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Thursday, 25 August 1994
Page: 368

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. I refer to the fact that ANL has missed its financial targets by a total of $237 million in the last four financial years. In 3 1/2 of those four years Senator Collins was either the minister responsible or the senior minister. Should not the minister's failure to reduce ANL's accumulated losses have been a warning to him as the `responsible' minister that urgent, drastic action was needed? Why did the minister not take that action? Why did he not sell ANL when he had the chance after it was announced in the government's 1991 budget? Why does he not do the decent thing and take responsibility for the catastrophic collapse of ANL?

Senator COLLINS —This is simply another indication of the coalition's utterly hopeless position regarding all major policy affecting issues which opposition senators themselves are highlighting as being of extreme importance. Senator Baume has now declared himself to be in the Moore camp in the coalition and wanting a fire sale.

  I point out to Senator Baume that yesterday the responsible frontbench shadow minister flatly contradicted something the honourable senator just asked me to do. Not only did Mr Sharp totally contradict Mr Moore and say that the government should retain ANL, continue to support it and put more money into it—he went much further than that. He actually proposed that we should provide tax breaks to the seamen who serve on board the ships. He said that we should give them tax concessions—that is, tax-free salaries—and also give the companies further tax breaks on

fuel excise. So that lot opposite had better make up their minds where they are at on this issue that they place so much importance on, because there are two distinct camps on their front bench about what the government should do with ANL. I would like those opposite to sort that out themselves.

  I pointed out yesterday the fallacy of the figures that Senator Baume has just given. What the opposition has done with those figures, and they are fallacious, is to take the topmost optimistic level of the value placed on ANL by the scoping study that was done in 1992 and compare it with the worst case scenario of the much more precise due diligence process that has just been completed. As a kindergarten student of accounting would know, that is a fallacious and flawed exercise. The figures that Senator Baume is quoting from are simply wrong.

  In terms of the fundamental problem, I refer Senator Baume to yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald editorial. That editorial said it perfectly. The problem is that—

Senator Hill —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The minister should be asked to make an attempt to answer the question. The question brought to his attention that this company, under his supervision—he was the responsible minister—year after year failed to reach its own targets. The question is: why should not the minister responsible actually accept that responsibility? Will he explain to the Senate why he did not do anything about it during all those years of disappointing results? How does he explain to the Australian people why they have lost millions of dollars of their money as a result of his default?

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

Senator COLLINS —Mr President, that is precisely what I am doing. Senator Michael Baume has asked me to reply to this. As powerful as I am, the reason I did not do any of those things is that I was not in a position to unilaterally fix up what was an international depression in international shipping. They are the principal reasons. I will quote from yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald editorial because it accurately describes what the true position was. The editorial said—and I said this to the Senate:

There are simply too many ships competing for tonnages. Too many countries are turning a blind eye to miserable wages and breaches of maritime safety.

How often have I brought that matter to the Senate's attention and highlighted it? So, Senator Baume, let us not have any of these suggestions that the matter was not raised by me.

The editorial goes on:

Russian and Chinese ships, in particular, are prepared to undercut rates—

as I told the Senate—

in order to gain valuable hard currency. These are factors beyond the control of the Federal Government.

What did Senator MacGibbon say in the Senate about those miserable wages and conditions? He said that we had no right to complain about them. That is what Senator MacGibbon said—that we should allow that situation to continue. It would do him a lot of good to read the editorial.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister saying that when, in the 1991 budget, he said, as the `responsible' minister, that ANL was to be sold—

Senator Collins —Forty-nine per cent.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Forty-nine per cent was to be sold. Is he now telling us that that was a totally phoney statement in that budget, that he had no chance of doing it? My question was: why did he not sell it when he had the chance and not delay and delay as a result of union pressure? Can he now tell us when, as a result of his ministerial incompetence, the government will be announcing the increases in taxes and charges that Mr Brereton said on 29 June would be needed to make up for the loss of revenue from this non-sale of ANL and the continued financial drain on the government of this big loser?

Senator COLLINS —I thank Senator Baume for another free kick. The facts are that in 1991—and this is on the record in terms of how responsibly we have acted in this position—I negotiated a 49 per cent sell down with the relevant parties. We conducted a scoping study that has been quoted by the opposition. The scoping study recommended that it should be a 100 per cent sell down, not 49 per cent. Immediately following that, the then minister, Senator Cook, jointly with the Treasurer, took a submission to cabinet proposing the 100 per cent sell down. A due diligence process was invoked as a result of that. The results of that due diligence process are now on the table.

  The facts are that all the evidence indicates that the government has behaved totally responsibly and with complete propriety in respect of this matter. The difference between us is we want to save the company, the opposition wants to kill it.