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Wednesday, 29 October 2003
Page: 17133

Senator LEES (2:37 PM) —My question is also addressed to Senator Ian Campbell, but in his capacity as the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. I ask the minister: is he aware that a large number of former Ansett employees are still waiting to receive substantial amounts of their full entitlements? Some individuals are waiting for as much as $75,000. Is the minister also aware of concerns amongst former Ansett employees that $115 million of the air passenger ticket levy has not been distributed to Ansett workers but instead has been earmarked by the government to support the tourism industry? Is the minister aware that a number of former Ansett employees have had to sell their homes and are not able to make ends meet financially and, indeed, that there have been several suicides? I ask the minister: will this government commit to ensuring that all former Ansett employees get their full entitlements?

Senator Faulkner —Spend the first two minutes saying how nice she is.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads) —I do not need to do that; everybody knows that. I thank Senator Lees for the question. Of course, the air passenger ticket levy policy is to ensure that former Ansett employees are paid their statutory entitlements. The levy, just to update all honourable senators, has raised, as at 31 August this year, $286.2 million. We do expect to receive some further money. The government has paid out $336.1 million to the administrators since December 2001. The establishment of that special employee entitlements scheme for the roughly 12,994 former Ansett employees should guarantee and is designed to guarantee that they do get those statutory entitlements in advance of the sale of the Ansett assets by the administrators.

As Senator Lees and all senators who care about this issue would understand, the sale by the administrators of the assets is a protracted process. You have to ensure, of course, that you get the best price for those assets and that the asset price is, for the benefit of all the creditors, maximised. The government's process was to ensure that the employees did not have to wait for that long extended process to go through before they got paid, so the government effectively stepped in and ensured that they were paid in time.

There is some speculation, which Senator Lees has referred to, that there could in fact be a surplus available once all of the processes have been settled. We will not know that until the Federal Court proceedings which commenced on 12 November are dealt with in full, so it is a bit of a hypothetical situation to talk about what would happen to the surplus. But the government has indicated that it would be appropriate, if there were a surplus, that any surplus funds be returned, with an emphasis on assisting the aviation industry and the tourism industry, both of which have suffered as a result of a series of calamities.

One was the collapse of Ansett on 14 September, and the others were the September 11 terrorist attacks on the twin towers in New York, followed, just when the tourism industry was beginning to find its feet again, by the terrorist attacks in Bali. So the tourism industries and aviation industries in Australia and world wide have suffered, and the government's policy decision is that, if there is the surplus that Senator Lees has alluded to, it will be returned in that way. In relation to employees who do have complaints about having not received their full statutory entitlements, I would be very happy on behalf of Senator Lees to take those up with the minister.

Senator LEES —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I particularly thank the minister for his last comment, but I ask the minister where the problem is when, on the one hand, the government has set up this levy to make sure that people do not wait for years and, on the other hand, people are obviously waiting for many years and becoming more and more stressed. I ask the minister that a full audit be done to see what entitlements are still owed to whom and how much is still owing and that we put together some reasonable assurances for these people and give them some idea of how much longer they are going to wait.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads) —I think the best way forward is for me to proceed with the offer that I made at the conclusion of my answer to the main question.