A decision by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann to back away from an investigation into the Ayers Rock Resort (ARR) has been called “inexplicable and incomprehensible”.
The Indigenous Land Council (ILC), which runs the resort through a subsidiary, called its own purchase “extraordinarily questionable” and also said it wanted to look at legal action to recover losses of over $100 million in buying it.
The iconic resort, a major tourism complex just outside Uluru in the Northern Territory, has a controversial history.
The ILC, which purchased the ARR in 2010 and then ran it through subsidiary company Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, has pushed for an investigation into its buying of the resort for years.
“The ILC calls on Minister Cormann, the Minister responsible for regulation of public sector corporations, to reinstate his earlier decision to initiate a review of the former ILC Board’s decision to acquire Ayers Rock Resort,” said ILC Chair Dr Dawn Casey.
The resort was purchased in October 2010 for $317 million, but its value was written down by $62 million in 2013. The purchase has left the Voyages carrying a huge debt.
In 2013, the ILC didn’t renew the contracts of the Voyages chairman and four directors; effectively sacking them.
In a letter to the ILC tabled in the Senate dated December 2014, Minister Cormann said he saw a need for an investigation to “have a wider look at the purchase of ARR and related actions by former officers of the ILC and other parties involved.”
But, earlier this month, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion told Mr Cormann in another letter that “significant scrutiny of the ILC’s decision” has already happened through three investigations, one the ILC itself commissioned.
“The correspondence tabled in the Senate last week shows that Minister Scullion was instrumental in reversing Minister Cormann’s original decision,” according to the ILC’s Dr Casey.
“The ILC believes the proposed investigation should be carried out by a respected and independent former judge or Senior Counsel.”
The Ayers Rock Resort has become a beacon of successfully employing Aboriginal people.
It is home to the National Indigenous Training Academy and has increased the number of Indigenous employees at the resort from 2 to over 250.
FACTBOX: Ayers Rock Resort
- Tourist complex with five accommodation sites for tourists
- 20km away from sacred Aboriginal site Uluru
- Bought by ILC for $317 million in 2010, operated through subsidiary
- Value has fluctuated, now worth about $225 million
- Employs over 250 indigenous people
FACTBOX: Indigenous Land Corporation
- Commonwealth body which helps Indigenous people own land and properties and operate businesses
- Operates 17 tourism and agricultural businesses
- Has acquired approx 5.86 million hectares of land
- Holds over 100,000 head of cattle worth $37.6 million
- Chaired by Dr Dawn Casey