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Thursday, 25 August 1994
Page: 386


Senator MICHAEL BAUME (3.33 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Senator Collins), to a question without notice asked by Senator Michael Baume this day, relating to the Australian National Line.

I had asked Senator Collins whether he would take responsibility, and I notice that he is not prepared to take enough responsibility to be in here to hear the proper reply to his improper response and respond to the debate. I asked him whether he would do the decent thing and take responsibility for the catastrophic collapse of ANL. I asked that of him because he keeps on saying that the inability to sell ANL is because of deteriorating problems internationally and that everyone is suffering. But he then goes on to say, `And in particular, in the last six months.' In that case, let us have a look at why nothing was done. I ask: why was nothing done for so many years? Why was nothing done after the 1991 budget statement? That states:

Proceeds from major asset sales in 1991-92 and 1992-93—

gee, 1992-93 was a long time ago!—

are expected to exceed those received in 1990-91 reflecting, in particular, the proposed sales of:

. . . . . . . . .

—a substantial part of ANL Limited;

In other words, it was supposed to be sold. The government was going to get the receipts of that sale by 1991-92 and 1992-93. Now it appears that this was clearly phoney. The budget statement states:

The Government has decided to sell a substantial part of ANL, the operations of which encompass both domestic and international shipping and, through a majority owned subsidiary, stevedoring activities in major ports around Australia.

The quantum of ANL to be sold and the timing and method for sale are to be determined following further study of these issues.

The government did not have a due diligence examination until March of this year, and this was announced in the 1991 budget. What was this dynamic minister doing between the 1991 budget, when the decision was made and announced, and March 1994 when his successor eventually got around to having a due diligence examination done?

  The fact is that it now appears, from everything that Senator Collins has said, that this 1991 budget announcement was phoney, that the government had no capacity or intention to sell ANL at that time. We know perfectly well that the government knew what the loss level was at the time. I believe that Senator Collins—I think this is now evident from what we have seen here—simply put in the 1991 budget something that was incapable of happening. In order to dress up that budget he put in a receipt that was never capable of being achieved. That kind of deception is intolerable.

  Either Senator Collins knew at the time that ANL was unsaleable and would bring in no revenue, despite the claims in the budget that it would, or ANL has gone seriously bad under his administration because he left enough time for it to go seriously bad and did not act when he should have acted.

  It is nonsense to say there is a major difference within the coalition. The big question is: why was ANL not sold when it was capable, according to the government in its 1991 budget, of being sold? What is incredible is that Budget Paper No. 1, which was circulated in May this year as part of this year's budget, states:

Major asset sales previously announced which are expected to be completed in 1994-95 include:

. . . . . . . . .

—a substantial part of ANL Limited (formerly Australian National Line);

It lists a total of $3.3 billion to be the receipts of asset sales. These are expected proceeds reflected in total from a list of things, including ANL. It says:

The Government's decision to sell a substantial part of ANL Limited was first announced in the 1991-92 Budget . . . In March 1994, Ministers announced that a due diligence process would be commenced.

This parliament has every right to ask: why did the minister not do something about this when he had the chance to sell ANL? Was it because the unions would not let him? Is this another example of a weak minister kowtowing to union pressure not to sell an asset when it was capable of being sold?

  Now, as a result of the minister's indolence and incompetence, ANL, according to reports that we have seen, is apparently no longer capable of being sold. Even if it could be sold, the price would be much lower than would have been the case if the minister had not been so incompetent and indolent.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.