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Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Page: 48

Senator ALLISON (3:27 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for the Environment and Heritage (Senator Ian Campbell) to a question without notice asked by Senator Allison today relating to the entitlements of former Ansett employees.

The fact is that this government has profited as a result of both the levy and the way in which it is claiming asset sales on top of that levy. The minister, I think, misled the chamber, and my staff confirmed this, by saying that the government had not collected additional money. Let us just go through it. It is quite complex. The government set up a levy scheme back in September 2001. At that time it was expected that the administrator of Ansett would contribute to those worker entitlements through the sale of assets—through winding up the company, in other words. At the time, Minister Anderson was asked by journalists, `You won't be double-dipping, will you?' The minister assured those journalists that this was not to be the case. It has become the case.

The government has collected $286 million through the Ansett ticket levy. Of the $336 million which it loaned, in the first instance, to the Ansett administrators, $208 million has already been paid back. That provides a net profit of more than $150 million, which the government has chucked into general revenue and used to fund a whole range of unrelated projects. Those projects were loosely related to aviation, but, if the travelling public who paid an extra $10 in their levy every time they travelled in this country had known, no doubt they would have been a bit angry about the fact that it paid for things like security training for regional airport staff and multiagency counter-terrorism exercises at regional airports—not so much because they were not worthy projects but because the Ansett employees are still owed $212 million in entitlements that they are not able to be paid. The minister has the cheek to suggest that it is entirely up to the Ansett administrators. It is not, because the government has made itself the highest priority creditor. Even though it has raised all this money from the levy, it is still effectively saying, `We've not been paid everything we paid you.'

KordaMentha, who are the administrators of Ansett, cannot pay further entitlements, even though Ansett employees are owed about $212 million, until they have paid back the full $336 million. But remember again that the levy has raised more than $286 million over and above that. So, effectively, the government is hoodwinking both the general public and Ansett employees and profiteering at the expense of those employees. The minister says they have all been paid up. Maybe they have been, but only to the government's own very restrictive level of entitlements that it said it would pay. For instance, there is a maximum of eight weeks redundancy pay, as I understand it, whereas many of those employees were Ansett employees for years and years, well beyond that entitlement. There is $212 million there that should be paid by this government to those workers, and it should happen before Christmas. This is the appropriate time to do it.

Furthermore, the government should advise the Ansett administrators that it will no longer collect any further moneys from the sale of assets because this is neither reasonable nor fair. The government is simply taking advantage of its position. I understand that back when the levy was set up it was not understood how much the assets would raise, so there was some doubt. But the government has just taken advantage of that and will keep insisting—I understand that there is about $60 million still to come—that that money be paid to it instead of being paid to employees. The handling of the Ansett workers' entitlements has been a sorry mess. We know there has been an enormous amount of distress on their part in not being able to access those entitlements. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.