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Thursday, 13 April 1972
Page: 1110

Senator WHEELDON (Western Australia) - I wish to speak briefly about some of the matters referred to by Senator Rae and also to raise some other matters relating to episodes of the attempted takeover by Thomas Nationwide Transport Ltd of Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. I think it is important that this matter should be investigated by a Senate committee not only for the reasons put forward already by the mover of the motion (Senator Gair) and by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) but also because I believe there are some quite fundamental questions to be considered involving the ownership of Australian industry and the manner in which that ownership is acquired as a result of recent developments on the conflict between the board of TNT and the board of ATI.

I agree with Senator Rae that a number of these matters could be dealt with elsewhere if there were a national supervisory body to deal with operations on the securities markets, but there is no such authority at the present time. Accordingly, if there is to be any investigation of this matter as it relates to the present situation with which we are faced it will have to be done by the Committee to which the motion suggests that it be referred. Apparently Senator Rae, speaking on behalf of the Government, and Senator Byrne, believe that these matters may be considered and probably would be considered by the Committee when the reference does take place. Nonetheless I believe that some attention should be drawn to some of them. This present confrontation is of considerable importance to Australia for at least 2 reasons. One of them is the fact that on the outcome of the present conflict depends the ownership of the Australian transport industry. I do not wish to comment on its merits but if TNT is successful in its takeover offer we will find that consolidated in the hands of one group, the board of TNT, will be the direction of a very large, preponderant sector of the Australian transport industry, involving planes, trucks and ships. In fact there will be very little privately owned transport of any significance not in the hands of the conglomerate giant which will emerge as a result of a takeover of Ansett Transport Industries by the Thomas Nationwide Transport group.

The other matter also of great importance is the fact that at present $35. 8m is still owing by Ansett Transport Industries on loans guaranteed by the Commonwealth. Privately owned assets which somebody is attempting to buy are not the only things involved in this matter. Also involved is a very considerable direct interest on the part of the Australian Government and the Australian people amounting to $35.8m. There can be no doubt that the resources which have been available to Ansett Transport Industries for the borrowing of funds were increased considerably by the fact that the Commonwealth guaranteed these loans amounting to $35.8m.

I believe that in some respects this conflict is very alarming. At an early stage in the present crisis a statement was attributed to Mr Thomas. He was alleged to have said: The name of the game is money, money, money'. He subsequently was reported as having denied that. But in this morning's Melbourne 'Age' he was reported as saying that he did not say: The name of the game is money, money, money'. In his own words, what he said was: "The name of the game is money, money, money, money - money is the name of the game*. He is reported also as saying: 'But I only said that because Peter was speaking at the time and I wanted to make myself heard'. Whatever the reason for this strange repetition of the word 'money', even if it were only used once I think this should be rather alarming to the Senate and to all Australians. Whoever is going to direct a very substantial sector of the transport of Australia, I would have thought that one of the primary concerns of air transport would be safety, safety, safety, not money, money, money. As a frequent air traveller I feel quite strongly about this although I do not normally patronise Ansett Transport Industries, whoever the shareholders are. In any event, however worthy a citizen Mr Thomas may be, and however worthy the other persons involved may be, I do not think that money, money, money ought to be the primary concern of the Australian people in this matter.

Another matter concerning the operations of Thomas Nationwide Transport which should give some concern is the recent issue of 6 million additional shares in that .company. If there were a securities and exchange commission in Australia it could investigate this matter. I believe , that this should be looked into by the Senate committee when the matter is referred to it. It would be very interesting to learn how the 6 million new shares in Thomas Naionwide Transport were distributed to the purchasers of those shares. Can we be confident that there was nothing in the nature of insider trading? What rights did the existing shareholders of TNT have to the purchase of these shares? Was there any privileged access by any persons to the 6 million shares issued by TNT as part of this, takeover bid? Which persons were advised that they were available for sale? What preferences were given, if any, to any persons who wished to acquire these shares? .

I am not trying to suggest that there is anything unusual about the conduct of TNT in comparison with that of ATI. If we look at ATI we also find some rather strange developments. On 26th March there appeared in the Sunday 'Australian' a report of an interview with Sir Reginald Ansett and I have seen no contradiction by Sir Reginald of what was stated. Sir Reginald was asked by his interviewer something to this effect: 'What about a TNT man on the board of ATI?' The report states': .

I put people on the board', said Sir 'Reginald Ansett emphatically.

This is probably true. I dare say that Sir Reginald does put people on and off the board. At the same time I think that we should look at a public company., which receives many millions of dollars in loans guaranteed by the Government when: such a strange and autocratic procedure 'is adopted in its administration. One person, the Chairman of Ansett Transport Industries, is able to say: '1 put people "on the board*. My understanding of the Companies Act is that people are put on a board by elections of shareholders, not by Sir Reginald Ansett or any other individual. I think it is disturbing that there is such blatant sole personal control of a large national enterprise, as Sir Reginald Ansett said on this occasion.

Senator Wright - The Senate is really considering serious business, you know.

Senator WHEELDON - I am aware of that. That is what I am endeavouring to concentrate upon. I regard this as very serious business. When I am seeking guidance as to what business is serious the last person I would look to would be Senator Wright. I believe that matters of great national concern have been raised and I hope they will be investigated by this Committee.

Senator Wright - That is the last time I will give you any advice.

Senator WHEELDON - That will save both of us a lot of time. The other matter I wish to refer to with regard to the conduct of Ansett Transport Industries is a statement made on Sunday in the form of a Press release by Sir Reginald Ansett. He said that he intended to increase by 50 per cent the dividends paid on shares in Ansett Transport Industries. He said that the matter would be referred to the Board on the following day. Apparently he took it to the Board on the following day. No reports had been made to the Melbourne Stock Exchange or any other stock exchange of the intention stated by the Chairman 1o double the dividends payable by Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. One might have been justifiably startled had one looked at a list of the directors of Ansett Transport Industries. None other than the Chairman of the Melbourne Stock Exchange, Sir Cecil Looker, was sitting on that Board which acted precisely as Sir Reginald said it would act only the previous day by way of a Press statement. No report whatsoever was made to the Melbourne Stock Exchange.

Again, just recently, we saw what happened in both Sydney and Melbourne where Sir Peter Abeles and various other persons from Thomas Nationwide Transport Ltd - to return to that organisation - approached groups of institutional investors seeking to enlist their support and obtain their money to go into Thomas Nationwide Transport. Sir Peter is reported to have given a most eloquent address just recently to a group of some 40 representatives of institutional investors in Melbourne. This was commented upon in a very perceptive article in the 'Australian Financial Review' which asked: 'Are the public less equal than some?' These are matters of very great concern. We are particularly concerned about foreign ownership which already exists and which is increasing in Thomas Nationwide Transport. Such ownership could play an important part in any merged company. Indeed, as the amendment and the motion indicate this matter should be investigated insofar as it applies to Ansett Transport Industries. But seriously problems affect the whole of our economy, our transport services and the financial system of Australia. These are important matters which should come before the Committee. I trust that the amendment which has been moved by Senator Murphy will be carried.

Senator COTTON(New South Wales - Minister for Aviation) - by leave - I shall say one or two things quite briefly because I think this will aid the process of discussion. Regardless of any outcome of this motion safety will not be compromised. That has been said before, it will be said again and it is said now with the greatest possible emphasis. Earlier I thought I might not have a chance to speak again and that is why I asked my colleague, Senator Rae, to indicate to the body of the Senate the Government's view of the motion moved on behalf of the Australian Democratic Labor Party and the amendment moved by Senator Murphy. I thought it proper that the Senate, as a body, should learn as soon as possible in this sort of discussion the Government's view. That is what we were doing with the kind cooperation of Senator Rae. The point made by Senator Byrne, of course, will be taken seriously by us and will be kept under constant review. The honourable senator may be sure that the matter is being watched. We felt a slight concern, which we expressed to Senator Byrne, regarding the use of the words: 'advise the Minister'. We thought that perhps this could stand a change. We welcome a change. I understand that he and his leader (Senator Gair) have some suggestions which they may care to make on this matter. We shall be very happy to hear them.

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