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Crunch Time For Air NZ - Richard Prebble Speech

Sunday, September 9 2001
Richard Prebble Speech


Extract from a speech by Hon Richard Prebble, leader ACT New Zealand, to ACT's Wellington regional conference, Sunday 10 September at 3pm

Tomorrow the Cabinet will either announce some form of bail out of Air New Zealand by the taxpayer, or the board of Air New Zealand will be forced by its bankers to put Ansett into liquidation ' so putting 16,000 employees out of work.

This is an airline that's been destroyed by government dithering. The Qantas proposal was never an option.

Three months ago the Air New Zealand board had a viable option to refinance the airline. But this coalition government, using its Kiwi share, stopped it.

Why?

Jim Anderton in Opposition referred to Air New Zealand as Air Singapore. The Alliance's ideological opposition to any foreign ownership has paralysed the Cabinet.

The Greens also played a role. Air New Zealand realised that it's a minority government, so they briefed the Greens who told the airline's management that the Greens wanted the Ansett venture to fail ' so Air New Zealand could become a "boutique" airline.

I've just been to the Solomon Islands. Solomon Airlines is down to leasing just one Boeing 737. I don't want to live in a country with one of the Greens' boutique airlines. It's scary.

The government can't blame the National/ACT Opposition.. National publicly came out over two months ago in favour of allowing Singapore Airlines to increase its shareholding ' so Labour had the numbers in parliament.

As leader of ACT, I came out over two months ago and told that government that BIL ' now a Singapore company ' should be kicked off the New Zealand share registry. BIL's opposition to a properly-price New Zealand share issue is a large part of the airline's financing problems.

If the coalition had just let the board refinance the company, then today Air New Zealand would be an integral part of one of the world's largest airlines ' one that will be a winner in the international shake-out of airlines. Ansett would be re-financed without the need to buy more aircraft, and delivering a potential four million passengers a year to Air New Zealand. And the future of our tourism industry, the nation's largest employer, would be secure.

As Terry McCrann wrote in his column in yesterday's Australian, "Is Helen Clark the most incompetent Prime Minister that country has ever had?"

The Air New Zealand debacle is a wake-up call to business of the cost of the Alliance/Labour government. A Labour/Green government would be even more dysfunctional.

It does matter who the government is. It could be your business ' your job ' that is next.

It looks likely that in the Air New Zealand saga, we could get the worst of all worlds ' Ansett falls over, a taxpayer bail-out and Singapore Airlines picks up control for a song.

Only Helen, Jim and Rod Donald could manage that outcome.

But the most likely outcome from tomorrow's crucial Cabinet meeting is a non-decision. Helen Clark will then head for a talkfest of "Third Way" leaders in Europe ' where she can be cheered for taking 150 Afghan refugees ' before a decision is made on saving the national airline.

But the BBC is not interested in Air New Zealand ' so neither is Clark.

Michael Cullen believes a meeting of finance ministers in Asia is more important than Air New Zealand.

What is Mark Gosche doing? He's the Transport Minister ' the minister in charge of aviation. He's so ineffective that even his own colleagues won't let him make a decision about Air New Zealand or railways.

If the national airline is not regarded as important enough to stay at home for, then I predict the coalition will decide not to make a decision.

Why break a habit?

Ends

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