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Tuesday, 18 September 2001
Page: 27245

Senator FORSHAW (2:12 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Ian Macdonald, representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. My question relates to a statement made by the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, Mr Anderson, on 3 August this year. It was about a former major employer of labour in Australia, Ansett. The minister said that the Australian and New Zealand governments had established `a committee to examine the competing bids by Qantas and Singapore Airlines.' I ask the minister: what was the membership of that committee? How many times did the committee meet, and did the committee provide both governments with advice about the financial state of Ansett and Air New Zealand and the ramifications for Ansett of the competing options?

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government) —I thank Senator Forshaw for that question as it enables me to highlight some of the work that the government has been doing in relation to the particular issue that Senator Forshaw raises.

Senator Conroy —Just give them all their entitlements.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I beg your pardon?

The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, Senator Forshaw has asked a question and you are out of order.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, I draw your attention to the standing orders.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Senator Conroy's interjection was `give them their entitlements'. I suppose he means in the same way that Mr Beazley gave Compass employees their entitlements when Compass went into—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I am sorry, Senator Conroy, perhaps you are saying Mr Beazley was not the aviation minister then. I do not think he was. I think he resigned a couple of weeks before that. And not one cent of compensation did Mr Beazley or the Labor Party give to the Compass employees. Senator Conroy, your interjection just typifies the rank hypocrisy of the Labor Party in relation to this matter.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Macdonald, I draw your attention to the question from Senator Forshaw. Senator Conroy is actually out of order.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Thank you, Madam President. Mr Anderson has been very diligent in following this issue from day one. In the face of what now seems to be deliberate misinformation from Air New Zealand, it has been very difficult for all parties to properly assess the situation. You would be aware, Senator Forshaw— through you, Madam President—that the New Zealand Prime Minister, Qantas and their executors who were looking at the Ansett issue and the Australian government have been misled by Air New Zealand. It was not very long ago—about the time that Senator Forshaw mentioned—that Air New Zealand and Ansett indicated to the Australian government that, whilst there were difficulties in Ansett and that recapitalisation was necessary, Air New Zealand had a reserve of $1 billion to keep Ansett going. That is the sort of information that the Australian government quite rightly worked upon.

Throughout the last several months, Mr Anderson and the Australian government have been in close contact with Air New Zealand and the New Zealand government. Bear in mind that Ansett Airlines Pty Ltd is a foreign company—as is Air New Zealand, quite obviously—not an Australian company. Anything that has to be done in relation to those companies or their corporate governance is of course a matter for the New Zealand security and regulatory authorities.

Senator Forshaw —Madam President, on a point of order: the minister has now been answering—or attempting to answer—the question for about three or four minutes. I draw the minister's attention to the original question, which was specifically regarding Minister Anderson's statement that the Australian and New Zealand governments had established `a committee to examine the competing bids by Qantas and Singapore Airlines'. He made that statement on 3 August. My question sought specific detail from the minister representing Mr Anderson with regard to that committee: who was on it, how many times did it meet and what advice was provided? The minister, to this time, has not even addressed that question. I ask him, in the remaining time, to either address that question or take it on notice.

The PRESIDENT —I am sure the minister is aware of the question, and fewer interjections would probably help.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Thank you, Madam President. I am giving a general background to the issues—

Senator Forshaw —I don't want a general background. I want an answer to this question!

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Madam President, the Labor Party have been all over the ship with this issue—

Senator Crane —Madam President, I rise on a point of order. There are a number of standing orders that deal with behaviour in this chamber. We have listened today until three-quarters of the way through the third question, but the barrage from the other side of the chamber has been such that I cannot hear the answer of Senator Macdonald. In contrast, when Senator Forshaw asked his question and then when he raised a point of order, we on this side could hear every word. I ask you to allow us, on this side of the chamber, to hear the answers and to ask those on the other side of the chamber to behave themselves.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I take Senator Crane's point. Of course, the Labor Party are very embarrassed by the position of Ansett and how they have approached it. There are so many contradictory statements by different Labor Party spokesmen that it goes beyond belief. The Australian government has worked upon the information that it had. It had a number of direct, face-to-face negotiations with the New Zealand government—as it should have done—and there have been many issues raised between our Department of Transport and Regional Services and the relevant New Zealand authority. As well, I know that Mr Anderson personally— (Time expired)

Senator FORSHAW —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Again, I ask the minister, in the amount of time he has available, to actually try to address the issues that I raised in the original question about Minister Anderson's statement on 3 August. I also ask Minister Macdonald: with regard to the establishment of that committee, if the committee did indeed provide advice to the government, what was the nature of the advice given to the government about the financial state of Ansett and Air New Zealand and what was the committee's view of the ramifications for Ansett of the competing options? Minister, would you have a go at answering the question? Tell the people who work for Ansett and tell the public of Australia the answers to this question—that is, the advice that this government got on this important issue—instead of trying to dodge it.

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government) —The collapse of Ansett is a very serious matter. This is a time when one would have hoped that all Australians, including all political parties, would work towards resolving the issue, getting aeroplanes back into the air and getting jobs for the people involved rather than this feigned outrage and this petty political point scoring on issues that relate to particular committees, to details of particular committees and to what they said and what they did not say. If Senator Forshaw is particularly interested in these issues, I will ask Mr Anderson about the issues he raised. But I would have hoped that we would have had from the opposition some support in the interests of the workers, in the interests of those people who have been impacted by the collapse of Ansett, and that we would be working together. I seek the opposition's serious support to work together to resolve this very difficult position.