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Wednesday, 24 August 1994
Page: 227

Senator GIBSON (3.02 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Senator Collins), to questions without notice asked by Senators Gibson, Alston and Parer this day, relating to the Australian National Line.

Throughout the past 10 years ANL has been a disaster. Despite the fact that there has been a significant board shake-up in earlier years and a capital injection by the taxpayer of $160 million, it has failed to be competitive. ANL has never been internationally competitive, and it has accumulated enormous losses.

  I have looked at the accounts of ANL which show that in 1991-92 there were losses of $9 million; in 1992-93 there were losses of $8 million, and paper reports indicate that the indicative losses for this last year will be $24 million. We believe that ANL management has forecast losses of more than $50 million for the next three years. We can compare that with the Salomon Brothers-Price Waterhouse report which indicates that losses could be as high as $85 million for the next three years.

  What I want to note today is not the losses for the last several years, even though they are quite significant and all taxpayers should be concerned, but the enormous change in the value on the balance sheet. The balance sheet is supposed to tell us the net value of an enterprise.

Senator Collins —As a going concern, Senator.

Senator GIBSON —That is right; as a going concern.

Senator Collins —The new valuation is a sale valuation.

Senator GIBSON —I think this parliament and the community require an explanation.

Senator Collins —I will give you one, Senator.

Senator GIBSON —Thank you; I will be pleased to receive it. But let me point out to the Senate that on 30 June last year, just over 12 months ago, the balance sheet indicated the value of ANL was $158 million. Yet, according to the Salomon Brothers-Price Waterhouse report ANL has a current net worth of minus $75 million to minus $118 million. So in just over 12 months we have had a deterioration in the net value of up to $276 million. That is an enormous change—an absolutely enormous, disgraceful change—in just over 12 months, and this parliament deserves a detailed explanation as to how this could possibly have taken place.

  I think the reason for this enormous decline in value is obviously sheeted home to the government. It was reported in April this year that ANL management had written to the Minister for Transport (Mr Brereton) outlining a number of concerns it had about the way in which the government's asset sales task force was handling the sale conditions. One of the concerns was that the board was forced to scrap the business rationalisation plans and that the government's interference was having a detrimental impact on ANL's relationship with its financiers. It is obvious that the minister did nothing to allay the fears of the previous board. Parliament deserves a full explanation of this appalling fiasco.

  This really points out that ANL has not been internationally competitive. The government should go on to explain not only how this mess came about but also what it is going to do about the shipping industry. The starting point for that is the recommendations recently given to the minister by the Shipping Industry Reform Authority. The virtual destruction of ANL, which we have had demonstrated to us this week, proves that governments cannot and should not get involved in businesses. It also proves that the Labor government cannot be trusted with taxpayers' money.