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Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2228

Mr HUNT(5.29) —I support the amendment but I do so with some reservation because we need to be sure that, if the corporate plan is tabled or made available in the Parliament, it does not expose all the commercial information of the Australian National Line to its competitors. For the ANL to be effective as a national line it must be competitive. I give some credit to the Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) and to the Government for having faced up to the equity problem of the Australian National Line. I do not think there is any purpose in governments being involved in transport business undertakings, or any business undertakings, unless they are properly capitalised and unless they are able to compete in a proper fashion with private enterprise. Unless they are able to do that they become a burden upon those who are forced to use their services and a burden on the general freight and cost structure. This was one of the real problems I had with Trans Australia Airlines, with the Australian National Line and also, to some extent, with the Australian National Railways.

To a large extent our freight rates in the shipping area and also in the air passenger area have been somewhat blown out because none of these transport business undertakings were properly capitalised by the shareholders. The shareholders in this case happen to be the Government. For instance, I always felt that TAA was flying with one wing behind its back. In effect, the two- airline arrangement was a pipeline to the mint for the other competitor.

There is no doubt that there is a useful role for the Australian National Line provided it is able to compete effectively with its competitors. The Crawford formula-I defend it vigorously-was designed to help achieve that. I thank the Minister at the table for the compliment he paid to me. In fact, I think he did it on two or three occasions. He may be demoted if he keeps doing that. The Crawford formula was designed to improve the productivity of the Australian National Line, and also Australian shipping generally, and impose a qualification upon the Australian shipping industry that no other industry has in order to be eligible to receive the investment and depreciation allowance. So if we can put this sort of imposition upon industry generally in Australia we may get some benefit from the high costs of all these sorts of programs. The other thing it achieved was a strike or a dispute settling procedure which no other industry has had imposed upon it. In all, I think it was a thoroughly good objective. I paid Sir John Crawford great credit for it at the time.

As I said earlier, the other important matter was the need to ensure that the Australian National Line had a sufficiently satisfactory capital structure in order to operate commercially. I refer to a report associated with the corporate plan of 1980 that came into my hands when I was the Minister for Transport. It states:

The unrealistic high debt structure which the Line is bearing has a serious effect on profitability through the interest burden. Ability to repay the outstanding loans raised for past expansion and to borrow externally for future projects is impaired also.

There is no doubt that ANL laboured under extreme difficulties in having to meet its high interest rate repayment. Nonetheless, if we are to capitalise any transport or any government business undertaking to the extent to which the Government has done, I think it is essential that they be accountable to this Parliament. We need to give consideration to the way in which they are to be accountable. Honourable members will see that I have the 1982 corporate plan. It happens to be the 1980 corporate plan. I can assure honourable members that if it were presented to this Parliament in that fashion no people would be more pleased to get their hands on it than competitors in the coastal and international trade. So if they are accountable to the Parliament they would need to be accountable in a form that did not completely expose the material that is in this document. If the Government is to give consideration to this matter it needs to give consideration to the form in which such a corporate plan should be made available for scrutiny in this Parliament. I think the idea has some merit.

The Minister, when he was the shadow Minister, also had a feeling when he undertook the inquiry into the Australian National Railways that there ought to be some accountability. The way in which accountability is performed will be critical to any such proposal. Clearly, if we are to continue with transport business undertakings owned by the Government, government business undertakings and, if they are to be properly capitalised, there needs to be accountability. The form of that accountability is something to which the Government will have to turn its mind should it accept this amendment. I believe the amendment has been moved in good faith so that accountability is a fact of life in respect of these types of undertakings.