• Private certifier gets nailed – depaNews November 2010
  • Wake up and don't worry - depaNews February 2011
  • HR professionals – depaNews January 2009
  • Upper Hunter gets coy – depaNews March 2011
  • BPB kills off B1 & B2 - depaNews July 2009
  • Councillors behaving badly Part One - depaNews December 2009
  • Councillors behaving badly Part Two - depaNews December 2009
  • Who is Peter Hurst? - depaNews August 2010
  • It's time to go, Peter Part One - depaNews September 2006
  • It's time to go Peter Part Two - depaNews December 2006
  • BPB survey on accreditation – depaNews November 2008
  • Improbable things start to come true – depaNews June 2010
  • Sex, lies and development – depaNews February 2008
  • Pizza man feeds non-members – depaNews April 2011
  • Bankstown wins HR Award – depaNews December 2010
  • Love him or loathe him - depaNews October 2007
  • Good Bad & Ugly issue – depaNews November 2010
  • Upper Hunter lets the dogs out - depaNews February 2011
  • IRC puts brakes on belligerent seven – depaNews June 2009
  • It's Tweedledum and not Tweedledumber - depaNews March 2007
  • 28 April International Day of Mourning - depaNews April 2009
  • IRC orders Hurst 'apology' published - depaNews December 2010
  • Debate on IR policy – depaNews August 2007
  • Developer agrees to apologise – depaNews November 2010
  • OH&S Day of Mourning – depaNews April 2009

The Development and Environmental Professionals' Association (depa)

Welcome to the depa website. We are an industrial organisation representing professional employees working in local government in New South Wales in a variety of jobs in the fields of environmental health, public health, building and development control and planning.

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OH&S Day of Mourning – depaNews April 2009

James Hardie cartoon – April 2009

28 April is the International Day of Mourning

The International Day of Morning commemorates those who have been killed or injured at work. It is a sobering and confronting reminder of something we don't really think about - normal people, just like us, who go to work and don't come home. Its something that happens that not just means a death at work but a personal impact on workmates and a devastating impact on friends and family.

There is no legislative obligation in Australia requiring companies to report in their annual reports lost time due to illness or injuries or death. It makes it very hard to work out whether it is more dangerous to work, for example, for BHP, Lend Lease or Leightons Holdings - just picking three at random. These are all big Australian public companies in which institutional investors like superannuation funds would be long-term investors.

Good health and safety at work is a fundamental and critical part of how a company should be assessed. The concept of shareholder value or providing a profit to shareholders should not override the human cost involved in delivering that value or profit.

BHP in their last reported year killed 11 employees at work and this year to date its 7. At least in BHP's annual report, the statistic is easily found at the front of the report in a prominent way and is dealt with as something which is unacceptable and needs to be improved. Leightons Holdings, for example, make the information hard to find and, in leaving it to much, much later in the report, fails to provide proper recognition of its importance. On an hours worked basis, their figures are worse.

Companies report deaths and injuries in different ways. As a proportion of the workforce, as a proportion of market capitalisation and sometimes in relation to hours worked - but never consistently so that comparisons can be made. Governments should act to make sure they do.

These statistics are a stark indication of things that happen that shouldn't happen and which create incalculable human suffering and misery. Think for a minute how it would be if someone in your household didn’t return from work.

And when you think of companies doing the wrong things about health and safety, it is an appropriate coincidence that the Supreme Court last week found a string of company directors from James Hardie guilty of telling porkies about a media release (which the minutes show had been adopted by the Board) that was untruthful about how the company was funding its huge liability arising from killing its own workers.

Company Chair (who insisted on being described as a Chairman) Meredith Hellicar (picture above) bore the brunt. Described by Justice Gzell as "a most unsatisfactory witness", Hellicar and the rest of the Board were convicted of misleading the public. This conviction also coincided with admissions by James Hardie that the Global Financial Crisis would challenge their ability to finance their compensation fund.

In Business Day in the Sydney Morning Herald on 24 April, Elizabeth Knight said this:

"But as this chapter closes on the great James Hardie saga, one cannot help but wonder about how a company that has for decades played hard and fast with schemes to minimise tax, restructuring to avoid its obligations to compensate its victims, and meddled with the truth, can have survived.

It has been forced to repay liabilities, shamed by unions, governments and victims, publicly flogged by the media, been the subject of a special commission and ultimately brow-beaten into appropriately compensating its victims."

How has it survived, knowing what we know about how it has conducted its business? Simple really, virtually all big institutional investors would be invested in James Hardie (even as they acknowledge its poor governance and health and safety) and in a terribly sad irony, even the superannuation funds to which the dead and dying James Hardie employees belong.

It's time someone found a way of bringing these companies to account.

Why shouldn't there be a legislative requirement that companies call an Extraordinary General Meeting of shareholders whenever there is a death at work? Why shouldn't there be a standard and consistent reporting framework so that institutional investors (and even ordinary members of the community who want to work out which company they think is a good one and which company isn't) can, when they are valuing a company to make a judgement about investment consider how many people they kill and as well as things like their price:earnings ratio?

The James Hardie convictions make us all aware that companies have moral obligations to the community, and those who work for them, as well as a financial obligation to shareholders.

The Herald got it right in their editorial on Monday 27 April:

"The core legal argument of James Hardie is that it was not the company's fault that people died terrible deaths. It was the fault of subsidiary companies, not the parent company. Therefore the liability lay with them. The compensation trust set up by the parent company went beyond its legal requirements. Misleading comments were made by the public relations department, not the board or senior management.

That, in a compressed nutshell, is the James Hardie case. It is morally repugnant, and transparently so."

Robbo's Pearls...

LGS restores uranium nuclear screening

26 April marks 31 years since the largest nuclear energy disaster in history at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine. The disaster contaminated a huge area of the Ukraine, now known as the Chernobyl exclusion zone covering around 2600 km². The public are excluded from the area, both flora and fauna are contaminated forever and there has been significant animal, fish and human birth abnormalities and deformities. And the area is contaminated forever.

The disaster highlighted the significant risk associated with nuclear energy - as if it needed to be highlighted.

LGS has always taken the concept of responsible and sustainable investment more seriously than the rest of Australia’s superannuation funds - since 2000 when the fund decided not to own tobacco and to develop screening arrangements to reduce investment in nuclear/uranium, businesses with poor forestry practices (like Gunns), gambling etc. etc.

These screening practices have won LGS many accolades from responsible investment organisations, including being ranked number one in the world in the prestigious and authoritative Asset Owners Disclosure Project, twice.

But, despite my reluctance to personalise these issues, pretty much as soon as I had resigned as a director on the LGS Board after 16 years of primary responsibility for the introduction of these responsible investment commitments, a couple of pro-nuclear zealots on the Board thought it made sense to dismantle the Board’s historic screening against uranium and nuclear industries because of the stupid and misconceived understanding that nuclear energy did not produce carbon emissions. Stupid bastards.

We never let go of this, placing a clock on our homepage so that the world could see how many days it had been since that stupid decision was made back in September 2014. It would be a timely reminder of the decision and a constant nagging of the stupid bastards to recognise that the advice they had at the time was right - that there would be no investment advantage and that there would only be reputational damage.

LGS has now announced that the uranium/nuclear screening will be restored. Here is their media release. You will note that it doesn’t say that they should have taken advice from their own investment people at the time, they shouldn’t have behaved like a group of single-issue Montgomery Burns, that seeing nuclear technology as a solution for a low carbon future was one-dimensional thinking at its worst - like thinking that a mass murderer might be okay if they were good-looking and had nice manners. A little bit simplistic and wrong-headed. Stupid bastards.

But, good for them for acknowledging their folly and repairing the damage.

A wasted 965 days, more than two and a half years where people scratched their heads and wondered what kind of loonies had taken over the Board.

Our representative on the Board after the decision had been made, Sam Byrne, pursued this but the decision to restore the screening was a unanimous vote, so clearly everyone had come around to recognise that it was a mistake to remove it. Nice work. There may be a few stupid bastards still involved, but at least they’ve done this.

And we’ve decided to announce this on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. Just to remind us that nuclear technology is not a viable energy source for a low carbon future when there are so many other renewable energy sources without the disadvantages or risks.

As the Chernobyl disaster happened at 1:24am in the Ukraine (seven hours behind Sydney time) on 26 April, the clock was removed from our homepage at that time.

And in a bit of a scoop and brilliant news for the historic and now reinstated commitment to responsible and sustainable investment, LGS was today announced as the top rated International fund (from a field of 600 institutional investors) in the prestigious and authoritative Asset Owners Disclosure Project.

This means that LGS is, without any doubt, the leading responsible and sustainable investment fund in Australia and it's a fabulous result for the commitment of the recently resigned CEO Peter Lambert who has ensured over more than a decade that the resolve of the Board to do precisely that, has been delivered.

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