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Monday, 29 August 1994
Page: 465

Senator ALSTON —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. Is the minister aware that the outgoing board of ANL—

Senator Robert Ray —What time did you get the phone call on Friday?

Senator ALSTON —Sorry?

Senator Robert Ray —What time did you get the phone call on Friday?

Senator Faulkner —You ratted on Hewson.

Senator ALSTON —Is the minister aware that the outgoing board of ANL sent its estimate of the worth of that company to the Auditor-General only days before the government published—

Senator Faulkner —You have ratted.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Faulkner.

Senator ALSTON —Time off, Mr President? Only days before the government published the Salomon Bros/Price Waterhouse report. Is the minister also aware that the ANL in-house valuation—

  Senator Faulkner interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner!

Senator ALSTON —Are you going to throw him out or not? Is the minister aware—I know Senator Collins would like to hear this—that the ANL in-house valuation estimated the company to be worth up to $33 million and that its worst estimate was zero or break even? Was a major reason for the much lower Salomon Bros evaluation the severe discounting of the value of ANL's assets supplied by the international valuer Drewry and the decision not to assign a value to others?

The PRESIDENT —The senator's time has expired.

Senator Michael Baume —Mr President, I rise on a point or order.

Senator ALSTON —On what basis was the Price Waterhouse decision discounting Drewry's valuation?

The PRESIDENT —The senator's time has expired. Do you have a point of order?

Senator ALSTON —I have finished my question but I ask you, Mr President, whether you actually allowed time for those appalling interjections from over there.

The PRESIDENT —No time was taken up because no point of order was raised.

Senator Michael Baume —Mr President, I raise a point of order.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Alston was standing before you, Senator Baume.

Senator Michael Baume —Yes; and I tried to take a point of order, Mr President, when you said Senator Alston's time had expired. The point of order that I was taking was that I understood that in question time any interruptions, particularly persistent and deliberate interruptions which are drawn to your attention, would be taken off the time available for the question. Did you in fact make available time to make up for the disgraceful behaviour of the minister who interjected non-stop for the first 30 seconds of the question?

The PRESIDENT —The standard procedure is that the clocks are stopped for points of order but not for any interjections. I might say that interjections have been pretty bad on both sides of the house. I remind honourable senators that they are on show in this place, not only to the people who are in here but to the people who are watching the proceedings on television. I ask you to think of the image of this place, given some of the behaviour. I must say also that it is not helped by provocative comments when answers are being given by ministers.

Senator Michael Baume —On a point of order, Mr President: could you define for me when persistent interjection becomes deliberate disruption? Could you explain to me why the behaviour of the minister was not in fact such as to result in more than simply the beating with a feather that you gave him?

The PRESIDENT —I have given you the standard procedure; that is, the clock is stopped for points of order but not for interjections. I did sit the person down who was making those interjections, so I did comment to that person. That is all I can do at this stage. I certainly will be watching out for any further breaches of the standing orders in that respect.

Senator COLLINS —The question that Senator Alston asked was, in fact, canvassed in some detail here in question time last week, I think in response to a question I received from Senator Gibson—Senator Gibson is nodding in assent. As I told the Senate last week, the audited accounts of ANL were tabled in the parliament, in the Senate, last year: parliamentary paper 366 of 1993. Those accounts were properly audited and, indeed, received an unqualified audit from the Australian National Audit Office, which is contained in the annual report.

  The difference between the valuation placed by the due diligence process and the figures that Senator Alston has just referred to from the audited accounts of the company was exactly as I explained it to Senator Gibson last week; that is, that the value placed by the company properly on its assets was valued essentially as the company being a going concern. The qualification placed on the valuation by the consultants that did the due diligence process was that they had valued those assets, with the discounting that Senator Alston has just referred to, on the basis of selling those assets; in other words, from the point of view of actually carrying out a liquidation of the company.

  That is why I told Senator Gibson last week, in respect of the action taken by the minister and the government in setting up an interim board with six months to try to rapidly restructure what has been an ongoing restructuring of this company since 1982, that those assumptions, that Senator Alston has just repeated, cannot necessarily be relied upon.

Senator ALSTON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the minister say to the Senate that the report that ANL's figures are based on—in other words, the Drewry valuation which has gone to the Auditor-General—is in respect of the 1993-94 financial year? If that is the case, how does he reconcile having one report showing a net worth as low as $118 million and ANL's own assessment, based on Drewry, in this current year which shows that it could be worth a positive $33 million? On which basis does the minister say the Auditor-General ought to sign off; or does the minister say it is simply a matter of him changing the rules when it suits him?

Senator COLLINS —I can only assume that Senator Alston's thinking has been temporarily unhinged by the VIP flight that he took to Launceston where he, Senator Hill and Alexander Downer threw Dr Hewson out from 30,000 feet over Bass Strait.  For the third or fourth time, we are talking about two completely separate exercises. The board of ANL, in public accounts that have been properly audited by the Australian National Audit Office, valued those assets with ANL as a going concern; in other words, it placed a positive value on things like trade shares and so on, with ANL as a going concern. The due diligence examination was qualified by saying that those values were on the basis of, effectively, a liquidation sale. They are two completely different propositions, which is why I told Senator Gibson last week that, because of the work that is now going to be done by the interim board that has been appointed by the minister, those assumptions cannot necessarily be relied upon. (Time expired)