be expected of a reasonable
employer.26
One critical shortcoming, which can only have exacerbated the
problem, was Hardies' failure to inform the workforce of the health
risks of asbestos.
Had they done so, workers might have been far more willing
to use such limited protective equipment as was available and to
take other precautions when handling the dust. As it was:
No meetings were organised by Hardies' management to provide
such information, no warning posters or letters were issued,
there was no suggestion to workers (in later years) that they
should not smoke because smoking increased the dangers. No
instructions were sent to the mine manager directing him to
bring the hazards to the attention of the workforce. Nowhere,
in any of the internal company documents to which the committee
had access, was there any reference to the need to educate or
inform the workforce or the Baryulgil community about the
hazards of asbestos . . . It is an indictment of Hardies that
although they were aware of the asbestosis hazard by the 1950s,
neither then nor at any subsequent time did they attempt to
communicate their knowledge to the workforce or to warn them
of the dangers. 27
Hardies' position before the late 1960s was of almost total
indifference to conditions at Baryulgil. One reason why the
Committee had such difficulty in determining how hazardous
conditions were before 1970 is that Hardies themselves had made
very little effort to find out. They made no systematic attempt
either to ascertain how high dust levels were, or to reduce them.
They took no dust readings themselves nor, until 1969, was any
programme introduced for monitoring the health of the workforce
(although an X-ray survey was conducted in 1967).28 Yet X-rays
taken at the local hospital as early as 1949 and 1952 had revealed
detectable asbestosis in two workers, although whether Hardies
216
ASBESTOS MINING AT BARYULGIL
had access to this information cannot be established.
Symptomatic of Hardies' attitude towards Baryulgil was the low
ranking it had in the Hardie Group's industrial hygiene programme,
introduced during the 1960s. Baryulgil, by all accounts, had a worse
dust problem than Hardies' other operations, yet it was among
the last to benefit from an industrial hygiene survey or the internal
medical surveillance scheme. The explanation may well lie in the
fact that the mine was a small and economically marginal operation,
that it was tucked away in a relatively obscure corner of New
South Wales, lacking any effective union organisation, and that
it had a compliant and unsophisticated Aboriginal workforce.
Even when Hardies did begin to take a more active interest in
working conditions at Baryulgil, and after the introduction of dust
monitoring in 1970, Baryulgil continued to pose a more serious
health hazard than Hardies' other Australian operations. Beyond
the problems of controlling dust in a mining and milling operation,
which could have been solved by available technology29, two critical
factors appear to have influenced Hardies' behaviour. One was their
limited commitment to the future of the mine, which inhibited
any major investment or dust control programme. The second, and
closely related, reason was the cost of achieving effective dust
control.
For example, a recurrent theme in correspondence between Dr
McCullagh and Mr Winters is Hardies' reluctance to implement
dust control measures where substantial expenditure was involved.
Thus in September 1971 Mr Winters's report began:
The mine manager is well aware of the necessity for controlling
asbestos dust. However, the dust control programme for Baryulgil
has been hampered through lack of a decision by management
as to the future and likely life of the mine. Consequently, all
modifications performed to reduce dust levels have been stopgap measures and planning for major modification has not been
possible.30
Similarly, the mine manager, Mr Burke, suggested that the
projections concerning the life of the mine were quite short and
that this often minimised the prospect of capital expenditure on
dust suppression:
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The short life of the mine was usually the lever used, not so
much in deliberately refusing to do it but as to the viability
of doing quite major works. About 1970,1 discussed it with the
hygiene engineer of James Hardie and we estimated it would
take about $70,000 to $80,000-odd to put a complete new dust
system in.31
Finally, the importance of costs in the decision-making process,
and the consequences which Hardies threatened would follow if
they were required to introduce expensive dust control technology,
are most starkly stated in a letter of 27 July 1972 from the chairman
of the Dust Diseases Board to the Director of Occupational Health.
The letter refers to a proposed inspection at Baryulgil, and to claims
(presumably by Hardies). . .
that certain dust counts previously taken by the Division were
excessive and that the modifications which had been suggested
on the basis of those counts were of such an expensive nature
that might require closure of the mine.32 [emphasis added]
The Role of the Regulatory
Agencies
If Hardies failed voluntarily to rest on their responsibilities as
reasonable employers, what role did the State regulatory agencies
play in ensuring the health and safety of the workforce?
Such agencies are purportedly established to protect the public
or sections of the public (e.g workers) from the undesirable sideeffects of business activity. 33 Arguably, in the case of the safety
inspectorates, they are intended to counter the pressure on
employers to sacrifice the health and safety of their workers in
the pursuit of profit and, sometimes, economic survival. 34 What
role then did the government agencies actually play at Baryulgil?
The main task of monitoring and inspecting activities at Baryulgil
was shared between the Mines Inspectorate and the Division of
Occupational Health and Radiation Control (hereafter DOH), now
part of the New South Wales Department of Industrial Relations,
and formerly within the Department of Health. 35 There was a
curious division of responsibilities between these two Departments,
218
ASBESTOS MINING AT BARYULGIL
resulting from the fact that the DOH had the scientific and technical
expertise in measuring hazards, but no enforcement powers. The
Mines Inspectorate on the other hand, while lacking in technical
skills, had quite broad powers, including the right to make "such
inspection, examination and inquiry as may be necessary to
ascertain whether . . . this Act and the general rules and special
rules are complied with" and the right to enter any mine "at all
times by day and night". 36
The pattern that emerged was that the DOH often responded
to requests for assistance from the Mines Inspectorate and
conducted most of the monitoring of dust or fibre levels at Baryulgil.
Inspections were also made by the Mines Inspectorate but most
of these were routine visits by the district inspector who, as a
generalist, was concerned more with conventional mine hazards,
and had no particular concern with asbestos dust or its dangers,
of which he seems to have been oblivious.37
The regulatory agencies' response at Baryulgil was unsatisfactory in a number of ways. First, there was the infrequency of
inspection, particularly in the early years of the mine's operation.
Tests were conducted in 1948 and 1952 but no further dust counts
were taken between 1952 and 1960. Why did the Mines Inspectorate
fail to take any action during the period, despite hazardous dust
levels described by many witnesses and apparently recorded in the
1948 and 1952 reports? According to the House of Representatives
Committee:
One must conclude that either the inspectorate was aware that
a health hazard existed but failed to take reasonable steps to
protect the workforce or that it failed to keep itself reasonably
informed of the hazards. In either event, the inspectorate failed
adequately to discharge its responsibilities.38
Even after 1960, the mine monitoring authorities failed to conduct
regular and frequent visits to measure dust levels. From 1960-76,
dust measurements were made on average only every two years,
which, as the Committee pointed out, "can hardly be considered
adequate when, even on the Division of Occupational Health's own
figures, dust levels clearly exceeded the then recommended levels".39
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A second criticism concerns the manner in which inspections
were conducted, and the accuracy of the dust readings obtained.
Before the inquiry, considerable evidence was presented to suggest
that it was the usual practice for prior warnings to be given of
inspections. For example, the fitter, Mr Hindle said:
. . . in the 25 years that I had been there, I had never seen a
mines inspector or health inspector or anything like that come
in for a spot check. You would always get about a day or two
days notice to slow down, clean up, get everything spic and span
and in they would come when it was all beautiful. 40
This account was corroborated by many other Aboriginal and
non-Aboriginal workers and the Committee concluded that the
evidence that prewarnings did routinely take place was overwhelming41:
There is no doubt, that clean-ups prior to inspections did take
place routinely at the instigation of the mine manager. The
evidence suggests that very vigorous efforts were put into such
clean-ups and often the men worked overtime through the
weekend to achieve satisfactory results. Indeed, on at least one
occasion, evidence of a clean-up was obvious to the inspectors
since the mill floor was still wet and had presumably been hosed
down to suppress dust.
Whether such clean-ups were deliberate attempts to disguise
the hazards, or were more in the nature of good housekeeping
(in much the same way as one might tidy the house for visitors)
is unclear. The result, whether intended or not, was to reduce
dust levels in the general mill area and to create a favourable
impression. Consequently, inspectors rarely saw working
conditions as they really were, and dust levels were presumably
lower than at other times.42
There are strong reasons for believing that, because of these
practices, the government agencies' figures were substantial
underestimates of the true dust levels. The evidence is strongest
for the period 1970-76 when the agencies' reading can be compared
220
ASBESTOS MINING AT BARYULGIL
with the results of Hardies' own dust monitoring. The results
obtained by the regulatory agencies present a far more optimistic
picture of conditions at Baryulgil than Hardies' own surveys. For
example, the DOH in 1969 recorded comparatively low dust counts
while Hardies' first survey in September 1970 recorded "alarmingly
high" levels of asbestos fibres at some points. The Committee
concluded that the evidence of Hardies' own surveys was to be
preferred to that of the regulatory agencies, and that the latter's
lower figures could be attributed mainly to the practice of prior
forewarnings and clean-ups, and to technical difficulties
experienced by the agencies in taking readings and interpreting
the results. 43
A third criticism, applying specifically to the Mines Inspectorate,
is that its response to the health hazards at Baryulgil (even taking
the agencies' own measurements of dust levels at face value) was
inadequate. For example, some of the surveys conducted by the
DOH revealed dust levels far in excess of the then recommended
levels44 yet the Mines Inspectorate, as the agency responsible for
enforcement, made little effort to ensure that improvements were
carried out:
The only action which was usually taken was to send a copy
of the report to the mine manager and to Hardies' head office.
These reports often contained recommendations for dust control
arising out of the inspection, but there was generally little or
no follow-up by the inspectorate. If their recommendations (or
those of the Division of Occupational Health) were not carried
out, or if the operating company did not succeed in reducing
dust levels, this would not become apparent to the inspectorate
until they (or the Division of Occupational Health) took their
next dust count, perhaps two years later.
Even then, their approach was hardly systematic or rigorous.
For example, the site identified as having an excessive dust count
in 1960, was not even re-measured in the survey of 1963, nor
indeed were most of the sites measure in the previous survey. 45
The Chief Inspector of Mines asserted that this departmental
policy (of making recommendations but without invoking its powers
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under the Mines Inspection Act) was the most appropriate response
and that it had ensured a gradual improvement in conditions. This
claim is not supported by the evidence. Although some improvements were achieved, dust levels remained high for many years.
The Committee concluded:
Taken overall, however, the inspectorate's policy cannot be
judged a success. As Hardies' own figures show, many stations
still recorded dust levels in excess of the recommended levels,
even in the mid 1970s. As late as 13 December 1977, the Assistant
Under-Secretary of the Mines Department, Mr Rose, acknowledged in a Minute Paper that:
It is apparent that there is a problem of lung disease in the
Aboriginal population at Baryulgil . . . The Department has
consistently pursued the four particles rule as far as asbestos
is concerned in mining operation, but we cannot claim to have
been particularly successful in forcing company observance of
this standard [emphasis added].46
It was only in the last two years of the mine's operation that
dust levels came under close scrutiny from the inspectorate, and
only in 1978 that the legal standard was clearly complied with
throughout the mine and mill.
We are not convinced that the inspectorate was sufficiently
decisive either in conveying to management the sense of urgency
that was appropriate in achieving improvements or in pursuing
the question of prosecution when, over a period of years,
improvements were not forthcoming. There were undoubtedly
occasions during the inspectorate's administration of the
Baryulgil operation, when its statutory powers could have
usefully been involved to ensure that a recalcitrant management
complied with its obligations. Even before any specific asbestos
standard was imposed in 1964, the general powers under GR65A
could have been used to ensure that dust levels were reduced
to safer levels.47
Finally, it should be noted that the Mines Inspectorate did not
222
a s b e s t o s mining a t b a r y u l g i l
inform workers adequately about the dangers of asbestos exposure
or of the need for safe handling, thereby failing to take an obvious
first step towards alleviating the health hazard at Baryulgil.
DEFECTS IN THE LAW AND ITS ADMINISTRATION
The Baryulgil Inquiry has brought to light a number of serious
deficiencies in existing arrangements for securing the health and
safety of the workforce. Although these deficiencies were
highlighted in the case of asbestos mining at Baryulgil, the evidence
suggests that they are widespread, and relate to the enactment
and enforcement of occupational health and safety legislation
generally. It would be unwise to consider the Baryulgil experience
in isolation from these wider factors.
The Enactment of Safety
Legislation
One particular issue which gives rise to concern is the slowness
with which the State health and mines authorities acted in taking
steps to regulate occupational exposure to asbestos.
The first legislation governing permissible dust levels in New
South Wales was introduced under the Mines Inspection Act in
1964, 33 years after the British Government had introduced the
first, though inadequate, asbestos regulations and almost 20 years
since the first asbestos regulations became operative in Victoria.48
The 1964 standard provided for a maximum of 5 million particles
per cubic foot of air, a measure that had also been proposed by
the American Conference of Governmental Occupational Hygienists
as long ago as 1938, as being low enough to prevent asbestosis.
Following directions from the Chief Inspector of Mines, the
permissible level of exposure at Baryulgil was reduced to 4f/ml
by 1973 and to 2f/ml in 1978.49
For workers not covered by the Mines Inspection Act, there was
no legislation regulating asbestos use until 1977, when the Factories
(Health and Safety Asbestos Processes) Regulations were introduced.
For these workers, it took nearly 40 years from the initial recognition
of asbestos as a health hazard for a standard to be set which provided
some measure of protection.50 It also took more than eight years
from the time meetings were first convened by the relevant
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departments before legislation was finally enacted. As Dr Longley,
Chairman of the NSW (Dust Diseases) Medical Authority pointed
out:
We had been waiting for a period at that time from 1969 when
the asbestos regulations were drafted by a committee of us. They
were fed into the pipeline for gazettal and did not re-emerge
until 1977—about 8 years later. This disease in that period had
killed maybe 150 people with asbestosis and maybe 50 or 60
with mesothelioma and about 30 or 40 with cancer of the lung—
an enormous toll of death and injury in that period.51
Given that knowledge of asbestos hazards was readily available
in the technical and medical journals, 52 and given the much earlier
introduction of legislation in other jurisdictions—most notably the
u k , it is disturbing that the relevant government departments took
so long to initiate the enactment of protective legislation in New
South Wales. This cannot be attributed to the absence of practicable
fibre monitoring and fibre counting technology. The u k Regulations
of 1931 had made at least rudimentary attempts at regulation, and
more sophisticated measuring equipment (specifically the
membrane filter method) was available by 1969. It was in that
year that the British legislature established a hygiene standard
of 2 fibres per c.c. of air measured over a 4-hour period.
Yet only in 1977 were similar regulations introduced generally
in New South Wales. The time lag between the recognition of the
asbestos hazard and the introduction of protective legislation does
not engender confidence in the ability of the regulatory system
to protect workers from the new health hazards introduced by
changes in technology.
Resources and Enforcement
Strategy
Two factors are particularly important in understanding the role
of the Mines Inspectorate in relation to Baryulgil. The first is its
lack of resources, which contributes to its failure to inspect more
often, to undertake follow-up inspections or to take more vigorous
enforcement action. Evidence was given that:
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ASBESTOS MINING AT BARYULGIL
There was a period from July 1967 to January 1974 when Special
Duties Section was reduced from three inspectors to one
inspector. This was due to an inability to recruit inspectors of
mines. Thus the work in the dust area was delayed considerably.53
However, as the Committee pointed out:
It is questionable whether the Mines Inspectorate's response to
working conditions at Baryulgil would have been markedly
different even if extra resources had been available. After all,
there was no apparent difference in its role between 1967 and
1974 and in the years immediately before and after that period.54
The second, and critical, factor identified as influencing the
inspectorate's responses at Baryulgil, was its underlying policy
which was to operate by advice, help and persuasion, and to invoke
sanctions in only the most extreme circumstances. 55 As Mr
Marshall, the Chief Inspector of Mines put it:
I will never be convinced that prosecution is the answer. The
answer is the psychology to get to the people and tell them to
work safely.56
and again
CHAIRMAN—So the policy of the department is to convince
people of the dangers and try to bring the standards up, bring
the plant up . . .
Mr Marshall—We wanted the plant to comply, yes.
C HAIRMAN—Not to enforce?
Mr Marshall—Not to enforce. The danger I see with
enforcement—it might be not particularly true in this c a s e is that if you start prosecuting people for beaches of the Act
your sources of information dry up. People will not talk to you.57
The Chief Inspector also suggested that it would have been a
misuse of limited resources to engage in prosecutions, since time
spent in court giving evidence could more usefully be spent in the
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field. In any event, he suggested that prosecution would be futile
in view of the low fines involved (the maximum, for much of the
relevant period, being $200):
Mr BLANCHARD—I would argue that where there is risk to
life and limb the time spent in the court trying to put pressure
on management is equally as important as field inspections. Do
you agree with that?
Mr Marshall—Not when it was a $200 fine.
The chief inspector gave evidence that there had been a maximum
of probably 10 prosecutions under the Act in as many years and
that none of these had, to the best of his knowledge, been brought
against any asbestos mine.58
This description of how the inspectorate approached its
responsibilities is a familiar one, which characterises the work of
similar agencies in New South Wales and throughout
Australia. 59 Thus the inspectorate's failure to take more vigorous
action at Baryulgil should not be seen as a specific lapse, either
in dealing with a particular employer, or in the inspectorate's overall
response to one particularly hazardous industry. Rather it should
be seen as part of a broader philosophy, according to which the
inspectorates choose to operate by advice and persuasion, assuming
that industry will almost invariably be willing to fegulate itself,
without need for the law to be strictly or stringentlyapplied.
As the Committee recognised:
It is this philosophy which largely explains why the Chief
Inspector of Mines, Mr Marshall, saw no objection to a policy
of giving advance notice of inspections, and why the inspectors
themselves undoubtedly did so. This is why the Chief Inspector
viewed the idea of "surprise" inspections with some concern,
as being an attempt to "trap" employers, when the better
approach was to try and clean-up the industry by liaising more
closely with employers. This is also why the inspectorate relied
almost entirely on the goodwill of the employers to implement
its recommendations, and why the employers knew that if they
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ASBESTOS MINING AT BARYULGIL
failed to do so, the chances of further action being taken against
them were remote.60
The history of asbestos regulation bears tragic witness to the
failure of the "advise and persuade" philosophy. At Wittenoom in
Western Australia, over 200 out of a total of some 6,000 former
asbestos workers (one in every 30) have died from asbestos-related
disease, and this number is likely to rise given the long period
between exposure and manifestation of these diseases. The
performance of the regulatory agencies at Wittenoom has been
characterised by some commentators as being one of "bureaucratic
weakness" and as "negligent" 61 . However, regulation also suffered
from the division of responsibilities between the Mines and Health
Departments, and from the Health Department's lack of power and
inability (rather than reluctance) to take effective action.62
In the United Kingdom, where regulations have existed for
decades, enforcement has also been weak. In 1972, the House of
Lords, awarding damages to a worker suffering from asbestosis,
criticised the "supine attitude" of the Factory Inspectorate, which
had resulted in workers being constantly exposed to serious hazards
from asbestos dust. 63 Four years later an ombudsman inquiry again
made serious criticisms of the practices of the inspectorate.64
The reasons why self-regulation and the "advise and persuade"
philosophy have failed in relation to the asbestos industry were
identified by the House of Representatives Standing Committee
on Environment and Conservation in its report Hazardous
Chemicals'.
There are, in general, no dramatic work-stopping agents
associated with asbestos-related diseases and industry would
achieve negligible savings in production time by reducing their
incidence. The benefits of reduced workers compensation
premiums and tort claims has, until recently, been negligible
and therefore, the total economic benefits to an employer of
reducing asbestos hazards are minimal, as is the case for a wide
range of occupational diseases. Recently the Johns Mansville [stc]
subsidiary of the giant Johns Corporation in the United States
has sought to alter its structure to avoid the mounting liability
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of asbestos damages claims. In this instance it would appear
necessary that legal standards be created and enforced in such a
way that it is unprofitable to violate them, [emphasis added]65
Without denying the obvious value of the "advise and persuade"
philosophy in some circumstances, it is clear that it needs to be
backed up by effective sanctions. Vigorous enforcement of safety
legislation is the mechanism most likely to curb work hazards.
The prospects of detection, prosecution and conviction must be
sufficiently high, and the penalties on conviction sufficiently severe,
to convince most employers that it is more sensible to implement
safety precautions than to risk the consequences of failure to do
so.
The Government's
Response
The cause of the Baryulgil community was taken up by the
Aboriginal Legal Service. Finding substantial obstacles to the
success of conventional compensation mechanisms—either in
common law damages or under the Workers' Compensation (Dust
Diseases) Act66—the ALS sought a political solution. It lobbied the
Federal Government for a royal commission, which it hoped would
recommend the award of substantial compensation to the Baryulgil
community.
It was against this background that the Minister for Aboriginal
Affairs, Clyde Holding, announced the establishment of the House
of Representatives Committee's inquiry.
The Minister asked the Committee to examine the conditions
under which Baryulgil people worked at the mine and mill and
to identify factors which may have contributed to any health risks
attributable to the way it was operated.67
The Committee was also asked to examine the adequacy of the
law applicable to possible claims for compensation and to
recommend measures necessary to overcome any inadequacies in
the law.68 The Committee concluded that any such inadequacies
result from features of the general law and affect all claimants.
Members of the Baryulgil community suffer no particular
disadvantage in this regard. For example, the principal disadvantage
228
ASBESTOS MINING AT BARYULGIL
which prospective Baryulgil claimants would suffer is that the
company against which the claim would be brought is a subsidiary
company with no funds to meet any award of damages that may
be made. Recommendations are made in the report which, if
implemented, would overcome these inadequacies. Any benefit from
these suggested measures would, however, have general application
and is not specific to the Baryulgil situation. Therefore, the
Committee did not believe it appropriate to recommend any scheme
to make individual payments of compensation. It believed that,
subject to some technical difficulties, there are adequate avenues
of compensation available to members of the Baryulgil community
who contract, or have contracted, an asbestos-related disease.
The Aboriginal Legal Service, in its submission, as well as
pressing for an alternative scheme for compensation for individuals,
argued that the Committee should also recommend general
compensation for the community. In putting forward these claims
the Aboriginal Legal Service identified a programme of remedial
and compensatory measures to include public health measures, a
building programme, environmental rehabilitation, job creation and
development, and land. The Committee concluded that there was
no basis for any general compensation for the community arising
out of the manner of operation of the mine or mill. In the Committee's
view, the broad issues raised by the ALS should be addressed, not
as part of an inquiry into the affairs of a particular community,
but rather in the context of government policy on the advancement
and welfare of Aboriginal people generally.69
Nevertheless, the House of Representatives Committee did make
a number of limited recommendations relative to the future health
and well-being of the Baryulgil community. 70 These included the
establishment of an Aboriginal Medical Service in Grafton, which
would conduct regular clinics in the Baryulgil area, and measures
to reduce to a minimum, risk from airborne asbestos from the old
mine site.
The long Term
Consequences
In a sense, Hardies' response to the asbestos scare preceded the
Baryulgil Inquiry. Peacock's radio programmes in 1977 had sparked
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off a number of follow-up stories in major newspapers and on
television, and the anti-asbestos campaign that followed identified
Hardies, Australia's leading asbestos manufacturer, as its primary
target. Braithwaite and Fisse (1983) have documented Hardies'
reaction.71 They show how the anti-asbestos campaign adversely
affected Hardies' corporate image and employee morale and how,
partly at least in anticipation of adverse publicity, Hardies decided
to engineer its way out of the problem. The company invested large
sums in dust control technology, established employer-management
safety committees, and developed less hazardous substitutes for
asbestos in its building products. By September 1983, when the
Baryulgil Inquiry got under way, this strategy was largely complete.
Certainly, Hardies were at pains to minimise the effects of any
adverse publicity arising out of the inquiry. A strong team (including
a public relations consultant and the chief executive of Hardie
Trading Services) attended the Baryulgil hearings and argued long
and persuasively against the allegations made by the Aboriginal
Legal Service. However, it is doubtful whether the Baryulgil Report
will have any significant impact on Hardies' future behaviour. The
Baryulgil mine itself has long since been sold (and closed).
One issue, however, which might have far reaching economic
implications for Hardies, is the cost of damages awards made against
them. In September 1984, Mr Justic Rogers warned that asbestos
claims made against certain companies might run into large
amounts of money and the outcome of litigation "must be of
immense consequence to the future financial well-being of the
parties". 72
However, Justice Rogers may well have overstated the likely
implications for the companies concerned. Neither Hardies' shares
nor those of one of its insurers, QBE, have been much affected
by such dire warnings. 73 Hardies' latest annual report acknowledges
that it "has been joined as a defendant in six actions for damages
in Australia which allege asbestos-related disease" but continues
"the holding company and its subsidiaries believe that any amounts
that may ultimately be involved will not be significant and further
that its insurance arrangements will cover them".
The unavailability of class actions in Australia, the relatively
limited exposure of most Australian asbestos workers (as compared
230
ASBESTOS MINING AT BARYULGIL
for example to laggers of ships' boiler rooms in the United States),
and, in the case of Baryulgil workers, difficulties of getting an
award against the impecunious operating company AMPL and in
penetrating the corporate veil to sue Hardies themselves 74 , suggest
that Hardies are unlikely to be threatened by an avalanche of claims
in the manner of Johns-Manville, the American company which
in 1982 filed for protection under the US Federal Bankruptcy Code.
Finally, given the serious criticisms of the government regulatory
agencies made in the Baryulgil Report, what reforms are likely
to be made in the future? At the level of the enactment of safety
legislation, there is evidence that the bureaucracy is capable of
responding to pressure, no doubt brought from above by Ministers
who themselves have been criticised for their department's
shortcomings. Thus the ABC, in publishing the transcripts of Matt
Peacock's Broadband programmes, pointed out that:
Within months of the first program the Australian asbestos
standard was halved to two fibres per cubic centimetre and the
NSW Government had introduced its first asbestos regulations. 75
Subsequent pressure arising from the asbestos scare has resulted
in further changes to the asbestos standard. The current standard
is one fibre per millilitre of air for chrysotile asbestos and this
was adopted in New South Wales as the legal standard as from
June 1984.
So far as enforcement is concerned, the regulatory agencies
responsible for administrating occupational health and safety
legislation have been, from their inception, remarkably consistent
in their preference for a "kid glove" rather than a "mailed fist"
approach to enforcement, and particularly reluctant to invoke
criminal sanctions against employers who break the law.76
As early as 1903, the New South Wales Department of Mines
Annual Report stated that "every effort to induce compliance with
the Act by friendly representation is exhausted before any other
steps are thought of"77. Similar sentiments were expressed by the
responsible Minister in 1962 and more recently by the Williams
Report on Occupational Health and Safety in New South Wales.78
Senior officials in other States have expressed a similar view.78
231
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
In relation to the administration of asbestos regulations, the
inspectorate's approach at Baryulgil closely resembles that of the
regulatory agencies at Wittenoom in Western Australia, and Acre
Mill in the United Kingdom.79
It is against this general background that events at Baryulgil
must be judged. The deficiencies revealed by the inquiry are not
restricted to one set of inspectors or to the control of a particular
industry. Rather, they are endemic in the philosophy embraced
by the inspectorates as a whole.
The advent of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1983 (NSW)
has given the inspectorates more teeth. The Act provides for
maximum fines of $50,000 in the case of a corporation and $5,000
in the case of an individual and contemplates the introduction by
regulation of improvement and prohibition notices—administrative
devices which would enable inspectors to require that apprehended
breaches of the statutory safety standards be remedied within a
specified period (improvement notices), or that hazardous activity
cease within a specified period (prohibition notices).
However, it remains to be seen whether the 1983 Act will result
in any change of policy in the future and whether the inspectorates
will make effective use of the new enforcement mechanisms
available to them. If they do not, there may well be more Baryulgils,
and the number of deaths and disablements resulting from
occupational injury and disease will remain unacceptably high.
The author was specialist adviser to the House of Representatives Standing
Committee on Aboriginal Affairs Inquiry into the Effects of Asbestos Mining on
the Baryulgil Community. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the
Committee.
1. Peacock, M (1978), Asbestos: Work as a Health Hazard, ABC Transcripts, Sydney.
2. Aboriginal Legal Service (1984), Submission to House of Representatives
Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs Inquiry into the Effects of Asbestos
Mining on the Baryulgil Community.
232
ASBESTOS MINING AT BARYULGIL
3. Baryulgil Report (1984), "The Effects of Asbestos Mining on the Baryulgil
Community", Report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on
Aboriginal Affairs, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
4. Ibid, ch. 5.
5. Ibid, 7.1-7.18.
6. Ibid, 7.33.
7. Ibid, 7.36-7.40.
8. Ibid, 7.44.
9. Ibid, 5.22.
10. Ibid, 5.26.
11. Ibid, 5.28.
12. Ibid, 5.44.
13. Ibid, 5.49.
14. This was the level recommended by the National Health and Medical Research
Council in 1969, adopted by Hardies in that year, and ultimately applied as
the legal standard at Baryulgil in January 1973.
15. Baryulgil Report, op cit supra note 3, 5.51.
16. Ibid, 5.54.
17. Ibid, 5.55.
18. Inter-house letter from V Gerard, 7 February 1972.
19. Baryulgil Report, op cit supra note 3, 5.65-5.73.
20. Ibid, 5.74.
21. Ibid, 5.152.
22. .Ibid, 5.154.
23. Ibid, 5.112.
24. Ibid, 5.113.
25. Hardies argued that it was only the very high levels of dust associated with
the textile industry that were thought (at least until the mid 1960s) to constitute
a hazard. This explanation, for good reason, was rejected by the Committee
(Baryulgil Report, 5.119).
26. Baryulgil Report, op cit supra note 3, 5.117.
233
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
27. Ibid, 5.48,5.101.
28. Ibid, 5.124.
29. Ibid, 5.147-5.151.
30. Ibid, 5.144.
31. Transcript of evidence, 182.
32. Baryulgil Report, op cit supra note 3,5.146.
33. Whether much regulation is actually intended to protect the public interest,
or whether it is effective in doing so, is, of course, another question. For a
summary of the literature see Fels, A (1982), "The Political Economy of
Regulation", University of New South Wales Law Journal, 5, 29-60.
34. Gunningham, N (1984), Safeguarding the Worker, Law Book Company, Sydney.
35. Responsibility for control over air and water pollution lay initially with the
Department of Health and later with the State Pollution Control Commission
(SPCC). These agencies played a very subordinate role in relation to Baryulgil.
Indeed the SPCC failed almost entirely to perform its functions at all (Baryulgil
Report, 6.48-6.76,6.93). Accordingly the present account will focus on the roles
of the Mines Inspectorate and the Department of Health.
36. Mines Inspection Act (NSW) s. 36; Baryulgil Report op cit supra note 3, 6.5.
37. Ibid, 6.7.
38. Ibid, 6.11.
39. Ibid, 6.29.
40. Ibid, 6.13.
41. Ibid, 6.16.
42. Ibid, 6.23-6.24.
43. Ibid, 5.71-5.75.
44. Ibid, 6.34.
45. Ibid, 6.35-6.36.
46. Ibid, 6.40.
47. Ibid, 6.40, 6.41, 6.43.
48. Vic. Harmful Gases, Vapours, Fumes, Mists, Smokes and Dusts Regulations 1945,
made pursuant to the Health Act 1945.
234
ASBESTOS MINING AT BARYULGIL
49. This amendment was introduced not at the initiative of the Mines Department
but in order to achieve consistency with the Factories (Health and Safety-Asbestos
Processes) Regulations 1977.
50. Even these regulations did not cover all workers. It was only when further
regulations were made in 1984, that the workforce as a whole received
protection.
51. Transcript of Evidence, 10 February 1984,1158.
52. Baryulgil Report, op cit supra note 3, ch. 3.
53. Transcript of Evidence, 1120.
54. Baryulgil Report, op cit supra note 3,6.83.
55. Such a policy is more easily identifiable in the case of the Mines Inspectorate
than is the case of the State Pollution Control Commission. The latter had
responsibility for control of air and water pollution emanating from the Baryulgil
site (Baryulgil Report, 6.48-6.78) but failed almost entirely to discharge its
responsibilities in relation to Baryulgil and it was often difficult to identify
any policy (apart from inertia) governing its actions.
56. Transcript of Evidence, 1124.
57. Ibid, 1122-1123.
58. Baryulgil Report, op cit supra note 3, 6.84.
59. Gunningham, op cit supra note 34; Hopkins, A and Parnell, N (1984), "Why
Coal Mine Safety Regulations are Not Enforced", International Journal of the
Sociology of Law, 12, 179-194.
60. Baryulgil Report, op cit supra note 3, 6.86.
61. Hall, T (1980), The Ugly Face of Australian Business, Harper and Row, Sydney;
Peacock, op cit supra note 1.
62. Layman, L (1984), "Occupational Health at Wittenoom 1943-1966", Paper
presented to the ANZSEARCH/APHA Conference, University of Adelaide.
63. Central Asbestos v Dodd, (1972) 1 All ER 1135 per Lord Salmon, 1162.
64. Madden, M (1976), Report by the Parliamentary
Administration to Mr Max Madden MP C/253/V 1976.
Commissioner for
65. House of Representatives Standing Committee of Environment and
Conservation (1982), Second Report on Hazardous Chemicals, Australian
Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 133.
66. Baryulgil Report, op cit supra note 3, ch. 8.
67. Ibid, ch's 5 and 6.
68. Ibid, ch. 10 and Appendix III.
235
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
69. Ibid, 10.2-10.6.
70. Ibid, ch. 10.
71. Braithwaite, J and Fisse, B (1983), "Asbestos and Health: A Case of Informal
Social Control", Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 16,
67-80.
72.
The Age 20 November, 1988.
73. Sydney Morning Herald 22 November 1988.
74. Baryulgil Report, op cit supra note 3, ch. 9.
75. Peacock, op cit supra note 1.
76. Carson, W G (1970), "White Collar Crime and the Enforcement of Factory
Legislation", British Journal of Criminology, 10, 383-398; Carson, W G (1979),
"The Conventionalisation of Factory Crime", International Journal of the
Sociology of Law, 7, 37-60; Gunningham, op cit supra note 34; Hopkins and
Parnell, op cit supra note 59.
77. NSW Department of Mines (1903) Annual Report, Government Printer, Sydney.
78. NSW Parliamentary Debates (1982) (3rd ed), 1710; Williams Report (1981),
Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Occupational Health and Safety, NSW
Government Printer, Sydney.
79. Broughton, R (1975), "The Participation and Role of Legislation in Accident
Control", SESA Seminar, Accident Control—Towards an Applied Science,
Canberra; Prior, P F (1985), "Enforcement: An Inspector's View" in Creighton,
W B and Gunningham, N (eds), The Industrial Relations of Occupational Health
and Safety, Croom Helm Australia, Sydney; Hall, op cit supra note 61; Layman,
op cit supra note 62; Madden, op cit supra note 64.
236
W
H
I
n view of the limited knowledge of corporate misconduct and
its control in Australia, a book such as this can only raise more
questions than it answers. These concluding pages seek to draw
together some of the common issues running through the case
studies, and to make some tentative generalisations about the
circumstances giving rise to corporate crime, and about the
inadequacy of current strategies for prevention and control. We
offer some suggestions for reform, but more importantly, identify
issues and problems for further inquiry.
The studies illustrate rather forcefully that Australian
companies, agents acting in furtherance of corporate objectives,
or individuals exploiting the corporate form have been responsible
for inflicting a wide range of harm. Some of this harm has occurred
in undeniable breach of the criminal law, while other cases have
involved conduct defined simply as unlawful. In other cases, liability
at either criminal or civil law appears to be out of the question.
But the purpose of the case studies in this volume has not been
to denigrate or to belittle Australian enterprise for its harmful and
often unrepentant conduct. Rather, the cases have been collected
to draw attention to the shortcomings which characterise some
aspects of commercial life, and to suggest ways in which the
standards of Australian corporate citizenship may be improved.
The deaths, injuries and financial losses arising from the
corporate practices discussed were neither necessary nor inevitable.
They were not crimes of passion, occurring in a rage triggered
by some actual or perceived insult, nor were they crimes of need.
None of the cases in this collection involved businesses on the brink
of bankruptcy, although the long-term viability of the Port Pirie
smelter remained in question, and the Baryulgil asbestos mine was
a marginal operation within the Hardie group. Some of the
237
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
companies under review were among Australia's largest and most
profitable corporations.
Only two or three of the decisions which gave rise to the harmful
practices described above could be described as impulsive or
irrational. The intransigence of Sir Reginald Ansett could perhaps
be characterised in this way, as might the high rolling investment
practices of Andrew Stathis of Bishopsgate Insurance.
Whether the high-risk investments which led to the downfall
of TEA could also be regarded as impulsive is doubtful, although
the secret reports commissioned by the Victorian Government might
one day reveal otherwise.
Rather, the corporate behaviour in most of the cases presented
in this book was instrumental, not expressive.1 In some instances
the conduct was planned, one imagines calmly and rationally, by
pinstriped executives in the comfortable surroundings of high-rise
boardrooms. In others, notably the Appin case, the Kellogg's case,
and perhaps Baryulgil, the decisions creating those conditions
which gave immediate rise to the injuries in question were made
by middle managers and supervisors, not by senior executives.
Indeed, in some instances they were non-decisions, errors of
omission rather than commission.
Employers never intended their workers to be killed. Rather, the
harm occurred because there was insufficient foresight, wilful
blindness, or an unwillingness to make expenditure which would
have ensured that the hazards of a working environment were
minimal. Concern for profit took precedence over responsibilities
to consumers or employees.
Are corporations inherently criminogenic? Is there something
about the structure of a company which allows for responsibility
to be diffused throughout an organisation so that blame for harmful
acts or omissions cannot be "sheeted home" to any individual?
Social psychologists have long been aware of the "risky-shift"
phenomenon, where decision-makers tend to be less cautious when
acting in groups than when alone.2 Psychologists have used the
term "groupthink" 3 to refer to the over-optimism, lack of vigilance,
pressures toward uniformity, avoidance of controversy, and the
unwillingness to question weak arguments which may contribute
to grossly miscalculated decisions in some organisations.
238
CONCLUSION
To be sure, the culture of a corporation may be conducive to
cutting corners or to "achieving results at any cost". It may also
be the case that the experience of working within an organisation
can insulate one from the world outside—to the extent that workers,
consumers, or the public at large become dehumanised. It is a long
way from the boardroom table to the coal face or the factory floor.
One problem common to chief executives of large organisations
is a lack of access to vital information of an adverse nature. 4 Perhaps
the most recent dramatic example of the unfortunate consequences
of imperfect information flow within an organisation may be seen
in the ill-fated launching of the US space shuttle Challenger.
Although engineers expressed strong reservations about the effects
of cold weather on the shuttle's rocket boosters, NASA's middle
managers failed to communicate these concerns to agency
executives. 5
Such communication breakdowns may be grounded in organisational culture. Subtle pressures exist within both public and
private sector organisations to discourage the upwards
transmission of "bad news". Indeed, the old fable about the king
who killed the messenger bearing news of a military defeat remains
apposite. Yet it is very much in the interests of executives to be
made aware of impending problems before they attain crisis
proportions.
Another possible source of communications failure is the
structure of the organisation itself. A steep hierarchical structure
with a formal chain of command is more likely to inhibit the flow
of adverse information than an organisation which provides for
easier access to senior executives. A "flatter" organisational
structure consisting of small units makes it more difficult to conceal
bad news. Formal incentives may also be employed to encourage
prompt reporting of problems.
The collapse of TEA might have been averted had information
regarding its financial vulnerability been made available at an
earlier date. In the clubroom atmosphere of TEA board meetings,
the directors of a company whose motto was "I go on forever"
may have been disinclined aggressively to question investment
decisions. Whether the risks posed by the Dalkon Shield were made
apparent to Robins's senior management early on is open to
239
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
question. If there was an initial lapse in communication it was
compounded by the eventual failure to acknowledge risks which
had become all too obvious. Communication breakdowns were also
identified as having contributed to the Appin mine disaster. Chronic
safety hazards appear not to have come to the attention of senior
executives, and circumstances of the ventilation changeover were
inadequately communicated to mine personnel.
Although the dynamics of decision-making are not always clear,
in many cases it is possible to apportion responsibility for the
misconduct in question without great difficulty. In the cases
involving relatively small enterprises, the behaviour was a matter
of individual choice on the part of the principal. The medical
practitioner who submitted fraudulent bills, the purveyors of
submerged land and tax evasion schemes, the small meat processors
who substituted horsemeat and kangaroo for beef, all knew precisely
what they were doing.
In the cases involving industrial safety, knowledge of the risks
posed by routine company procedures was not limited to the
immediate supervisor on the factory floor. In the Baryulgil case,
notification of elevated dust levels was on several occasions
transmitted to Hardie headquarters.
In the TEA case, the alleged insider trading and receipt of secret
commissions were, of course, individual acts. Other decisions,
however, for example those concerning high-risk investments and
the composition of financial statements, appear to have constituted
either intentional acts or failure to exercise adequate oversight by
the TEA board. The decision to discriminate against female pilots
was nominally a collective one, but in reality one dominated by
Sir Reginald Ansett.
Regulatory Inadequacy: Law and
Administration
As is the case with conventional street crime, much corporate crime
is a product of opportunity. A number of overseas studies cited
by Braithwaite 6 reveal that opportunities to commit corporate crime
are enhanced by relaxed enforcement practices. One theme boldly
apparent in this collection of studies has been the permissive
regulatory context within which many cases of misconduct took
240
CONCLUSION
place. In a number of instances, the law itself was patently
inadequate to prevent the behaviour in question, either because
of inherent ambiguities or loopholes or because of prospective
penalties which posed no credible deterrent threat. Recall how the
risk of a paltry fine hardly discouraged the fly-by-night operators
in the export meat industry from their fraudulent practices. The
sorry state of Australian tax law as it existed in the late 1970s,
a patchwork of legislation the permissiveness of which was
reinforced by decisions of the High Court of Australia, created the
widespread impression that income tax was optional for the rich
and constituted a positive invitation to tax consultants to stretch
their advice to the limits of the law . . . and beyond.
Recall from the Kellogg's case how the New South Wales
regulations required that pressure vessels be effectively isolated
from sources of steam when a government inspection was carried
out, but that similar protections were not accorded employees under
normal working conditions. The continued availability and use of
the Dalkon Shield long after its hazards became apparent constituted yet another scathing indictment of the Australian regulatory
process.
Asbestos regulations were not enacted in New South Wales until
1964, some 33 years after their introduction in Britain. South
Australia, the home of the world's largest lead smelter, was a decade
behind the eastern states in the introduction of lead emission
standards. There remain no regulatory standards governing
emissions from coke ovens in New South Wales.
In the face of such weak legislation or subordinate regulation,
it is perhaps not surprising that the enforcement strategies of
regulatory authorities were in most cases mild. Those charged with
responsibility for regulating the description and quality of export
meat saw their legislation as hardly worth enforcing. But weak
enforcement can by no means be explained entirely by weak
legislation; a recent study of regulatory enforcement in Australia
shows that regardless of the powers at their disposal, which in
some cases are formidable indeed, Australian regulatory officials
prefer to seek regulatory compliance through negotiation, consultation and compromise rather than through rigorous enforcement. 7
In appropriate circumstances, such a non-confrontationist
241
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
strategy can be most effective. It is particularly suited to situations
which involve recurring contact between inspectorial officials and
company management. In the opinion of many regulators, the
provision of technical assistance, friendly advice, or a gentle note
of caution can achieve compliance more readily than the threat
of formal legal action and the polarisation which this can entail.
Indeed, an adversary relationship may induce a siege mentality
in some corporate officials, an intransigent resistance to change,
and a disinclination to comply with regulations. 8
On the other hand, a regulatory strategy based essentially on
negotiation and persuasion may be dangerous indeed, particularly
when there is no credible threat of formal sanctions in the event
of chronic non-compliance.
A number of the cases in this book illustrate the futility of
adopting an informal regulatory strategy without providing a
credible deterrent threat for use when the need may arise. Such
regulatory breakdown has been particularly characteristic of
occupational health and safety regulation, and was clearly visible
in the Appin, Kellogg's and Baryulgil cases.
The challenges facing Australian regulatory agencies today are
twofold. First, they must develop the ability to discern precisely
when existing methods of informal social control begin to lose their
effectiveness. More sophisticated analysis is required to determine
just when to shift from friendly persuasion towards more aggressive
responses to unacceptable corporate behaviour. Then regulatory
authorities must identify those formal strategies, be they administrative, civil, or prosecutorial, which are best suited to the
prevention of future corporate misconduct. 9
An unduly gentle approach to business regulation characterises
a number of the above case studies. The reluctance of State
corporate affairs commissions to prosecute for late lodgment of
returns provided the environment in which "bottom of the harbour"
entrepreneurs could thrive. The tolerance by the Office of the
Insurance Commissioner of similar delinquency of documentation
by firms in the insurance industry added to the delay in discovering
the Bishopsgate debacle. The art of perfunctory inspection and
minimal enforcement has been all but perfected by occupational
health and safety authorities in Australia. 10 Inspectorial inertia
242
CONCLUSION
characterised governmental response to the plight of the Baryulgil
asbestos miners, the Port Kembla coke oven operators and the Appin
colliery workers. Attempts to negotiate compliance in these cases
can only be regarded as having failed dismally.
It has been suggested that a considerable amount of regulatory
failure may be traced to capture—that is the internalisation of
company values by regulatory officials.11 Avoiding capture can be
difficult. Few would argue that the effectiveness of regulatory
agencies could be improved if they were so distant from their client
industries that they knew little or nothing of their day-to-day
operations and problems. The quickest path to acquiring knowledge
will always be to work in or with the industry. And almost
invariably, this means assimilating its values. The area of
regulation which is most commonly suggested to be characterised
by capture is occupational health and safety. Indeed, suggestions
of capture appear in three of the four occupational health and safety
cases in this book. In the Appin case, it was argued that capture
of the inspectorate led to persistent non-enforcement of mines
regulations. In the coke ovens case, it was observed that officials
saw fit to provide information about emission levels to the company,
but not to the workers. In the Baryulgil case, plant managers were
routinely advised of forthcoming inspections and never were the
asbestos workers warned by State health and safety authorities
of the workplace hazards they faced.
Beyond capture, some instances of regulatory breakdown arise
from corrupt practices. Bribery is a common business practice
overseas.12 Allegations of bribery in Australia are not unusual,
particularly in New South Wales, but documented examples are
less common. Of the cases included in this book, the most obvious
examples of corruption were found in the meat substitution scandal,
where not only Commonwealth meat inspectors but also officers
of the Australian Federal Police were culpable. Another example
occurred in the medifraud context, where Commonwealth
employees were alleged to have advised certain medical practitioners
of forthcoming visits by health investigators.
Inadequate regulatory performance may also reflect the structural and managerial shortcomings of regulatory bureaucracies.
Australian regulatory bureaucrats are, first and foremost,
243
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
bureaucrats. As such, they tend to keep a low public profile, and
avoid "rocking the boat". Indeed, they generally succeed in escaping
public attention except in instances of major scandal.
Regulatory authorities' criteria of performance and productivity
are not phrased in terms of law enforcement. In most instances,
they are not held accountable for corporate misconduct occurring
under their regulatory purview. Rarely are they called upon to
answer for their inaction; rarely do they respond with other than
platitudes.
The cases in this book suggest that neither business selfregulation nor a continuation of the regulatory status quo may
be regarded as adequate safeguards against corporate misconduct.
In many instances, it has been the citizen, not the government,
who has mobilised the law in the aftermath of corporate illegality.
As we saw in the case study of the tobacco and advertising
industries, the apparatus of self-regulation functioned much more
effectively against government sponsored anti-smoking campaigns
than against tobacco promotions. It was not the Australian
Broadcasting Tribunal or any other government authority which
bought a prosecution against United Telecasters for broadcasting
the' 'Winfield Spectacular'', but rather a private citizen. In a number
of cases, government intervention was triggered automatically.
Industrial fatalities, such as the Appin and Kellogg's cases,
inevitably attract the attention of the authorities. It does appear,
however, that in the latter case the decision to prosecute was largely
influenced by pressure from the father of the deceased. In the meat
substitution case, the Australian Government was notified by
overseas authorities, who in effect demanded a firm response as
a condition of future export arrangements. Company collapses
inevitably come to official attention, although only the most
dramatic, such as TEA, ever get more than a second look. Even
then, corporate affairs commissions in Australia are so overwhelmed with cases of serious misconduct that they are forced
to overlook most of them. 13
Over the past two decades, the United States has seen a number
of "grass roots" challenges to corporate wrongdoing.14 A number
of the cases in this book have illustrated the role which can be
played by private citizens and groups in confronting corporate
244
CONCLUSION
misconduct and inadequate governmental response in Australia.
By highlighting the deaths and injuries which resulted from
defective intra-uterine devices, groups like the Public Interest
Advocacy Centre not only alerted members of the public and medical
practitioners about such hazardous products, but they also
highlighted gross inadequacies in the prevailing regime of
therapeutic goods regulation. The Russell Island land fraud
investigation might never have happened had Dennis and Patricia
Gibbons not compiled a dossier summarising the experience of
themselves and others.
In some overseas industries, consumer boycotts have succeeded
in producing significant improvements in corporate conduct.
Perhaps the most successful of these was the boycott of Nestl£'s
products in response to the company's aggressive marketing of
infant formula in the third world.15
The threatened boycott of Ansett Airlines may not have dissuaded
Sir Reginald from his intransigent opposition to hiring a female
pilot. It did, however, demonstrate to other Australian business
executives that certain types of business conduct can be so counterproductive as to be uneconomic.
Perhaps the area with the greatest potential for citizen self-help
is occupational health and safety. Left to their own devices,
employers would appear to have insufficient incentives to enhance
the safety of their workplaces. Regulatory enforcement is negligible.
Through insurance, the costs of workers' compensation are spread
throughout each industry, and their deterrent influence is thus
significantly diluted. Moreover, production pressures and desire
to maximise profit often drive companies to cut corners in matters
regarding safety. This appears especially to be the case in today's
economy where there is a surplus of unskilled labour. Although
renewed interest in occupational health and safety enforcement
throughout Australia has been accompanied by some restructuring
of inspectorial organisation and procedure, whether the political
will exists to effect more than symbolic changes remains to be
seen. Meanwhile, a considerable degree of responsibility for vigilance in the area of workplace safety must rest with trade unions.
Worker-management safety committees, which draft safety rules
for particular workplaces and monitor them on a continuing basis,
245
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have been a fact of life in Europe for many years. 16 The institution
of worker safety representatives with the power to stop production
already has a precedent in Australia—the Queensland Government
contributes $24,000 to the salary of full-time union safety inspectors
in coalmines. The Mines Department of Western Australia pays
the entire salary of full-time union safety inspectors. 17
Such institutional involvement of workers in the regulatory
process may be less costly and more effective than deploying legions
of government inspectors, if something less than a fully adequate
alternative. It has great potential not only in the occupational health
and safety field, but in other areas of regulation as well.
Political
Constraints
Decisions on how to respond to corporate offending are not made
in a vacuum; rather, they are conditioned by a social and political
environment. In the United States, for example, there was a
significant contraction of regulatory activity under the Reagan
administration. 18
The political constraints which regulatory authorities faced in
the cases presented here did not automatically militate against strict
enforcement and the prosecution of offenders. Cases such as the
meat substitution scandal and the "bottom of the harbour" affair,
which became matters of partisan conflict at the Federal level and
thus highly publicised, tended to elicit a "crackdown". In the
medifraud context, this lasted until the organised medical profession
was able to regroup, flex its muscles, and convince the Commonwealth government to back down.
In the Kellogg's case, the fact that the deceased was a relative
of a State cabinet minister may also have explained the unusual
enthusiasm for prosecution by a department traditionally tolerant
of safety breaches.
Political circumstances had the predictable effect of muting
government response in a number of other cases. Recall how the
South Australian Government would not appear critical of BHAS
management, for fear of antagonising one of the State's largest
employers.
With the New South Wales steel industry already vulnerable,
246
CONCLUSION
the State Government was doubtless unwilling further to jeopardise
employment at the Port Kembla steelworks by requiring strict
adherence to emission standards. In recent years, only the Western
Australian government has demonstrated the willingness to
confront the joint forces of the tobacco and media industries in
the legislative arena. It lost.
Other research suggests that these are not just isolated examples:
Venturini 19 describes how political constraints influenced the
administration of the Trade Practices Act\ a recent survey of 96
regulatory agencies throughout Australia revealed that incidents
of political interference to inhibit enforcement or prosecution had
recently taken place in no fewer than 26 agencies.20
Corporate crime control was not foremost among the concerns
of those who drafted Australia's constitution. After nearly a century
of constitutional evolution, there remains considerable difference
of opinion whether regulatory responsibilities are best met by the
Commonwealth, by the States, or through some joint arrangement.
The current cast of characters responsible for each of the
substantive areas of regulation in Australia is too long to be
summarised here.21 What we can say is that the current alignment
of regulatory responsibility is a patchwork of arrangements forged
not as a result of rational planning but rather as a consquence
of rampant buckpassing and of concessions made for reasons of
political expediency.
This is especially significant in light of the increasing economic
integration of Australia. No longer are the state economies insulated
and independent. The collapse of a trustee company in Victoria
left investors stranded throughout Australia. A number of blocks
on Russell Island were bought by investors from southern states.
The abuse of pesticides in Queensland can have an adverse effect
on the water supply of Adelaide. Corporate crime no longer respects
state, or even national, boundaries. Yet many products and
processes are subject to parochial and varied regulatory standards.
The beneficiaries of such a regulatory melange are, of course,
the corporate predators. The compartmentalisation of bureaucratic
roles perhaps explains how a person awaiting trial on State drug
charges was able to acquire the controlling interest in an insurance
company yet not attract the attention of the Office of the Insurance
247
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Commissioner until a considerable proportion of the company's
assets had been moved offshore, with the protagonist soon to follow.
Had state corporate affairs commissions been more diligent in
their enforcement of laws regarding the lodgement of company
financial returns, the "bottom of the harbour" frauds might not
have developed into such a vast industry. Overlapping responsibilities of Commonwealth and State meat inspectors created a
climate of regulatory chaos which was readily exploited by the
less scrupulous practitioners in the export meat industry. Indeed,
Australia now faces the paradox whereby meat for export is
subjected to greater quality control and inspectorial scrutiny than
is meat for domestic consumption.
The parliaments of the Commonwealth and some, but not all,
states, have enacted anti-discrimination statutes. Despite the
tenuous existence of a national Human Rights Commission, and
constitutional authority flowing from various international
covenants, the Commonwealth Government still treads very lightly
in Queensland regarding matters of alleged discriminatory practice.
Interstate variations in cigarette excise taxes not only enhance the
health risk of residents in low excise States, but also provide an
incentive for cigarette smugglers. States which threaten to impose
stricter standards of workplace safety or environment quality
themselves face the threat, if not the reality, of capital flight or
economic blackmail.
It would be easy enough to suggest that the solution to these
problems lies in centralisation—the assumption of regulatory
responsibility by the Federal Government. Whether or not primary
responsibility for regulation lies centrally, there can be little
argument that Federal Governments will come under increasing
pressure to intervene in States and territories with lax enforcement
practices. And yet centralisation is no panacea. Governments vary,
from time to time and from place to place, in the enthusiasm with
which they police and prosecute corporate crime. Whether the
current or any future Federal Government will have the political
will to improve the existing system of corporate crime control is
open to question.
248
CONCLUSION
Complexities of the Legal
Process
The formal legal system is an imperfect instrument for controlling
business misconduct. For reasons ranging from ignorance or
fatalism on the part of victims, to insufficient inspectorial resources,
a great deal of corporate crime never comes to the attention of
regulatory authorities. Of those cases which do, only a handful
of matters ever elicit a formal legal response. The reluctance of
authorities to mobilise the law stems from their own role perception
as advisers—rather than adversaries—of business. It is reinforced
by the perceived futility of prosecution in many cases. Assembling
sufficient admissible evidence to prevail over a tenacious and wellresourced defence is a daunting challenge in itself. But even in
the event of a successful prosecution, the leniency which routinely
characterises the sentencing practices of judges and magistrates
can only be discouraging.
For a citizen to seek redress at civil law can be as daunting.
Even if the problems of access to the court and standing prove
surmountable, the legal resources at the command of the ordinary
Australian are completely overshadowed by the resources and
expertise at the disposal of even average sized companies.
A number of studies have shown how the task of corporate crime
control has been made more difficult by complexities of the legal
process. To be sure, the rights of alleged corporate offenders, or
of any offenders for that matter, should be safeguarded. But
corporate offenders are often able to exploit their status and
resources to rise above the law. Explaining complex principles of
finance or engineering to a jury may be challenging enough;
consider, for example, how judicial and coronial authorities in the
Appin and Kellogg's cases recommended against prosecution despite
considerable evidence reflecting adversely upon the companies.
Reluctance of magistrates to convict members of the medical
profession for fraudulent billing actually led to legislative amendments which allow disqualification from the medical benefits
programme after two proven charges of fraud, rather than two
recorded convictions. The tortuous process of conciliation, hearing,
and appeal, can discourage a disadvantaged and inarticulate
individual from ever lodging a complaint of discrimination. When
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criminal charges are laid, the path from committal to trial to appeal
may be long indeed. The Russell Island trial had become the longest
trial in Australian history when it was finally aborted after 20
months. Because of the inherent limitations of the Australian legal
system, it is appropriate to explore less formal means of controlling
corporate misconduct. Of these, perhaps the most promising is
adverse publicity. Fisse and Braithwaite have shown how media
attention to corporate misconduct can have a reforming influence
on wayward businesses. 22 It may have a bonus salutary effect on
inept regulatory authorities as well.
Despite their reputation for being preoccupied with sex and
violence, the Australian media have played a role in the detection
and control of corporate misconduct. More often than not, however,
the role has been a passive one. Only in the case of the Baryulgil
asbestos miners was there anything approaching investigative
journalism, where a reporter more or less singlehandedly unearthed
a story. In the other cases, the media reported matters brought
to their attention by victims or by third parties, by special
commissions of inquiry, or through the normal operation of the
governmental process. By contrast, journalists overseas have made
numerous and significant contributions to exposing harmful
corporate conduct. The complicity of ITT in the overthrow of the
democratically elected government of Chile was disclosed by
columnist Jack Anderson. 23 Dowie (1977) first drew public attention
to fatal design flaws in the Ford Pinto.24 A San Francisco journalist,
Paul Shinoff, published evidence which revealed that Johns
Manville, the world's largest asbestos manufacturer, had concealed
the nature and extent of workplace health hazards from its
employees.25
Perhaps the most widely publicised of the cases reviewed in this
volume were the "bottom of the harbour" disclosures, the meat
substitution scandal, and the medifraud revelations. The degree
of publicity which they attracted was less a consequence of the
intrinsic harm of these practices, or of the culpability of their
perpetrators, than because the attending accusations of maladministration themselves became the subject of political confrontation
in the national arena. Scathing criticism of the Tax Office and
of the Deputy Crown Solicitor's Office by the Costigan Royal
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CONCLUSION
Commission, allegations of corruption in the Department of Primary
Industry, and evidence of medical benefits maladministration
published by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, provided
opposition parties with an abundance of debating points, which
the media were all too willing to cover.
Because of the very nature of media accounts, they tend to focus
on individual personalities rather than endemic practices and their
structural antecedents. Moreover, much less attention appears to
have been accorded those matters which occurred within the
boundaries of a single state, and issues such as occupational health
and safety which appear less likely to engender partisan conflict.
One final, and by now means insignificant, impediment to
publicity as a means of controlling corporate misconduct is the
law of libel. Indeed, the publication of this book was delayed for over
two years, and the text of one chapter significantly diluted on the
advice of a solicitor. Under current laws, which vary from State
to State within the Australian Federal system, powerful interests
may shield themselves from criticism, while at the same time
spending millions of dollars to fabricate a favourable public image.
Until all Australians enjoy freedom of expression, publicity will
remain an imperfect means of combating corporate crime.
The type of corporate crime which traditionally attracts the
harshest governmental response is commercial fraud. In Australia,
the most extreme negligence giving rise to death or injury of a
worker will attract no more than a fine, or perhaps, for members
of some professions, loss of licence. But fraud other than consumer
fraud can and does attract sentences of imprisonment. The reasons
for this contrast are numerous. Fraud consitutes breach of trust,
the cornerstone of the capitalist system. And the system c-f justice,
be it civil or criminal, reacts with greater rigour to the victimisation
of the affluent, prestigious and powerful, than to the poor and the
isolated.
Those corporate offenders who do become the subject of criminal
charges or civil action tend to fare rather well. The least fortunate
protagonist in the cases reviewed here, "bottom of the harbour"
entrepreneur Brian Maher, was sentenced to a total of five years'
imprisonment in October 1985. Following a successful appeal, the
sentence was reduced to two years and nine months. Otherwise,
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only the one or two most egregiously unabashed perpetrators of
meat substitution and medifraud saw the inside of a prison. The
remainder were fined and/or disqualified from meat exporting or
from the medical benefits programme. Kellogg's was convicted and
fined a relatively trivial amount for safety violations which led
to the death of one of its employees.
More than four years after the TEA collapse, the former managing
director of TEA was convicted and sentenced to prison. The former
chairman was still facing charges six years after the event. A
warrant still exists for the arrest of the principal of Bishopsgate
Insurance, who was arrested by Greek authorities. Charges against
the Russell Island defendants were dropped. Four years after the
"Winfield Spectacular", Channel 10 Sydney was convicted and fined
$2,000, although it successfully appealed in 1988 against the
conviction.
Recourse to the civil process resulted in the employment of
Deborah Wardley, and in compensation for the period in which
she was excluded from the Ansett training programme. Settlements
of an unspecified nature were reached in the Appin Mine and Port
Kembla coke oven cases. In the aftermath of the resort to bankruptcy
by A H Robins, settlements have finally been reached in the Dalkon
Shield Case. A number of suits brought by American and Australian
plaintiffs are pending against US tobacco companies; whether civil
actions brought by Australian smokers will ultimately succeed
remains to be seen.
Evidence appeared insufficient to support any action for damages
against Broken Hill Associated Smelters. Problems of standing
further inhibit civil action in that case.
Law Reform
The cases under review gave rise to significant law reform in some
areas, but to little change in others. The area most resistant to
change appeared to be insurance regulation. Despite occasional
recommendations by the Insurance Commissioner for the introduction of "fit and proper person" tests, no such requirements have
yet been introduced. Moreover, exchange control regulations have
actually been relaxed, greatly facilitating the movement of funds
252
CONCLUSION
offshore. The Commonwealth Government appears to have come
to the conclusion that the benefits to be gained from deregulation
of financial institutions outweigh the likelihood and the risk of
future predatory practices in the insurance industry.
The TEA collapse led to a wholesale revision of the trustee law
in Victoria and elsewhere. Occupational health and safety law in
New South Wales had been under review since the 1970s and the
Occupational Health and Safety Act 1983 introduced modest changes.
The mines inspectorate was incorporated into the Department of
Industrial Relations. In contrast to the paltry penalties previously
available, the new act provided for fines of $50,000 for corporations
and $5,000 for individuals. Nevertheless, it appears that the
government's strategy remains one of primary reliance on industry
self-regulation, with the role of the inspectorate one of consultation
and supervision, and less of enforcement.
The meat substitution scandal was quickly followed by a new
Export Control Act and by significant amendments to the Australian
Meat and Livestock Corporation Act, each drastically increasing the
penalties which can be imposed for breaches, and providing the
respective agencies with increased powers of search, seizure and
investigation. The "bottom of the harbour" affair gave rise to the
first significant reform to Australia's tax laws in a half century.
Regulatory
Reform
A number of cases resulted in substantial reform within the relevant
regulatory authorities. The "bottom of the harbour" affair led to
the establishment of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and to
a reorientation of enforcement resources within the Tax Office
towards some of the more complex cases that were previously
dismissed as not sufficiently cost-effective to pursue. The Department of Primary Industry established a new Export Inspection
Service and undertook a complete overhaul of export control and
inspection procedures. The medifraud scandal gave rise to a tough
new enforcement regime in the Commonwealth Department of
Health, which heralded a vigorous enforcement of the law until
it was dismantled in 1985 in deference to the medical profession
in New South Wales. A significant improvement in the scrutiny
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of medical devices and therapeutic goods was heralded as a result
of the Dalkon Shield case.
Corporate
Rehabilitation
A number of the companies under review took specific measures
to reduce the likelihood of further harm. Approved quality control
procedures are now in place throughout the export meat industry.
With the passing of Sir Reginald Ansett, Ansett Airlines are under
the managerial control of executives whose values are much more
attuned to those prevailing in contemporary Australia. The airline
became one of the original participants in the Commonwealth
Government's affirmative action programme.
After Kellogg's conviction following the death of an apprentice,
it repaired its hazardous rice cookers, appointed a health and safety
coordinator, and implemented a system of elected worker safety
committees in its plant. A safety training programme has been
introduced, and a permit system established to provide for special
authorisation and supervision in the case of dangerous tasks.
James Hardie Asbestos changed its name to James Hardie
Industries, invested considerable funds in dust control technology,
and developed less hazardous substitutes for asbestos in its
products. In addition, it too established employee-management
safety committees. The notorious Baryulgil facility has long since
been sold.
In the aftermath of the coke ovens controversy, BHP has invested
to a limited extent in improved coke oven technology, and has
instituted various training programmes. The systematic publication
of emission levels has still not been introduced, however.
Even where no legal action has been taken, certain firms have
been seen to change their practices. Broken Hill Associated Smelters
continues to deny that the accumulated emissions from their plant
have produced intellectual impairment in the children of Port Pirie.
They have nevertheless invested significantly in laundry and
washing facilities for their workers, and contributed to the State
Government's environmental health programme. They have in
addition appointed a manager for health and environmental affairs.
The tobacco industry remains unrepentant, still contending that
254
CONCLUSION
there is insufficient evidence of a relationship between cigarette
smoking and ill health. The advertising and media industries
continue to argue that if a product is legal to sell, it should be
legal to advertise; they insist that the public interest is best served
by self-regulation of their respective industries. With an eye to
the future, cigarette manufacturers are diversifying into other, less
contentious, areas of activity.
As a result of their more extreme difficulties, the Brian Maher
companies, TEA, Bishopsgate and Russell Island companies are
now defunct. Whether their principals will comport themselves
more responsibly in their future careers is open to question.
Corporate Social
Responsibility
In the 1980s, the extent to which companies should be constrained
by legal responsibilities has become a subject of considerable
controversy. Deregulation has become a fasionable topic, so much
so that Commonwealth and state governments of every political
persuasion have established committees to review existing
regulatory frameworks with an eye to dismantling them as far
as possible.
In such a political climate, to suggest that companies have
obligations to society beyond those required by law might be
regarded as quaintly archaic. The most extreme antagonists to such
a position would argue that the responsibility of companies, or of
those who manage them, is to make as much for their shareholders
as possible. On the other hand it could be suggested that some
enterprises are the beneficiaries of considerable government
largesse, whether in the form of subsidies or in the form of protection
from competition. Recall how Sir Reginald Ansett, who deeply
resented having to employ a female pilot, benefited handsomely
from the Australian Government's two airline policy, which he
staunchly defended.
In the Port Pirie case, we saw how smelter management
voluntarily improved shower and laundry amenities for workers,
and contributed to revegetation programmes and other civic events
in the local community. Company management was under no
obligation to do this. Cynics would argue that such gestures do
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not arise out of pure altruism, but rather are calculated to maintain
community and governmental good will. In the case of the tobacco
industry, sponsorship of cultural and sporting events may also be
regarded as a means of circumventing prohibitions on advertising
rather than as examples of corporate largesse.
Given the tremendous political and economic power which some
Australian and overseas multinational companies wield, they could
perform an important educative role within Australian society by
setting an example of generosity. Australian companies also have
a responsibility to prevent corporate crime, a responsibility which
they have yet to fulfil. Rarely, if ever, does one hear Australian
business organisations condemn the misconduct of one of their
members, even when it is the image and reputation of Australian
enterprise in general which stands to suffer.
When pressed, they may be expected to explain the behaviour
of one of their own in terms of a "rotten apple" theory, suggesting
that the transgressor in question is unique, or at worst represents
a small minority of their number. The collective response, usually
in the form of reassurances that self-regulation is the most effective
instrument of corporate crime control, is of a nature which tempts
one to suggest that corporate misconduct is the rule rather than
the exception. Australian companies owe it to themselves and the
public to be more aggressive in keeping their own houses in order.
DEREGULATION AND RISK
There can be little doubt that, in some sectors of the economy,
deregulation has proven on balance to be advantageous. New
competition in the banking industry, for example, may benefit both
the consumer and the economy, without greatly increasing the risk
of bank failure. It has been suggested that deregulation of the airline
industry (in relation to matters other than safety standards) may
bring substantial savings to passengers.
If Australian governments are to choose the path of deregulation,
they should do so with great care. In the United States, the rhetoric
and the reality of deregulation have been interpreted by less
responsible business people as an open invitation to predatory
conduct. Those who have chosen not only to probe the limits of
256
CONCLUSION
permissible conduct but also to transcend them, are not limited
to the marginal fly-by-night operators, but include some of the
largest and most prestigious corporations in America. In recent
years, that nation's largest defence contractors have not only
fraudulently padded their invoices, but have sold their government
dangerously defective equipment. A leading investment firm
obtained millions of dollars in interest by writing billions of dollars
of cheques against deposits that had not been collected. Pharmaceutical companies fabricated test results and marketed drugs
which produced fatal and other dangerous side effects. Chemical
manufacturers have negligently released toxic substances to the
environment causing immediate illness and posing the risk of death
and disease at some future date. In the end, it may not be possible
to relax governmental standards in Australia without having it
perceived as an open invitation by corporate predators, and without
jeopardising the well-being of many Australians.
New Techniques f o r C o r p o r a t e Crime
Control
The inadequacy of penalties imposed on corporate offenders, in
the rare event that the criminal process runs its course, would
appear to have little deterrent, rehabilitative, or retributive value.
Indeed, the adequacy of the civil justice system as a means of
compensating victims of corporate harm may also be called into
question. Only in the Wardley case was anything approaching a
satisfactory settlement achieved.
Even in light of the paucity of sentencing options available to
them, Australian judges and magistrates have shown a general
lack of imagination in responding to corporate offenders. A fine
of less than $1,000 imposed on the Australian subsidiary of a
multinational company could hardly be expected to have much effect
on the offender's subsequent behaviour.
But a sentence of probation, which could entail such conditions
as a change in standard operating procedures, or the special
allocation of corporate organisational and financial resources for
a company occupational health and safety programme, may be much
more appropriate. Such corporate probation might also be subject
to supervision by an appropriately qualified probation officer.26
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Another condition of probation might require the mobilisation
of a company's internal disciplinary processes, to investigate
misconduct, discipline responsible officers, and report to the court
on the outcome.27 Enforced self-regulation, where a company designs
and implements a compliance programme subject to periodic government audit, has also been heralded as a cost-effective alternative
to traditional regulatory approaches. 28
An appropriate probation order could also require an offending
company to place advertisements in the mass media informing the
public of past misbehaviour. Indeed, a precedent for this exists
in Australian law. Until a few years ago, publicans in Queensland
convicted of serving watered-down beer were required to post a
placard outside the premises, which disclosed their misdeeds.
The community service order, a sentencing option which has
been introduced in all Australian jurisdictions for individual
offenders, could usefully be imposed on corporate criminals as well.29
For example, a mining company convicted of an environmental
offence might be required to test the alternative methods of
reclaiming and revegetating abandoned mine sites.
Variations on the traditional monetary fine also merit consideration. An equity fine, for example, would require a company
to issue new shares to a victim compensation fund. 30 This would
dilute the value of shares held by existing shareholders; unlike
the conventional monetary fine, the cost cannot be shifted to
consumers.
A wide range of alternatives to traditional criminal penalties could
thus be directed against corporate offenders. Such new sentencing
options, if conscientiously employed, would constitute more
appropriate responses to corporate crime than the odd trivial fine.
More effective control of corporate crime in Australia will depend
upon the commitment of Commonwealth and state Governments.
Whether the political will exists to confront corporate misconduct
in anything more than a symbolic way is open to question. If the
political will were to exist, and be acted on, whether it would then
produce the oft-threatened flight of capital interstate or overseas
is unclear.
In the absence of governmental commitment, it should at least
be possible for citizens to protect themselves against corporate
258
CONCLUSION
predation to a greater extent than has been the case thus far. While
laws and powers available to governments are now generally
adequate, members of the public lack sufficient tools for defence
against predatory corporate conduct. In the event of government
inaction the citizen is so much more vulnerable.
Access to justice by individual Australians remains limited. A
spate of exceptions render freedom of information acts rather
toothless in those jurisdictions (the Commonwealth and Victoria)
which have them. Notice of recall of defective therapeutic goods
has been concealed from the consumer. Secrecy provisions in the
Insurance Act prevent access by prospective policyholders to information regarding the financial viability of insurance companies.
The results of governmental workplace inspections have been withheld from the workers whose very health and safety is in question.
Basic information which would assist individual Australians to
protect themselves is often denied.
There remain many impediments, both monetary and procedural,
which make it exceedingly difficult for an individual or group of
citizens to confront large and powerful intersts. In the initial days
of Mrs Wardley's confrontation with Ansett Airlines, the potential
legal and psychological costs of a prolonged struggle were not insignificant. The Dalkon Shield victims, in the absence of mutual
support and suffering the effects of serious injuries, faced an
American multinational pharmaceutical manufacturer. The
Baryulgil asbestos workers, members of Australia's most disadvantaged minority, no doubt would have regarded the legal system
as an instrument of repression rather than one of justice.
A great deal of controversy has arisen over proposals for class
actions and contingency fees in civil cases. While critics charge
that class actions have the potential to paralyse Australian business,
and that the introduction of contingency fees would transform the
legal profession into a gaggle of ambulance chasers, there is little
doubt that such innovations would significantly improve the
positions of individual Australians in their conflict with large
companies.
The use in Australia of cash rewards for information leading
to the conviction of offenders dates back to the days of the bushrangers. While the practice continues today for some of the more
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serious conventional crimes, such as murder or robbery, it has
yet to be used in the area of corporate crime. This is not the case
in some overseas jurisdictions, however. In the United States, for
example, the Internal Revenue Service offers informers a percentage
of unpaid taxes recovered from tax evaders.
Few people would regard the spectre of a nation of informers
with anything but distaste. It is, quite simply, un-Australian to
dob someone in. These practices are nevertheless becoming
institutionalised in Australia, at least with regard to small-time
street offenders. The highly publicised operation NOAH,
undertaken by Australian police forces and endorsed by the Prime
Minister of Australia, invites citizens to inform on their neighbours
for offences as petty as the simple possession of marijuana. If
Australian governments embrace enforcement practices such as
this for relatively trivial activities, they should have no difficulty
in extending the practice to crimes which have cost Australian
taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
If the case studies in this volume have demonstrated one thing,
it is that the primary task of confronting those who would seek
to improve corporate crime control in Australia is to change public
attitudes. There exists at present a general belief widespread in
the business community, but also in the public at large, that
substantive involvement by the State in business decisions is
inappropriate. The medical profession has prevailed on the
Commonwealth government to discontinue use of the very term
"overservicing". The accounting profession has long delayed the
adoption of uniform accounting standards. The insurance industry
for years resisted the introduction of a "fit and proper person"
test.
There nevertheless exists in Australia broad precedent for
authoritative government involvement in the policy and practice
of business organisations. Many regulatory statutes vest ordinary
government authorities such as factory inspectorates and corporate
affairs commissions with powers of entry, search, seizure and
investigation which would make them the envy of Australian police
forces. The National Companies and Securities Commission wields
considerable power in the areas of company takeovers and sharemarket transactions. It may, for example, all but dictate the terms
260
CONCLUSION
of a takeover, and may freeze or reverse trading in a company's
shares. No less an agency than the Reserve Bank of Australia,
responsible for ensuring the health and stability of the nation's
banking system, is formally empowered to seize gold held by a
bank and to determine the proportion of a bank's funds which
must be held in reserve. It may, in addition, march in and take
over the operations of a bank. More commonly, the Reserve Bank
exercises enormous powers of an informal nature. "We just ask
banks to do certain things and they do them". 31 This "vice regal
influence by suasion" 32 constitutes perhaps an extreme example,
but it suggests that there is ample precedent for effective cooperation
between government and industry in furtherance of the public
interest.
To be sure, the price of effective corporate crime control is some
limitation of freedom to do business. Similarly the price of public
safety in traditional arenas of criminal justice has been some
limitation of personal freedom. Elected governments have decided
that the dangers posed to society by traffic in illicit drugs are
sufficient to justify the interception of telephone communications.
Similarly, they have decided that the toll of death and injury on
the highways is sufficient to justify the introduction of random
breath testing. Comparable choices can be made in the areas of
occupational health and safety, environmental protection and
corporate affairs.
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20. Grabosky and Braithwaite, op cit supra note 7.
262
CONCLUSION
21. But see Grabosky and Braithwaite, op cit supra note 7.
22.
Fisse and Braithwaite, op cit supra note 15.
23. Ibid.
24. Dowie, M (1977), "Pinto Madness", Mother Jones, Sept/Oct, 2-13.
25. Brodeur, P (1985), Outrageous Misconduct: The Asbestos Industry on Trial,
Pantheon, New York.
26. Yoder, S (1978), "Criminal Sanctions for Corporate Illegality", Journal of
Criminal Law and Criminology, 69,40-58; Yale Law Journal (1979), "Structural
Crime and Institutional Rehabilitation: a New Approach", Yale Law Journal,
89,353-75; Stone, C (1975), Where the Law Ends: The Social Control of Corporate
Behaviour, Harper and Row, New York.
27. Criminal Law and Penal Methods Reform Committee of South Australia (1977),
Fourth Report: The Substantive Criminal Law, Government Printer, Adelaide.
28. Braithwaite, J (1982) "Enforced Self-Regulation: A New Strategy for Corporate
Crime Control", Michigan Law Review, 80,1466-1507.
29. Fisse B (1981), "Community Service as a Sanction Against Corporations",
Wisconsin Law Review, 970-1017.
30. Coffee, J (1981), "No Soul to Damn, No Body to Kick: An Unscandalized Inquiry
on the Problem of Corporate Punishment", Michigan Law Review, 79, 413-24.
31. Grabosky and Braithwaite, op cit supra note 7,132.
32. Livingstone, D (1984), "Changing Times in the Financial World", The Chartered
Accountant in Australia, June, 22-24.
263
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The editors wish to thank the following for the use of copyright material as acknowledged in
the text:
Chapter 1: Attorney-General's Department, Victoria, for McCabe, P.W., and Lafranchi, DJ., (1982)
Report of Inspectors Appointed to Investigate the Particular Affairs of Navilltts Pty Ltd and 922
other companies. Australian Government Publishing Service for Costigan, F. (1984) Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers, Final Report, Volume 1.
Chapter 2: Attorney-General's Department, Victoria, for Victorian Parliamentary Debates,
Assembly, 1982-83, 4716. Australian Consolidated Press for: J. Gilmore "When Two Wrongs
Make a Right", 29 June 1983 The Bulletin-, and Jury, A., and McCarthy, C., "How TEA Betrayed
Its T r u s t " , The Bulletin, 29 June 1983. John Fairfax & Sons Ltd for the: Beckingsale, C. "TEA
Statement Due this Week", Australian Financial Review, 20 June 1983; and correspondence
Bunning, P. to Simmons, R.L., Australian Financial Review, 12 April 1983. Rydge Publications
(Australia) Pty Ltd for Kavanagh, J. "TEA Case Lights Fire Under All Directors", vol. 56, July
1983.
Chapter 4: The Courier-Mail for articles on Russell Island, 21 March 1979 and 25 April 1984.
Chapter 5: Australian Government Publishing Service, for Woodward, A. (1982) Report of the
Royal Commission into Australian Meat Industry.
Chapter 8: Media Council of Australia, for the Voluntary Advertising Code for Cigarettes in
Australia (as it was then called and as it was then drawn in 1978).
Chapter 9: Attorney-General's Department, Victoria, for Victorian Parliamentary Debates,
Assembly, Session 1983-84, v.371,17 August 1983,400-401 and 405.
Chapter 10: Environment Health Branch, SA Health Commission, for Landrigan, Phillip (1983)
Lead Exposure, Lead Absorption, and Lead Toxicity in the Children of Port Pirie: A Second Opinion',
and South Australian Health Commission (1983) Report of the Lead Implementation Group.
Chapter 11: Legal Branch, Department of Minerals and Energy for Goran, A J . (1980) "Report
on the Appin Explosion". Publishing Marketing Australia for Mulock, R., "The NSW Government's Proposed Legislation to replace the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1912", The Australian
Coal Miner, June 1981.
Chapter 13: Federated Ironworkers' Association of Australia for the text of reforms sought
for BHP workers.
Chapter 14: The Australian Government Publishing Service for Baryulgil Report (1984) "The
Effects of Asbestos Mining on the Baryulgil Community", Report of the House of Representatives
Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs.
Every effort has been made to contact copyright owners where material does not come within
the term "fair usage".
264
INDEX
Note: Acts, Departments etc. are
Commonwealth unless otherwise
stated.
ABC programmes, 208,229,231
Abeles, Sir Peter, 136-7
Aboriginal Affairs. HR Standing
Committee on, 209, 212-13, 216,
228-29
see also Baryulgil Report
Aboriginal Legal Service, 213,
228-30
accounting standards, 21-2,40-1,
260
Acre Mill (UK). 232
advertising, see tobacco
advertising
Advertising Standards Council,
124
Aetna Insurance, 99-100
Airline Pilots' Federation, 135.137
Amalgamated Metalworkers and
Shipwrights Union, 171.191,
192
see also Port Kembla steelworks
Amatil, 125.128
American Home Products. 115
Anderson, Jack, 250
"Anderson Leaf" IUD, 99
Animal Health, Bureau of, 62, 69
Ansett. Sir Reginald, 134-8,238,
240,255
Ansett Airlines, 131-2,134-8,141.
254.259
Anti-Discrimination Act (NSW),
133, 141
anti-discrimination law, 132-4,
138-41,248
anti-smoking campaigns, 122,
124-7 244
ANZ Bank, 24.29
Appin Coalmine. 160-70, 172,240,
243,249
Appin mine disaster inquiry,
162-3,165-6
recommendations, 166, 249
Art Gallery of NSW, 128
Asbestos Mines Pty Ltd (AMPL),
209.212.231
asbestos mining, 209
health hazards, 209-11,215
dust level standards. 213,231,
241
asbestos-related disease, 208-12,
215,222 224.227-30
see also Baryulgil Aboriginal
community, Hardies
asset stripping, 1
Associated Securities Limited, 136
atherosclerosis, 119
Attorney General's Dept. 64
Australian Agricultural Health
and Quarantine Service
(AAHQS), 69
Australian Consumers'
Association (ACA), 73
Australian Drug Evaluation
Committee (ADEC), 97,109
Australian Federal Police (AFP),
63-4,67,69, 72, 74, 78,83, 85-6,
243
Australian Federation of Business
and Professional Women, 137-8
Australian Federation of
Consumer Organizations, 108
Australian Government
Administration, Royal
Commission into, 66
Australian Iron and Steel (A1S),
141,172 191,252
see also Broken Hill Proprietary
Ltd
Australian Labor Party (Vic), 137
Australian Law Reform
Commission, 40,113
Australian Meat and Livestock
Corporation (AMLC)t 65-6
Australian Meat and Livestock
Corporation Act
1977,67,71,
253
Australian Meat Industry, Royal
Commission into, see Woodward
Royal Commission
Australian Medical Association
(AMA), xii, 77,82,125
Australian Quarantine and
Inspection Service (AQIS),
69-70,72-3
Australian Ratings, 21
Australian subsidiaries, 105-6
Australian Taxation Office, 3-4,
12. 250-1 253
Australian Taxpayers'
Association, o
bank accounts investigated by
Costigan, 11
banking industry, 36
Bank of Adelaide, 24
bankruptcy, xii
Baryulgil Aboriginal community,
208-11,213, 222.228-9
Baryulgil asbestos mine, 208-17,
219-22,228-31,237,240,250,
254
see also Baryulgil Report,
Hardies
Baryulgil Report, 200,202-3, 209,
215-16,219-22,225-30
Bauer, Commissioner J., 200,
202-3
BC and M Railroad v State (US),
183
Beach, Mr Justice, 135-6
. beef export trade, see meat
industry
Bhopal, 111-12
BHP. see Broken Hill Proprietary
Ltd
Billboard Utilising Graffitists
Against Unhealthy Promotions,
127-8
birth defects, 119
Bishopsgate Insurance, 31-41, 242
see also Stathis, Andrew
Bishop v Commonwealth of
Australia, 126
Bielke-Petersen, Sir Johannes, 53,
56-7
Boiler and Pressure Vessel
Regulations (NSW), 178,180-81
bottom of the harbour schemes,
1-14, 242,246,248,250,253
boycotts, 137, 245
bribery, 243
Dalkon Shield, 94
meat industry, 6 2 - 3 , 6 8 , 7 0 , 7 3
Brisbane CIB Fraud Squad
Investment Club, 17
Broadcasting and Television
Amendment Act
1976,122,127
Broken Hill Associated Smelters,
143-5,147-50, 152-3,155-7,
247, 254-5
and greening programme, 153,
255
265
and Landrigan report, 152
see also Port Pirie lead smelter
Broken Hill Proprietary Ltd, 141,
191-200,203-5,254
see also Port Kembla steelworks
BT Australia. 33.36
BUGA UP. 127-8
Building Societies Act (Qld), 8
Bulletin, 1
Bunning, Peter, 19,21-2,26
Bureau of Animal Health (BAH),
62,69
Burke, Mr (Baryulgil manager),
214,217-18
Burns. MJ., 197
Burns, Tom. 53,55-6,58
Cain, John. 22-3, 24
cancer, 119.126,191-2,196,
209-10
capitalist system, 251
see also profit motive
cardiovascular disease, 119
Challenger (US space shuttle). 239
Chandler High School, 131
Channel 10 Sydney, 127,196, 252
Chile, 250
cigarettes, see smoking, tobacco
advertising, tobacco industry
class actions, 100,102-3,106,113,
230 259
Cleary, Jeff, 175,182-3,184-5,188
Cleary, Mr (Jeffs father), 182,
185-6
coalminers, 172-3
Coal Mines Regulation Act 1912
(NSW), 161-3,167,170-2
Coal Mines Regulation Act 1982
(NSW). 162-4,173
coke ovens, 191-3,199-205,241,
254
College of Psychiatry, 80
Comgroup Supplies Pty Ltd, 70
commercial fraud, xii, 251-2
Common Cause, 172
community service orders, 258
Companies Act, 27,39
Companies Act (Vic), 27
Companies Code. 18
Companies (Victoria) Code, 27
compensation, 185-6,228-9,249
competition, xiv
Conciliation and Arbitration Act,
137
consumer protection, xv, 50. 69.
Ill
see also Trade Practices Act
contingency fees, 102,106-7,259
contraceptives
Commonwealth legislation,
96-9,107-8,110-11
state legislation, 99-101
see also IUDs
"Copper 7" IUD, 95.98
Coroners Act (NSW), 178
coroner's obligations, 178-9
corporate affairs commissions, 244
Corporate Affairs Office (Vic), 2
corporate crime control, 244-5,
257-8,261
citizens' role, 244-5
corporations
communications breakdown,
239-40
inherently criminogenic? 238
psychology, 238
responsibility, 255-6
structure. 239
STAINS O N A WHITE COLLAR
Costigan, Frank, 1,2
Costigan Royal Commission, 1-2,
4.10-11,250-1
Courier Mail, 53-4
CRA, 143
Cranbrook School, 31
Crawford, Dr W„ 194-6,202
reports, 194-5, 201
Crimes Act, 83
Crimes Act (Vic), 26
Crown Solicitor s Office
criticised by Costigan, 250-1
investigated, 11
medifraud, 83,86
reluctance to prosecute, 64
WA branch, 4
CSIRO Division of Soils, 145
CSR. 209
Curran v Federal Commissioner of
Taxation, 3, 6
Customs Act 1901, 97
Customs (Prohibited Imports)
Regulations 1956, 97.108
Daily Mirror, quoted 182
Dalkon Shield, xii-xiii. 92-115,
239,241 252-4, 259
see also Robins, A.H.
Davie, M„ 250
Davis, Hugh, 92-3
Davis, Llew, 79
Defence Forces. 131-2, 139
deregulation, 124,255-7
Director of Public Prosecutions
(DPP), 12, 85, 253
discrimination in employment,
132-41.240,248-9
DOH, 218-19,221
Donnelly (bottom of the harbour),
11-12
Doumany, Sam, 54-5
drugs, illicit. 2, 121
East Coast Island Sales, 58
Education and Health, ACT House
of Assembly Standing
Committee on, 110
employers' responsibility, 238
Environment and Conservation,
HR Standing Committee on,
203,227-8
Environment and Planning, SA
Dept of, 149
Equal Opportunity Act 1977 (Vic).
132-4,136,137
Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (Vic),
138
Equal Opportunity Board (EOB)
(Vic), 132-3, 135-7
Equal Opportunity Tribunal
(NSW), 139-41
European Economic Community
(EEC), 70
Export Control Act 1982, 71, 253
ExjxirHnspection Service (EIS),
see also Australian Quarantine
Inspection Service
Export (Meat) Regulations, 66
Eysenck, H J „ 120
Factories, Shops and Industries Act
(NSW), 141,178,180-1
Factory Inspectorate (UK), 227
Faint, Lloyd, 8-11
false description of goods, 71
FDA (US), 94-6
Federated Housing Fund of
Australia Ltd, 7-8
Federated Ironworkers Union,
191-2
see also Port Kembla steelworks
Federated Ship Painters and
Dockers Union, 1.9
Federated Ship Painters and
Dockers Union, Royal
Commission on the Activities of,
see Costigan Royal Commission
Finance and Guidance Pty Ltd,
7-8
finance industry, 50
Finemore.John, 26
fines, xv, 58,66-9, 71, 73,84, 127,
171,173,180, 182-3,189,204,
226,258
Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act 1938
(USA), %
Ford Motor Company (US), xii,
167, 250
fraud, see commercial fraud, meat
substitution scandal, medifraud,
Russell Island land fraud, social
security fraud, tax evasion
Fraud and Overservicing
Detection Scheme (FODS), 77
freedom of information, 103,259
General Practitioners' Society of
Australia (GPS), 77,82
Gerrard, V.,214
Gibbons, Dennis and Patricia, 49,
51,245
Goran, Judge A J., 160,162-6
see also Appin mine disaster
inquiry
Gyles, R„ 4,12
Hammond, Richard V., 68
Hardies, 208,211-12,214-17, 221,
229-30,240,243, 254
see also Baryulgil asbestos mine
Hawthorn Park Research Facility,
98
Health, Dept of, 78,82-3,85-7,
97-8 253
Health! NSW Dept of, 210, 218
health and safety regulations, see
occupational healtn and safety
regulations
Health Commission (NSW), 194
Health Insurance Act, 84
Health Insurance Commission
(HIC), 87
heart disease, 119,126
Hennessy v Federal Commissioner
of Taxation, 3, 6
Henry, Roy,47-8
Hill, Samuel, 22-3
Hindle, Mr (Baryulgil), 220
Hogan, Paul, 124
Holding, Clyde, 228
Holmes & Court, Robert, 136
homicide, 164, 167, 183-5, 189
see also manslaughter
hospitals, private, 79, 86,88
Hospitals Contribution Fund
(HCF) 78-80
Human Rights Commission, 248
Hurford, Cnris, 41
Illawarra Mercury, 195-7.199
Industrial Commission of NSW,
195,200
Industrial Relations, NSW Dept of,
173, 179-82,189,194, 203,218,
225-6
see also Mines Inspectorate
informing, 259-60
"insider trading", 23-4
Insurance Act 1973, 34-40
amendments, 39-40
secrecy provisions, 38-9,41,259
Insurance (Amendment) Act 1983,
39
266
Insurance Commissioner, 32,34-5,
37-9 40-41
annual report 1983, 37-8
disclaimers, 38-9
insurance industry, 35-42, 242,
252-3
International Metalworkers
Federation, 192
ITT, 250
IUDs, 95,97-8, 107-9,245
see also Dalkon Shield
i
akes Meats, 67
ames Hardie (see Hardies)
amieson, Leigh, 26
ason Meats, 67-8
Johns Corporation, 227
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine,
92
Johns Manville, 227-8, 231, 250
Kellogg's, 175-7,180-9, 246,249,
2527254
Kelly Power Pty Ltd, 20
kidnapping, 2
Kirbv,SirRichard, 124
KIVCET smelting technology, 156
Labor Council (NSW), 192
Lafranchi, DJ., 2
see also McCabe and Lafranchi
inquiry
Landrigan, Philip, 151-2,157
laundering of funds, 2
law, sociaTenvironment of, 6,
13-14
law reform, 40, 113-14,252-3,
257-60
Law Reform Commission, 40,113
Lawrie, Deborah, see Wardley,
Deborah
Lead Implementation Group, 152,
154,157
lead poisoning, 143-55,157
lead smelting. 143-5,147-9, 156,
241
see also Port Pirie lead smelter
legal process, 249-51,259
legal profession, 50
libel, 251
Lickiss, Mr (Qld Attorney
General), 53
Life Insurance Act 1945,35
Life Insurance Commissioner, 36
limitation of legal actions, 104, 113
Longley, Dr, quoted, 224
Lord, Judge Miles, 100
Love Canal (USA), 149
McCabe, P.W., 2
McCabe and Lafranchi inquiry,
2-3,9-11
McCullagh, Dr (Hardies), 213-14,
217
Mackav, Denis, 77
McKcch nie, Henry, 50
Maher, Brian, 2,6-12,14,251
Mahony, Detective Sergeant P.
("Vince"), 51-3, 5 5 - ?
Mainprize, Maxwell Stanley, 16
Malone v Federal Commissioner of
Taxation, 3,6
manslaughter, 164,178-9,183-4,
185,188-9
see also homicide
Marshall, Mr (Mines Inspectorate),
225-6
Mayer, Helen, 79
meat industry, 60-74, 241.243,
248,254
INDEX
Royal Commission t 61-6,68, 72
see also meat substitution
scandal
meat substitution scandal, 60-74,
246,250,252
media
in anti-asbestos campaign,
229-30,250
in detection of corporate
misconduct, 250-1
in medifraud, 88,250
overseas, 250
in Port Kembla safety campaign,
195-6,199,202
in Russell Island land fraud,
48-9, 53-5
see also tobacco advertising
Media Council of Australia (MCA),
123-4
Medibank, 78
Medibank Private, 78,82
medical profession, 76-8,81-8,
246,253, 260
medical records, access to, 103
Medical Services Commission of
Inquiry, 83
Medicare, 88
medifraud, xii. 76-89,243,246,
249-50, 252-3, 260
Melbourne Stock Exchange, 24
Merhigejudge, 100
Mineral Resources and
Development, NSW Dept of, 173
Mines, NSW Dept of, 231
Mines Inspection Act (NSW),
222-3,226
Mines Inspectorate (NSW),
168-71,173, 208.218-26
multinational corporations. 5-6,
105-6,114,119, 256
Murdoch, Rupert, 136-7
Nadjowska v Australian Iron and
Steel Pty Ltd, 141
NASA, 239
National Biological Standards
Laboratory, 108
National Companies and
Securities Commission (NCSC),
24-5,29.260
National Health and Medical
Research Council (NHMRC), 74,
107,148-9,192,199
National Women's Health
Network, 95-6
Nationwide, 196-7
Navillus Pty Ltd, 2
negligence, 23.25,99-100,149-50,
155,166-7,179, 251
Nestle's, 245
News Ltd, 127
Nichols. Hugh. 44-7,54,57
Nichols, Victor Bromley, 47, 55
nicotine, 119
Nixon, Peter, 65
Non Smokers' Movement of
Australia, 127
Norman, Sir Robert, 16
North Broken Hill Holdings, 143
NSW (Dust Diseases) Medical
Authority, 224
nursing homes, 79,86,88
Occupational Health and
Radiation Control. NSW
Division of, 218-19, 221
Occupational Health and Safety Act
1983 (NSW), 180,184-5,187,
232,253
Occupational Health and Safety in
NSW, Williams Inquiry into,
184,231
occupational health and safety
regulations, xii-xiii, xvi, 149,
161-4,167-8,172,182-4,189,
192,223-4,242-3. 245-6
failure to enforce, 242-3,245
lack of. 192
Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) (US).
192
Ogilvy, Alexander, 16, 22, 27-8
Operation NOAH, 260
organisational psychology, 238
Osborn, F.H.. 152
Painters and Dockers Union, 1,9
P & O Australia, 31-2,34-5
pathology, 78-9,88
Peacock, Matt, 208,229,231
penalties, see fines
pesticides, 247
Petane Holdings Ptv Ltd, 26
Petersen, George, 194-5,197
Peterson. Howarth, 26-7
Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes, 126
Philip Morris (Australia) Ltd,
125-9
Plint, Inspector Don, 58
plumbism, see lead poisoning
Plumbism, Royal Commission on,
144
Police, Australian Federal, see
Australian Federal Police
pollution, 143-5,148-51, 155-6,
151,155-6
Port Kembla steelworks, 191-205,
243,246-7,252
see also Broken Hill Proprietary
Ltd
Port Pirie, 143-57
see also Broken Hill Associated
Smelters. Port Pirie lead smelter
Port Pirie lead smelter, 143-9,154,
156, 237
see also Broken Hill Associated
Smellers
pressure vessels. 178. 180-81
price fixing, xii
Price Walerhouse and Associates,
68
Primary Industries and Energy,
Dept of (DPIE), 74
Primary Industry, Dept of, 62-5,
67,69,71-3,251,253
Primary Industry, Minister of,
64-5, 67
profit motive, xiv, 61, 76-7,120,
218,238, 245, 255 and passim
Profreeze, 67-8
psychiatrists, 79-80
Public Accounts Committee (PAC),
78-80,83,85-8,251
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
(PIAC), 93,109
Public Service Act. 69
Qantas Airways, 140-1
Quay apartment building, 20
Queensland Government. 45,
50-57
failure to prosecute Maher, 7
Land Titles Office, 47-8
meat inquiry, 66
Queensland Institute of
Technology, 55
Quinn. Steven. 193.1%
Rae, Wallace, 46
Reagan administration, 246
Redland Shire, 50-1
Redlich. R.,4,12
regulation
authorities, xvii, 243-4
267
enforcement, xiv-xv, 241-3,245
fragmentation, 247-8
political constraints, 246-7
responsibility for, 247
Reid, L.M., 27-8
Repatriation Commission, 126
Reserve Bank. 24,261
Revco medical fraud, xii
Rio Tinto Zinc Corporation Ltd,
143
Risstrom, Eric, 6
Riverstone Meats, 69-70
Robins, A.H., 92-6,98-101,105-7,
109.115 239-40, 252,259
see also Dalkon Shield
Rogers, Mr Justice, 230
Royal Commissions, see Australian
Government Administration,
Costigan, Plumbism, Woodward
Royal Australian Air Force, 139
Royal College of Pathologists, 79
RTZ lead smelter, UK, 147
Russell Island land fraud, 44-58,
245,247,250,252
Rutter, Michael, 152
safety regulations, see
occupational health and safety
regulations
Searle. G.D., 95,98
Securities Industry Code, 23-4
self-regulation, 35,123-5,244, 256,
258
sex discrimination, 131-41
see also discrimination in
employment
Sex Discrimination Act 1984,
138-9
sexual harassment, 139-40
Shinoff, Paul, 250
Singapore meat imports, 61
Sluhkm v Federal Commissioner of
Taxation, 3, 6
smoking, 118-23,125-9
see also tobacco advertising
social security fraud, 2
SP bookmaking, 2
Spencer Gulf, 144
Squires v Qantas Airways Limited,
141
Standards Association of
Australia. 178
Stathis, Andrew, 31-6,38-9, 42.
238.247-8,252
see also Bishopsgate Insurance
Stathopoulos, Andreas. 31-2
see also Stathis, Andrew
Steel Industry Plan, 203
steel manufacture, 191-2, 198
see also coke ovens
Steiger's Meat Supply 67 70
Stirling Properties Ltd, 27-8
Stradbroke Island, 56
Sturgess, Des, 54
Tancred Brothers, 73
Taxation Office, 3-4,12.250-1,
253
Taxation (Unpaid Comany TaxJ
Assessment Act 1982, 13
tax avoidance, 2 - 6 , 1 3
tax evasion, xi. 1-6,8-14
sec also bottom of the harbour
schemes
tax laws, 2-6, 10-11, 13-14, 241,
253
thalidomide, xii
Therapeutic Goods Act 1966,96.
107
Therapeutic Goods and Cosmetics
Act 1972 (NSW), 99
STAINS ON A WHITE COLLAR
tobacco advertising, 118-25,127-8,
244 247 255-6
tobacco industry, 118-21, 126,
128-9,248,252,254-5
see also tobacco advertising
Trade Practices Act, xii-xiii, 58,
69,97,104-5,247
Trade Practices Commission
(TPC), 69, 123, 125
trade unions, 1-2, 171,245-6
transfer pricing, 5-6
Transport Dept. 65
Tribune, quoted 182
trustee companies, 15-16, 18-19,
23,28
Trustee Companies Act (Vic), 18
Trustee Companies (Amendment)
Act (Vic), 28
Trustee Companies Association of
Australia and New Zealand, 21,
24
Trustee Company Act 1984 (Vic).
28
Trustees Executors and Agency
Co. (TEA), 15-17,19-29,238-40.
252-3
Tuttle, Roger. 95
two airline policy, 134,255
United States, 60
United Steelworkers of America,
192
United Telecasters, 127, 244
US Dept of Agriculture, 60, 62,
66-7,70
US Dept of Health and Human
Services, 96
US Food and Drug
Administration, 94-6
Valuation of Land Act (Qld), 51
Valuer General, Qld, 51-2
Vestey Corporation, 5
Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986,
126
vicarious liability, 162-4
Victoria Corporate Affairs Office,
2
Victorian Government (in TEA
case), 22-6
Voluntary Advertising Code for
Cigarettes in Australia (VACC),
123-4
Walsh, Senator Peter, 6
Wardley. Deborah, 131-8,141.
252, 259
Wardley v Ansett Transport
Industries (Operationsj Ltd,
135-8, 257
Webb, Sir Thomas, 16
West Australian Govearnment's
anti-smoking bill, 125, 247
White Australia Policy, 132-3
268
Williams Inquiry into
Occupational Health and Safety
in NSW, 184,231
Winfield cigarettes, 124,127, 244,
252
Winters, Mr (Hardies). 213-14,
217-18
Wittenoom, 227.232
Wollongong. 1%
Women s Electoral Lobby (WEL),
137-8
Woods, Sir Colin, 63-4
Woodsreef Mines Ltd, 209
Woodward, Mr Justice, 61-2
see also Woodward Royal
Commission
Woodward Royal Commission,
61-6,68, 72
Workers Compensation (Dust
Diseases) Act (NSW), 228
workers' compensation insurance,
33
workforce structure, 133
Wunderlich Ltd, 209
Workers Nem, 181-2
Young, Arthur (auditors), 22
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