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Thursday, 25 May 1989
Page: 2693


Senator BEAHAN —Has the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce seen the press release issued on 1 May by Mr John Moore, shadow Minister for business and consumer affairs, dealing with aspects of the Government's decision to invite the public to subscribe funds to an Australian Industry Development Corporation (AIDC) subsidiary? Can the Minister inform the Senate whether there is any substance in Mr Moore's claim that the float is not being managed in the public interest?


Senator BUTTON —I have seen that press release. I thought that I should comment on it because it is an extraordinarily irresponsible piece of work from a shadow Minister. Fortunately, journalists working for Australia's major daily newspapers did their homework better than Mr Moore-much more thoroughly, and earlier. Newspapers ignored Mr Moore and gave the public an accurate and favourable picture of what the Government and the AIDC are trying to achieve by this float.

I should remind honourable senators of certain facts concerning the Government's decision to offer the public equity in AIDC Ltd, a new company in which the Government, through the AIDC, will retain 70 per cent ownership. The Government is not interested in privatisation by stealth, as Mr Moore suggests; it is interested in making sure that the capital base of the AIDC grows sufficiently strongly to allow it to play a strong role in supporting the development of Australian industry. Hence the decision to offer shares in it to the public. The AIDC has been managed very professionally and with great prudence. Its assets and profits have grown steadily and at a respectable rate. In terms of comparative performance, it is one of the most successful enterprises of its kind in Australia.

I have every confidence that the float will also be managed competently and professionally by the AIDC. Contrary to what Mr Moore says, the AIDC has engaged professional underwriters to the issue. Journalists were quite aware of that, but apparently the shadow Minister was not. The Government has engaged its own independent adviser on the float-Mr Charles Goode, the Chairman of Potter Partners. His advice and expertise are available both to the Government and to the management of the AIDC. It is a matter of obvious concern that the issue be correctly priced and competently managed.

It was careless-or, worse, suspicious-that Mr Moore's intervention was made in the way it was and in a manner likely to damage the prospects of a successful float. I do not think it is entirely surprising that this press release was ill-informed. In answer to a question yesterday, Senator Walsh pointed out that Mr Moore had obviously been well tutored by those who had made significant profits from Britain's privatisation program. Apparently he is not concerned with the broader industry restructuring issues, nor is he concerned to get the best deal for the Australian taxpayer. If he were he would not have said what he did. He certainly seems to be obsessed with the process of wholesale sell-offs that can only benefit friends on the stock exchange. In contrast to the way in which the Government is managing the float, Mr Moore has never demonstrated much care or attention to detail, and he seems to have a limited sense of shadow ministerial responsibility.