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New chairperson of ANL says technically it should be liquidated

ELLEN FANNING: The man appointed to salvage the Government-owned shipping line says technically ANL has arrived at the point at which it should be liquidated. Former Labor Premier, Neville Wran, admits politics plays a part in the Federal Government's decision to try to rescue ANL which has lost $30 million a year for the past four years.

Well, the Transport Minister, Laurie Brereton, has decided to avoid an internal ALP brawl by scrapping plans to privatise ANL. He says the Government couldn't give it away and would have to pay a private buyer at least $75 million to take the shipping line off its hands. David Pembroke asked Mr Wran about his new responsibilities.

NEVILLE WRAN: It's certainly not the easiest job and I don't think I'm under any illusions at all that there is no quick fix for ANL. There's certainly no magic administration that's going to solve its ills and indeed the specific task that myself and my fellow directors have been given is to salvage those components of ANL which are or can be made commercially viable.

DAVID PEMBROKE: Well, having some working knowledge of the company, where did the previous management go wrong?

NEVILLE WRAN: Well, it's too early for me to say that, in one sense, except to the extent that it helps the restructuring of ANL. Where the previous administration, if they went wrong, went wrong is of little significance.

DAVID PEMBROKE: Is there a possibility, as you go through this process of evaluation, that the point could arrive where liquidation might seem the best prospect, and if that did arise would you recommend that to the Minister?

NEVILLE WRAN: Yes, I think the Minister can depend upon getting an objective and honest view as to what the board thinks. After all, that's our responsibility and our obligation, if that should be the case.

DAVID PEMBROKE: Well, given that the company has been losing $30 million a year before tax for at least that last four years, do you think that that point could be arrived at fairly quickly?

NEVILLE WRAN: Well, in one sense I suppose, in the technical sense, it's been arrived at now. But ANL is being given, I think, a final chance by the Government which is putting in place guarantees of ANL's borrowings and appointing a board with the specific task of lopping off the dead wood and endeavouring to put together some package of what remains of ANL for the purpose of continuity.

DAVID PEMBROKE: You say that that point in the technical sense has already been arrived at. Would that then suggest that there is an element of politics involved in this decision to try and keep ANL afloat?

NEVILLE WRAN: I think there's an element of politics in everything that happens.

DAVID PEMBROKE: And how much politics in this decision, do you think, by the Minister?

NEVILLE WRAN: I think his decision has been taken with the best of good will and with the best of intentions. There's been a succession of pre-tax losses and there's a high debt level, as you've mentioned. But you can't evaluate everything from the point of view of dollars and cents. Ultimately the human factor comes into it and I've no doubt that's been evaluated as well.

ELLEN FANNING: Neville Wran, and he was speaking there with David Pembroke.