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Tuesday, 18 September 2001
Page: 27261

Senator FORSHAW (3:28 PM) —I am glad that I followed Senator Sandy Macdonald today, because Senator Macdonald, despite what he may have said in his remarks on this matter, really would know the devastating impact that this collapse of Ansett is going to have on rural and regional Australia, particularly in New South Wales. Let me just remind the Senate that ministers of this government, day after day in question time, come into this chamber and answer dorothy dix questions to try to paint a picture of how great their economic stewardship of this country is. Today it was quite evident that they were not game even to do that. When we look at the record just in the last 12 months or so, what do we see? We have seen the collapse or near collapse of four of the largest operating companies in this country. HIH Insurance collapsed. One.Tel collapsed. The National Australia Bank was hard hit with billions of dollars that had to be written off. And now Ansett, one of the two major domestic airline companies in this country, has gone down the tube.

Senator Hill —Who are you blaming?

Senator FORSHAW —Senator Hill asks who we blame. If you and your ministers and your government want to come in here and claim credit for the profits that some of the private sector companies in this country have made during your period in office, then you also have to take responsibility for what has happened to Ansett. You have to do that, particularly in the situation where this company is more than just a private company. Whether it is foreign owned or Australian owned, this is a company that has been integral to the transport infrastructure of this country for over 50 years. This is a company—one of only two domestic airline companies in Australia—that has not just flown routes to the major capital cities of this country but has provided services to over 102 towns and cities in regional and rural Australia.

This is a company that was at the heart— as you would know, Senator Hill—of some of the great constitutional cases that were argued in the forties and fifties about freedom of trade between the states, and your party stood in the political arena saying that you defended private enterprise such as Ansett. But what is happening now? When Ansett goes down the tube on your watch and leaves 17,000 workers out of a job overnight, and leaves hundreds of thousands of other Australians and businesses in a perilous situation, what is your approach to this great private company renowned in Australian history? It is to say, `It is not our fault.'

We even had the representative of the Minister for Transport and Regional Services in this chamber, Minister Macdonald, try to blame the unions. How pathetic and disgraceful and insulting an approach that is. Not only do you say that it is not your fault; you actually try to blame the workers. You have never accepted the fact that, whilst you are in government, you have a responsibility to ensure that companies such as Ansett that provide vital transport links right across this country will stay in business. You cannot just sit back and say, `We did not know.'

That is the second point that I wanted to come to. Whilst you are trying to hide behind the defence that you did not know, the facts of the matter are—as have been coming out—that you did know. The minister did know. There were so many warnings given to this minister and this government. You have to ask: what was Minister Anderson really doing? Wasn't he hearing the messages? If you had picked up newspapers in the weeks and months before this collapse occurred, you would have read in some of the financial columns articles the warnings about the imminent collapse, the financial danger that Ansett was in.

Senator Tchen —Show us one.

Senator FORSHAW —Senator Boswell says, `Show us one.'

Senator Boswell —I didn't say it.

Senator FORSHAW —Go have a look, for instance, at one of Mr Gottliebsen's articles. Where were you, Senator Boswell? You are supposed to be in here representing what was formerly the great Country Party, the party that claims to represent the interests of all the people who live in these regional centres and towns, and you were asleep at the wheel. (Time expired)