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Thursday, 25 August 1994
Page: 365


Senator ALSTON —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. In the Senate yesterday the minister said in relation to ANL:

. . . those losses have escalated sharply in the last 12 months. Indeed, $18 million of the projected $25 million loss for this financial year has occurred in the last six months.

The previous day in the House of Representatives, Mr Brereton, speaking on the same matter, said:

No-one can claim that there has been any real deterioration in the last six months.

Who is telling the truth—Senator Collins or Mr Brereton?


Senator COLLINS —I will examine what Mr Brereton said in the other chamber. But the facts are, on the advice I have received, that there has been a rapid deterioration, as I said in the Senate, in the company's financial position in the last 12 months. I might add that the information that was provided yesterday in the question asked by the senator's colleague Senator Minchin—he took the trouble to do something Senator Alston has not done, and that is to examine the company's audited accounts that have been tabled in this place—indicated the progressively deteriorating position of the company in terms of its published losses over the last three years.

  Government senators interjecting


Senator COLLINS —No, I do not expect Senator Alston to do any work. That is the position. The advice that I have been provided with is that there has been a serious deterioration in the company's financial situation in the last 12 months. The advice provided to me is that $18 million out of the projected $25 million loss has occurred in the last six months. That is the advice I have received from the minister. I will check that matter with him.

  I think the most useful thing Senator Alston can do is work out what the coalition's position is on this important issue. He talks about statements made yesterday. Yesterday the two relevant shadow ministers, Mr Moore and Mr Sharp, issued absolutely flatly contradictory statements about what the coalition should do with ANL. We have an interest in this—


Senator Hill —Mr President, I take a point of order.


Senator COLLINS —Oh, yes, we are not allowed to talk about the coalition's position.


Senator Hill —The minister can try to answer that under one of the dorothy dixers but this question asked who was telling the truth, Senator Collins or Mr Brereton, seeing they have both given inconsistent answers to their respective chambers. Can the minister please advise the Senate whether or not he was telling us the truth.


The PRESIDENT —I ask the minister to get back to the point of the question.


Senator COLLINS —Mr President, that is exactly the point I was addressing. I support Mr Sharp's position on this issue.


Senator Kemp —Mr President, I take a point of order. Your ruling is being flatly ignored by the minister. He was clearly directed by you to answer the question, which was straightforward, as to who was telling the truth—Mr Brereton or him. It was a straightforward question and I do not think he should be allowed to flout your instructions in this manner.


Senator McMullan —Mr President, on the point of order: what Senator Collins was doing, irrespective of people's concerns about what he was saying before, was indicating his views on the matter, and doing so by illustrating somebody with whom he agreed.


Senator Ian Macdonald —What rubbish!


Senator McMullan —The words he used were `for my part, I agree with Mr Sharp'. That is a statement of his position and he is about to articulate it. I realise it is a source of embarrassment for the opposition but, nevertheless, it is what he was doing and it is perfectly in accordance with the standing orders, irrespective of the previous position.


Senator Alston —Mr President, on the point of order: you have just ruled that it was not appropriate for Senator Collins to distract attention from the main issue by talking about Mr Sharp and the coalition. That is a ruling that I do not understand those on the other side to quarrel with. In accordance with that ruling, Senator Collins ought to be directed, as you have already done, not to talk about other matters but to answer the question.


The PRESIDENT —What I should have spelt out more clearly was that Senator Collins was debating the issue and that it was not really helping the answer. I asked him to get back to the point of the answer. I was not in a position to judge whether or not he was doing that before Senator Kemp jumped.


Senator COLLINS —I have in fact answered the question. On the advice provided to me, which I have just double-checked, the financial situation of the company, which regrettably has progressively worsened over the last two or three years—this is hardly a state secret; it has been regularly reported on by trade papers such as the Daily Commercial News and, as Senator Minchin noted yesterday, has progressively been reported by the audited accounts of the company over the last two to three years—was that over the last 12 months that progressively deteriorating position of the company had escalated and that, of the $25 million in projected losses this year, $18 million has occurred in the last six months, which was the advice I gave the Senate.


Senator ALSTON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister has just said `on the advice provided to me.' Who does the minister get his advice from? I would have thought that Mr Brereton was pretty relevant in this matter. Senator Collins has once again said that there has been a very significant deterioration. Is he seriously suggesting that he was not aware that Mr Brereton told the House of Representatives two days ago that no-one can claim there has been any real deterioration in the last six months? What have we got here? Is this really the minister trying to bag and shaft Mr Brereton and him doing the same to Senator Collins? Why do they not put their heads together and start to blame Senator Cook, who was the junior minister for shipping and aviation between May 1992 and March 1993!


Senator COLLINS —The point that has been made again and again, and Senator Alston knows it, is that the big difference between the government and the opposition on this—and I am very pleased to say that the relevant frontbencher in the opposition actually supports our position—has been to try to maintain the existence of this company, as distinct from Mr Moore, who wants to pull it to pieces and close it down tomorrow. I support Mr Sharp's position on this, not Mr Moore's.

  The fact is that, sadly, the financial position of this company has progressively deteriorated over the last two to three years. That is reflected in the published audited accounts of the company that have been tabled in this parliament, as Senator Minchin noted yesterday, and there has been a significant acceleration of that deterioration. On the advice provided to me—I will say it again—


Senator Alston —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The questions were simply: where does the minister get his advice, has he had discussions with Mr Brereton about it, and, if so, how does he possibly explain Mr Brereton saying what he said two days ago?


The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order.


Senator COLLINS —Mr President—


The PRESIDENT —The minister's time has expired. I am sorry, Senator Collins.