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Wednesday, 9 February 2005
Page: 139

Senator BARTLETT (6:50 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The report from the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations relates to the Air Passenger Ticket Levy (Collection) Act 2001 for the period 1 April 2003 to 31 March 2004. It reports on the administration of the special employee entitlement scheme for Ansett group workers. My colleague and leader, Senator Allison, spoke in this place on 7 December last year about the administration of this scheme and drew the Senate’s attention to the fact that not only have Ansett workers not received all their entitlements but the Australian travelling public have paid their Ansett ticket levy in the belief that the money was to go to Ansett workers when in fact it has gone into government coffers. We have now learned that the money is to be used to prop up this government’s war on terror in the form of aviation security related measures such as joint agency antiterrorism exercises in regional areas rather than to be spent on workers’ entitlements.

I think it is appropriate that the Senate and the public are aware that the report tabled today covers the period 1 April 2003 to 31 March 2004. It has been tabled nearly one year after the end of the reporting period and less than two months before the end of the next reporting period. Given the brevity of the report, I cannot understand why this would be the case. I think it would be helpful if the government or the minister could provide an explanation about that.

The report tells us that the government contracted SEES Pty Ltd, a private sector entity, to loan the administration of Ansett $350 million to cover workers’ entitlements—a loan which the Commonwealth underwrote. Senator Allison has asked questions on notice to find out about the ownership of that company but has not yet had an answer to those, as I understand it. The Commonwealth then recouped the money from the administrators of Ansett, through Ansett asset sales, covering the cost of the loan. At the end of the reporting period last year, that figure had reached $159.45 million, but since then a total of $218 million has been repaid. In addition to recouping the money for the loan from Ansett administrators, the Commonwealth levied a ticket tax. The Australian travelling public was told that this was the Ansett ticket levy—money to pay for Ansett workers’ entitlements. We are now finding out, however, that the Ansett administrators are paying for Ansett workers’ entitlements by repaying the government loan while the government profiteered on the ticket levy, pocketing the travelling public’s funds and using it to pay for other measures.

This might not be so bad were it not for the fact that Ansett workers are still waiting for their full entitlements. The government has said on numerous occasions that all Ansett employee entitlements have been paid up. This is only true to the extent that the employees have been paid the government’s own very restrictive level of entitlements that it said it would pay. For example, there is a maximum of eight weeks redundancy pay. This was according to the government’s so-called community standard. I believe the government has not clearly explained how this so-called community standard was arrived at. There are workers who have worked for Ansett for decades and who are owed more than eight weeks pay, so to say that they have been paid their full entitlements is simply not accurate.

Last year Senator Allison called for the government to release the money that it has pocketed from Ansett asset sales and to return that money to Ansett workers. On 15 December last year, the government made a big deal of the fact that Ansett administrators have paid Ansett workers a further $16 million in entitlements, but what the government did not say was that, on the same day, it collected a further $10 million from administrators to repay the loan on top of the Ansett ticket levy that it collected. So that double-dipping continues. We certainly say that the government should immediately stop collecting funds from Ansett assets and direct that money where the public was told it would go, where, I would suggest, it would be most appropriately directed and certainly where people are entitled to have it go—that is, to the Ansett workers.

Question agreed to.