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Wednesday, 24 August 1994
Page: 228


Senator ALSTON (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (3.09 p.m.) —I would like Senator Collins to explain on what basis ANL was valued in the budget in May this year and on what basis the government believed or told the public that it intended to sell the asset. In other words, did it have a positive net worth at that time? If it did not, it is hard to imagine what the government thought it was selling. Could he explain this discrepancy?


Senator Collins —Eh? That does not follow.


Senator ALSTON —That you were going to sell something that was worthless?


Senator Collins —Could it not have been for the reason that, philosophically, we did not think we should own it any longer, just like Qantas?


Senator ALSTON —I can understand Senator Collins saying it is a bit like—


Senator Collins —You don't concede that, irrespective of its value?


Senator ALSTON —I am just dealing with it. If it is equated to the Aussat satellite, which is basically worth about $600 billion negative, it is effectively being given away. The government is forgiving the debt. Optus had to pay that licence fee which gave it access to the satellite. If Senator Collins is saying, `ANL didn't really have a value. We were prepared to off-load it.' I would not have thought that that was a sale. What was it that people were buying? Was the government going to forgive the amounts? Was the government going to pay them out? Is that what Senator Collins means?


Senator Collins —It depends on the assumptions you are making at the end of the day.


Senator ALSTON —The ANL 1993 balance sheet showed gross assets of $352 million. The Price Waterhouse report says that, on its evaluation of the gross value, ANL had assets of $77 million to $120 million. There seems to be a fundamental discrepancy between the maximum figure of $120 million on the one hand and $352 million on the other, and I would like an explanation for that.

  The report goes on to say that these accounting based measures bear no resemblance to Price Waterhouse's indicative market valuation of ANL, which is in fact negative $74 million to $117 million. That is saying that it can have gross assets, but negative net worth. That was the belief of Senator Collins in May, but he gave no indication of that in the budget papers. He simply purported to be selling a substantial part of ANL as though it was an asset of value when, in fact, he was selling something worthless. Was the government going to simply pay off the debt independently and then give itself an asset of value and sell that? That is a classic accounting exercise in legerdemain—the government pretending that the company had made a profit while the government paid out a very substantial debt. I would like an explanation of the true position.

  I ask Senator Collins once again: when did he alert the public to the true state of affairs of ANL before December last when he was the responsible minister? My understanding is that whatever he might have said in private, and whatever reports might have been received from the management about the true state of affairs, his public statements gave no indication of the black hole that has now been described by Minister Brereton.