Council case has global ramifications: IMF

Thirteen NSW councils could receive $30 million in compensation after a landmark court ruling on complex financial products they bought ahead of the global financial crisis.

The Federal Court on Monday ruled the councils were entitled to claim compensation from ratings company Standard & Poor's, investment bank ABN Amro and Local Government Financial Services (LGFS).

The trio had sold the councils complex investments called constant proportion debt obligation notes in 2006.

The councils lost $16 million on the notes, marketed as Rembrandt notes, which were created by investment bank ABN Amro, distributed by LGFS and rated AAA by Standard & Poor's.

Executive director of IMF, which funded the case for 12 of the 13 councils, John Walker said it was the first time in the world a judge in a superior court had ruled that a ratings agency had been negligent in assigning a rating.

As a result, the court decision could pave the way for other cases around the world.

"It not only assists people in NSW it also potentially can be relied upon by people around the world," he told reporters.

"It fundamentally arose by ratings agencies and investment banks looking after their own interests and potentially being the course of the global financial crisis."

He said IMF was considering running similar cases in the New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Mr Walker said the councils would at least recover the $16 million lost on the products, but after interest and costs the amount could reach $30 million.

Among the councils involved in the court action were Moree Plains, Orange, Parkes and Ryde in Sydney.

Federal Court justice Jayne Jagot ruled the councils were also entitled to compensation from LGFS for breach of fiduciary duty.

Apart from that claim against LGFS, a subsidiary of the NSW Local Government Superannuation Scheme, Justice Jagot said damages should be split evenly between ABN Amro, Standard & Poor's and LGFS.

LGFS also succeeded in its claim against ABN Amro and Standard & Poor's for the Rembrandt notes it sold to its parent company after the credit rating agency downgraded them from AAA rating to BBB+.

Health experts are calling for new national guidelines amid fears that up to 100,000 young Australian children could have dangerously high levels of lead in their blood.

The experts say current guidelines on lead levels must be updated urgently in light of new figures based on analysis of US exposure rates and published in the latest Medical Journal of Australia (MJA).

In a letter to the MJA, Mark Taylor of Sydney's Macquarie University, Chris Winder of the Australian Catholic University in Sydney and Bruce Lanphear of Canada's Simon Fraser University, say 100,000 Australian children aged up to four could have blood lead levels linked to health problems.

These include behavioural problems and low IQ.

Guidelines recommending blood lead levels of below 10 micrograms per decilitre of blood introduced by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in 1993 are "increasingly obsolete", the researchers say.

"New and overwhelming evidence indicates that even levels below 5 micrograms per decilitre are associated with a range of adverse health outcomes, including decreased intelligence and academic achievement, sociobehavioural problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning difficulties, oppositional and conduct disorders and delinquency.

"Importantly, the greatest relative effects on IQ occur at the lower blood lead levels."

They recently held a forum on childhood lead toxicity at Macquarie University and suggest not only that the NHMRC goal is lowered, but also that ways of identifying sources of lead exposure need to be improved.

There is no recent data for lead levels in Australian children, so the figures were estimated using US exposure rates and applying them to the Australian population.

According to advocacy organisation The Lead Group, one of the main sources of lead is old paint from buildings built prior to 1970.

They estimate 3.5 million homes have lead-based paint, which is often sweet tasting and therefore appeals to young children, who will pick at it and eat it.

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