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Thursday, 20 September 2001
Page: 31136

Mr BEAZLEY (2:17 PM) —My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister. Minister, do you recall that on 30 July the chief executive of Singapore Airlines said:

I am perplexed by the persistence of the so-called Qantas solution. What we can't understand is why Qantas can't take no for an answer.

Minister, given this statement, why did you the very next day publicly support and promote the very same Qantas solution which Singapore Airlines had so comprehensively rejected? By continuing to support the Qantas position, didn't you destroy the only hope Ansett had to keep flying and to save 70,000 jobs?

Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —As I have said repeatedly, the government believed that the Qantas proposal deserved full evaluation and close examination. Dr Michael Cullen, the finance minister in New Zealand, believed the same thing. There is no suggestion— there can be no suggestion—that what we did slowed up the process. It needs to be clearly remembered that right through this process until 6 September, Singapore Airlines, a shareholder in Air New Zealand and with three people at the board, had on the table their recapitalisation plan—their model for taking forward the future of Air New Zealand. They plainly believed that it was the best way forward. They obviously believed that it would secure the future of the airline.

As I have said, we indicated that we had a view that the alternative should have been closely looked at. However, the fact of the matter is that from around mid-August Dr Michael Cullen was indicating to me that, because there was no trigger for the Singapore Airlines direct investment in Ansett proposal, the New Zealand government was proceeding post haste within the time frame that we had all agreed was appropriate; that is, a decision by early September, when the group was to report publicly on its financial position—it needed certainty by then. The New Zealand government was moving to make a decision by then. We had accepted by then that, in all probability, it had to be their preferred model. There was no indication from the people who should have known best—the people around the board table, the shareholders and indeed the banks themselves—that the proposed recapitalisation model was regarded as inadequate. There was no stalling. The New Zealand minister will confirm that. What happened was that, very late in August, they started to run into difficulties agreeing amongst themselves on the recapitalisation plan. At the same time, only on 6 September, the world learned that Singapore Airlines had withdrawn its offer and that the recapitalisation plan was therefore not going to proceed.