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Wednesday, 9 December 1998
Page: 1717

Mr SOMLYAY —My question is addressed to the Minister for Finance and Administration. Can the minister inform the House about the progress of the government's efforts to sell ANL and does it contrast with past efforts to sell ANL?

Mr FAHEY (Finance and Administration) —I thank the honourable member for Fairfax for his question. I can inform the House that the sale of ANL, the Australian National Line, is almost complete. The government has completed the sale of the liner shipping business to CGM, a French based international shipping company, for approximately $10 million. In addition to that $10 million, CGM has taken over the net financing obligations of the Commonwealth of about $50 million. In addition, all of the Australian National Line liner employees have agreed to accept offers of employment from CGM. The sale of this business has significantly reduced the exposure of taxpayers to the business losses that have arisen over a number of years; that is, the operations of Australian National Line. In addition, we have provided a commercial future for the business as part of this international operation. Only this week I received a letter from CGM indicating that they were looking forward to developing their presence in the Australasian market.

The rest of ANL will, I am confident, be disposed of in the near future. The government determined, after a very significant scoping study, to sell the business in part. The negotiations with the preferred purchaser in respect of Australian National Line's bulk business are progressing well, as are the negotiations for the land based businesses. They are proceeding in an orderly fashion.

To go to the second part of the question—how does this contrast with the attempts that were made previously to dispose of ANL?—this quiet achievement stands in stark contrast to the woeful attempts by the former Labor government to dispose of ANL. It was announced way back in 1991 in the budget when the Labor government said, `We're going to sell the Australian National Line.' We were then treated to daily headlines that centred on the very inept attempts to sell this business. Those headlines related to the concessions that they gave to the union movement and the protection that they built in. Finally, after about four years, it all fizzled out. But I still recall so well the words of the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith, when he said, `It's not a case of selling this business; you couldn't give it away.'

What we saw while this went on were accumulated losses to the Australian taxpayers on the balance sheet of ANL since 1991 of $180.5 million. In the last 10 years it has cost the Australian taxpayers around $250 million. We have stemmed the losses; we have received some money for it. It shows how this government is prepared to operate the business of government in a proper fashion in the interests of the taxpayers of Australia, whereas the former Labor government was simply stuck in a hole because they had no capacity to do anything that interfered with their union masters.