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Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia
Opportunities and methods for stimulating the tourism industry in Northern Australia

HARVEY, Mr Bob, Executive General Manager, Indigenous Employment and Training, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia

PIEPER, Mr Manfred, Executive General Manager, Operations, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia

STONE, Mr Raymond, Executive General Manager, Sales Marketing and Distribution, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia

WILLIAMS, Mr Andrew, Chief Executive Officer, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia

Committee met at 15:24

CHAIR ( Mr Entsch ): I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet and pay our respects to their elders past and present. I declare open this public hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia's inquiry into opportunities and methods of stimulating the tourism industry in northern Australia and would like to thank everybody for being here today. Could a member move that the media statement be adopted.

Mr SNOWDON: I move that way. I will make a short opening statement. Yesterday we heard of the death of Yami Lester. Yami Lester was well known to Pat and myself in particular. We worked with him for 40 years. Pat was a director at the land council. I was his policy officer when the land claim was on foot and when the process for getting back the land and putting the joint management proposals to the federal government were arranged. So we have known him for a very long time. This wouldn't be here without him, and that needs to be properly understood.

In the context of Australian history, he was a significant player and individual by any measure. Those of you who know him or know of him would know that he was a victim of the Maralinga bomb tests who as an adolescent was working as a stockmen and went blind. He subsequently ended up making a career for himself initially through the Uniting Church and the Institute for Aboriginal Development in Alice Springs, working on the royal commission and the recognition of compensation for Aboriginal people—principally Pitjantjatjara-Yankunytjatjara people who were the subject of the Maralinga bomb tests and who suffered from it. The victims were eventually able to get compensated thanks to him. He was the principal behind the negotiating of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Land Rights Act 1981. He was key. There would not have been a land handover here or the joint management structure which currently exists an which allows tourists to visit the rock without him.

He was a very significant person and someone for whom I know I had the greatest respect. I'll pass over to Pat for him to make a few remarks. It's a very sad time. Some time in the next little while we'll get word of what's going to happen in terms of his burial and what other commemorative events might take place, but he should be understood as a person of national significance and someone whom I am very proud to have called a friend.

Senator DODSON: Thanks, Warren. Again I concur with Warren's remarks. It is a great privilege to have known such a wonderful man who had uncanny skills of navigating despite his blindness—not only navigating the terrain but navigating conversations and complicated arguments that were put to him. He was a man of great humour, a man of service to many people in this area. As Warren said, he was central to all of those negotiations around Uluru, navigating with the Northern Territory government at the time and all sorts of matters. He was a great friend. My condolences to his family and to the extended family of the Pitjantjatjara people. We're now on their lands. I want to express gratitude for the things he taught me in life. He taught me to speak, actually—being able to pain pictures to a blind person who couldn't see what you were saying. He was a very marvellous man and a very gifted individual with a great sense of humour, and we will miss him tremendously.

CHAIR: I think that was very appropriate at this time. Thank you very much.

What Mr Snowden is moving is that the media may cover today's proceedings on the condition that cameras neither film nor take photos of private papers or laptops of committee members, the secretariat or even witnesses. Can we get a second for that?

Ms O'TOOLE: I second it.

CHAIR: Okay. I will now call on witnesses. Is there anything you wish to add about the capacity in which you appear today?

Mr Williams : Voyages, as you may know, is a subsidiary of the Indigenous Land Corporation, and we operate three tourism businesses, all of which are in northern Australia: a resort here; the Mossman Gorge Centre, which you're familiar with; and also Home Valley Station in the East Kimberley. All of our interests are in northern Australia.

CHAIR: These hearings are a formal proceedings of the parliament. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of the parliament. Evidence, as I have indicated, is being recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. I now invite you to make a brief opening statement, and then we can fire off with some questions.

Mr Williams : Thank you. Voyages's core purpose is to create opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in tourism, and the company now employs 418 Indigenous staff, representing 38 per cent of our workforce. We also operate the National Indigenous Training Academy, based here at Ayers Rock Resort, which provides accredited, enterprise based training in hospitality and tourism with guaranteed employment.

I thought it was worth recounting a little of the recent history of this resort as a case study for the success of tourism in northern Australia. As I mentioned, the resort was acquired by the ILC in 2011 and at that time was a tired and underperforming asset and had really lost its standing as a must-visit destination in Australia. In the six years since ILC acquired the resort occupancy has risen from the low 50s to now in the high 80s. In fact, the financial year just ended was a record year in terms of occupancy for the resort, reaching 87 per cent for the year. At the same time as turning around the commercial performance of the resort, Indigenous employment has been increased from a negligible level in 2011 to 328 today, representing 37 per cent of the workforce at the resort.

The ingredients to this successful turnaround are many and varied; however, the key elements have included investment. With the support of the ILC we've invested around $90 million in upgrades to the resort, refurbishing the hotels and other resort facilities. We've invested in building the guest experience, developing a comprehensive range of guest activities with a focus on Indigenous culture, and the significant Indigenous workforce that we have here in the resort also enriches that guest experience. We've developed a calendar of annual and special events, each of which draws upon an element of the destination and helps activate booking behaviour. Field of Light Uluru, which you will see tonight, has really been the culmination of that strategy and has taken occupancy to record levels. We've developed a clear positioning for the destination tied to the spirituality of Uluru and we've driven this through an effective marketing and public relations strategy to lift the profile of the destination.

Lastly, for tourism in northern Australia aviation access is critical. In addition to operating the resort, we operate Connellan Airport, and that's enabled us to grow air capacity into the destination through negotiating incentive arrangement with the airlines, which has helped improve access and affordability.

We see an opportunity to replicate the success of Ayers Rock Resort in other destinations across northern Australia. Our industry is enjoying stellar growth at present with favourable market conditions and Australia's reputation as a safe and secure destination. Tourism is one of Australia's super-growth sectors, with a capacity to employ large numbers of relatively low-skilled labour and generate significant export income. However, the sector is becoming capacity constrained, and to fully capitalise on this opportunity investment in new tourism infrastructure is required. We feel the relatively undeveloped north represents an opportunity to expand Australia's tourism infrastructure to cater to that growing demand.

In terms of barriers to taking advantage of that opportunity, we see aviation access as critical. The cost and availability of access and the lack of direct routes to many destinations in the north is a significant barrier to future growth. As for skilled labour, many of the destinations in the north have limited local populations, and the challenges of living in remote areas make recruiting and retaining staff particularly challenging. When operating in remote communities, operators often have to develop their own housing, which is a significant barrier to entry particularly for small operators.

We see that governments can play a role in helping stimulate tourism in the north and removing some of these barriers. Of particular importance is investing in tourism infrastructure, including transport infrastructure such as airports, roads and public transport; supporting the growth of aviation access; developing demand generators, including cultural attractions, leisure and sporting facilities, and visitor infrastructure; supporting private investment in new tourism capacity; investing in marketing tourism events; developing events that will help activate visitation to key destinations; investing in training to develop a skilled workforce for the industry, particularly for opportunities for Indigenous employment in our industry; and supporting the development of remote communities, many of which, as you know, are currently faced with significant shortages of infrastructure, including housing, utilities, health, education and other services. This limits the capacity of local populations to participate in employment opportunities in terms of business development.

In terms of removing some of those barriers, access to foreign skilled labour in key disciplines, such as chefs, where there are chronic skills shortages at present we see as a need along with streamlining international visa and arrivals procedures to compete with other international destinations.

Thank you to the committee for coming to the resort and providing Voyages and our business partners that are here today the opportunity to contribute to the inquiry. We'd be happy to answer any questions that the committee has.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Seeing as we are in his turf, we're going to fire off with the other Warren.

Mr SNOWDON: Thank you for your presentation. As you would probably be aware, I've seen the iterations of this place since its commencement to today. During the initial stages the relationship with the local community was very poor for a whole range of reasons, not just the responsibility of the investors here. There were real issues partly driven by the attitude of the then Northern Territory government, who, of course, insisted that they wouldn't have one of their conservation commission members on the board of the park, which was stupid but what we came to expect of the government in that day.

Historically, it's been a very poor employer of Aboriginal people and has, apart from the gate takings from some limited interaction with a tourism product that operates from here, the opportunities available to Aboriginal people in the park have been by and large with the park, not with tourism, Voyages or Voyages's predecessors. Thirty-eight per cent of your workforce are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—328 people. How many are local Aboriginal people?

Mr Harvey : Thank you for your question. Currently there are 17 local Anangu people working at the resort. Two of those are trainees. Two are in quite senior positions: one is a culture adviser and one is heading up guest services. But we also through our Real Jobs program have 13 people working for us as well, so in total 17 Anangu are working for us. But, importantly, also we have a contractual relationship with a company that provide us with daily guest activity. They employ 11 people. So, jointly, between those we are employing about 28 Anangu people.

CHAIR: 28 people here?

Mr Harvey : Yes.

Mr SNOWDON: Of the 28 Anangu, how many of them are from Mutitjulu?

Mr Harvey : So the 13 Real Jobs are local people. The others are some of the contractors, and they rotate. It is a workforce that, basically, comes and goes. But it, generally, can be a proportion of those. I haven't got an exact number. In terms of the trainees, one is a local person. But one is also an Anangu person that has been in the community, then gone to school and come back.

Mr SNOWDON: In terms of the Nyangatjatjara College, you have a relationship with the Nyangatjatjara College. Could you explain what that relationship is, please?

Mr Harvey : With colleges and schools across the APY Lands, we offer work experience programs where students come. In regard to Nyangatjatjara College, we are developing, and have developed, relationships with them. If we look over the last six years—and this is more broadly than just the college—I think we have had six or seven graduates through our National Indigenous Training Academy that are Anangu. A number of them have returned to the lands and worked. But in particular answer to your question, yes, we do have a relationship with the college. We like to think that there are opportunities for people that complete to come and work for us. Not a lot out of the college in recent years have come to work with us, but we do have a good, and a building, relationship with the college.

Mr SNOWDON: In terms of this precinct, what tourism product operates from here that gives an insight into cultural tourism? Are there organisations or companies which operate from here who visit the Pitjantjatjara lands or the parks, specifically, around cultural tourism?

Mr Harvey : Did you want to answer that, Manfred, in terms of the tour operators?

Mr Pieper : Primarily, free Indigenous guest activities which take place daily are all carried out by Anangu from either the Mutitjulu community or the APY Lands. There is a daily show at the Arkani Theatre, which is sort of the eagle and the cockatoo show going back to Tjukurpa. Then five days a week on town square there are Putitja dancers performing inma dances. We have our own Leroy Lester, who, daily, carries out garden walks. We have a few other activities. In the most recent one, we introduced bush tucker to a large audience daily in our town square. The bush tucker theme is carried through in all of our restaurants. On every single menu we are now featuring bush tucker. It is something people want to experience. We are here to provide it.

We are dealing here with tour operators like SEIT, who undertake daily tours into Lake Amadeus and beyond. There is, obviously, the camel farm. It is an excellent product. AAT Kings, at one stage, it did have, as well, a particular tour—it was Anangu guides. But, unfortunately, for various reasons it has, I believe, ceased to operate. The balance of tour operators is probably more of a general nature. However, of all of our business partners and tour operators, we insist that efforts are being made to train and employ Indigenous wherever possible.

Mr SNOWDON: Thank you. I have two more questions. In 1984-85 I was working for this bloke and I and some other people undertook the first tourism impact assessment on the rock. I am just wondering what tourism impact assessments are currently being done or have been done recently around what people view as their expectations and what Aboriginal people see as the result of their visits and how that impacts on how you deliver services.

Mr Williams : There has been no recent comprehensive study of that nature, to my knowledge. We do survey every guest who comes to the resort and get guest feedback and incorporate that into how we operate the resort. Earlier on in the ownership of the resort, one of the recurring themes in that feedback was the absence of Indigenous cultural experiences that were available here. So that has been a major focus for us to fill that gap in the need of guests. But, as to a wider study of the nature that you're describing, there's been nothing recent.

Mr SNOWDON: The reason that I am asking is that Mina Tjuta—climbing up the rock—wasn't a welcome site. I am just wondering how responsive Voyages are to the wishes of park owners around the park experience.

Mr Harvey : I would like to think that Voyages is very responsive. It does it in a range of initiatives. We work closely with the Mutitjulu Community Aboriginal Corporation in terms of their business arm Gumlake and what opportunities there are. Just in very simple terms, through the Real Jobs Program, we train people up in tour guide opportunities, in horticulture and, more recently, in business development. Management has talked about hop-on hop-off guides, and we would like to think that there is an opportunity for local Anangu who are trained up to work through the Real Jobs Program to then participate in those tours. With regard to commercial opportunities, we are developing local commercial opportunities and, in terms of horticulture, there are opportunities around working with us but also working with parks. In addition, through our Wintjiri gallery, we purchase a lot of product. We also, through our marketing team, interact with the suppliers, including Walkatjara Art, and are looking at the opportunity to stimulate that sort of activity. Through the activities that Manfred has, with the relationships with the park and through our Indigenous engagement team and the relationships that we have there, we are in tune with it.

We are quite aware of all the studies that have been done over the last 15 or more years. When we first took on Ayers Rock Resort, we looked closely at all of those studies and that influenced how we engage with the local community. But, given the nature of who we are, we do engage very closely. We have very good relationships with the communities. We are trying to build capacity in terms of people to participate in tourism activities but also in stimulating the business activity as well.

Senator McCARTHY: Part of the inquiry is about looking at Indigenous employment, and you've gone through those figures with Mr Snowdon. In terms of your program, do you find out why it is that Indigenous participants don't continue?

Mr Williams : We do track the reasons for every employee who leaves us and we measure those statistics on a monthly basis. Typically, the main reasons are family and returning closer to home. With that in mind, one of the things that we have been working on is developing a career network for Indigenous people in tourism and working with our industry partners, particularly with AccorHotels, Australia's largest hotel operator—with whom we have a franchise arrangement for the resort here—and also, more recently, with Qantas. The objective there is that, if somebody comes and trains with us, completes their traineeship, works here in the resort and develops some skills, they can take those skills closer to home and find employment. We've had quite a number to date who have taken up employment in AccorHotels in Queensland, New South Wales et cetera.

Senator McCARTHY: Do you have those numbers?

Mr Williams : We could provide them. I don't have them offhand.

Senator McCARTHY: You've given one reason. Are there other reasons?

Mr Harvey : There are a whole range of reasons. The key things are returning home to be back with their family but also to pursue a career opportunity. In terms of retention, our retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has grown. On average, it was 18 months at the end of June, and that is up from 14 months. We are a remote destination, so people will work here, gain experience and then go on. We find with a number of people that, because of the skills that we develop for them, those skills can take them on to other opportunities within the tourism and hospitality industry, and what we find which is interesting is that, because you take them on a journey and develop their skill set, they can see a broader horizon of opportunity. As Andrew Williams said, having the relationships with AccorHotels and the many opportunities in tourism and hospitality, people go and take up other career opportunities as well. So we are quite happy, actually, with the retention of people and we know that 70 of the people who have graduated over the last six years are still with us, and that is a pretty good number, but we know a large number have gone on to work not only in Australia but overseas as well. Also, they do come back and work for us again, which is a good sign.

Mr Pieper : It is probably also worthwhile to mention at this stage that we don't employ people only in entry-level positions. We have supervisor programs, called Step Up programs, where we take them to the next level, and we are on the verge of introducing a management cadet program, where we demonstrate career growth for Indigenous Australians.

CHAIR: That was a question I was going to ask in relation to your Indigenous employment across your three sites. How are you going there in relation to management and higher management positions? Do you have any that have achieved that or are going through a process of achieving those sorts of outcomes?

Mr Harvey : In this resort itself, we have two Aboriginal general managers, one managing the National Indigenous Training Academy and one managing our Indigenous engagement area. But, when we look at our population of roughly 328 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here at Ayers Rock Resort, 79 of those are trainees, but, of the other 250, roughly 55 are in above entry-level positions and about half of those are in team leadership positions of leader or above. So, effectively, in Ayers Rock Resort 25 out of the 55 are in more senior positions, and a number of them have grown from going through our traineeship program up to assistant manager positions. In the case of Mossman Gorge, our assistant manager is a local Aboriginal lady, and 85 per cent of our workforce at Mossman Gorge—or 77 people—are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. When the Mossman Gorge Centre was being built, there was a whole lot of training operated prior to it opening, and basically we were able to put anywhere between 85 and 90 per cent of the workforce, and many of them are in senior positions. Also, in Home Valley Station, 21 per cent of our workforce is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

We have traineeship programs operating at all locations and, as Mr Pieper said, we have a Step Up program, which is basically for people around team leader and shift leader to go up to a supervisory level. A number of those people have gone beyond those leadership programs and have now moved into senior supervisory positions or assistant manager positions. The next stage is to put in place the leadership program that Manfred was talking about, which is to develop them to the next stage so they can move into department head positions. Our strategy after that is to introduce an executive leadership program, where we're building our own to develop more people at the general manager level. Consciously, as a company, we've moved from developing a traineeship into leadership and development of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff.

Senator McCARTHY: On that response, you've given the broader view about your employees here, with one of the reasons being they are closer to home and family. Is that the same reason for the Anangu? The reason why am asking this is that we also need to look at the very local people—and I'm not just talking about Uluru, obviously. We're trying to understand what it is that we can do differently in a lot of our regions to enable greater participation of people who live right next to opportunities like Voyages here.

Mr Harvey : We all know there are a couple of building blocks: education, housing and health. So the more all of us can do in terms of education, housing and health to achieve the basic building blocks the better. I think the other important thing is investing in programs that are focused on local people. Through the Real Jobs Program we are able, in the Northern Territory, to offer opportunities to provide training programs. In the case of Queensland, we not only offer traineeships for the broader Cape community but we also have a particular program for the Mossman community, which targets people coming out of the Mossman community. It's a traineeship run for them that basically gets them experience and training in hospitality within the Mossman Gorge centre. We have an intake of at least five a year into the program. So you're designing the program around it. This year out at Mossman Gorge we're also looking at building foundations skills—at the basic building blocks in terms of looking at what the barriers of the individual are and then building their foundations skills so that they can move into a traineeship or directly into employment.

All of the properties that we manage actually have a training centre within them. I think that's part of the solution. A game changer is that corporations invest successfully in their in-house training programs. The thing that we do as well, as Andrew Williams was saying, is that if you go through a training program with us and you complete our traineeship we guarantee you a job, and we employ people when they're in our training programs. The other thing is that from day one you employ them, you train them and, if they successfully complete, you guarantee them a job with one of our companies or with other tourism and hospitality operators, because all of us in the tourism and hospitality industry know that one of the key things that domestic and, particularly, international visitors are looking for is exposure, experience and engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people because it is a game changer in terms of your destination. The other thing is building the training capacity within it, actually employing people and having the vision and the commitment. I think the other thing that is a game changer is the commitment from the corporations that are running in this space to really drive Indigenous employment and training.

Senator McCARTHY: Thanks, Mr Harvey.

Senator DODSON: I have a couple of questions around infrastructure and those sorts of issues. You mentioned airlines. Can you speak to that a bit further? What's the cost to get someone here?

Mr Williams : As I mentioned, we operate Connellan Airport, and that's one of our major infrastructure challenges at present, where the runway at the airport is due for resurfacing. We are in the planning phase of that.

CHAIR: You actually operate the airport, do you, or are responsible for it?

Mr Williams : Yes. It's owned by the NT government and leased on a long-term lease to Voyages. We operate it and we deal with the airlines in terms of negotiating landing charges et cetera. As part of our turnaround strategy for the resort, to rebuild the volume of business here, one of the priorities was to get more air capacity in here. In 2012 Qantas withdrew a significant amount of air capacity, suspending the Perth connection, halving the Cairns connection and pulling out of Sydney, where it was subsequently replaced with Jetstar. So we've had to negotiate pretty hard with the airlines to get that capacity back.

Ultimately the airlines will follow where the demand is, so our first task was to create the demand for people wanting to come here and then convince the airlines that that demand was there, to justify adding capacity. We first got Jetstar onto the Sydney route, replacing Qantas. We then took a bit of a risk ourselves in arranging a charter service from Melbourne direct to the resort here, initially for a period of three months, with a weekend service. That was quite successful, and shortly after that Jetstar introduced their direct Melbourne service. But we've had to forgo significant airport revenue in order to get that capacity in place. But, as the popularity of the destination has grown, their load factors have increased and they've continued to add capacity in terms of frequency of services and size of aircraft. But it remains an ongoing focus for us to continue growing that capacity, which is really our lifeblood.

I can see similar challenges around other parts of northern Australia. As I mentioned, we operate Home Valley Station in the Kimberley, and access is a particular challenge there, as I'm sure you know. I think it's cheaper for people in Sydney and Melbourne to get to London or New York than it is to get to Kununurra. That certainly presents a challenge. But, for this particular destination, we're at a point now where we do have sufficient capacity to fill the resort. Next year we're planning to open a new hotel. It was formerly known as the Lost Camel Hotel and is currently used for staff accommodation. We're investing in creating new staff accommodation, to be able to return that hotel to guestroom inventory, to really take advantage of the demand that we are experiencing at the moment here. To ensure the success of that new hotel, we'll need to get more air capacity on to support that volume of business that we need.

CHAIR: Does Virgin fly here?

Mr Williams : Yes. We currently have Virgin daily out of Sydney. We have Jetstar daily out of Sydney, Jetstar out of Melbourne seasonally, four to five days, QantasLink from Cairns daily and QantasLink daily from Alice Springs. We are in discussions at present with the airlines about potential new routes but nothing is confirmed as yet.

Senator DODSON: Is there a question of the length of the runway there?

Mr Williams : No.

Senator DODSON: That's sufficient?

Mr Williams : It is sufficient. Both the length and the width of the runway are sufficient for the aircraft commonly used to fly domestic services. It's really just the fact that it's reached the end of its useful life. It was almost 20 years ago that it was last resurfaced.

Senator DODSON: It just needs to be upgraded from that point of view?

Mr Williams : Yes.

Senator DODSON: Are most of your clientele from overseas?

Mr Williams : Just over 50 per cent of our business is domestic and a little under 50 per cent is international at present.

Senator DODSON: Are you aware of the Outback Highway proposal that sits before the Commonwealth government at the moment?

Mr Williams : Vaguely—not the details of it.

Senator DODSON: It is an intention to upgrade the highway, primarily from, I suppose, here, where the bitumen stops, right through to Laverton in Western Australia and across to Queensland, across the Plenty Highway. I am just wondering whether that would improve domestic tourism or whether the Commonwealth could spend a lot of money for very little return.

Mr Williams : I think somewhere around 80 per cent of our guests currently fly in to the destination. But there is a significant market, particularly in the campground, with the campervan and four-wheel drive market. That's a relatively small segment of our business, so, if we were looking for opportunities to significantly grow demand for the destination, I'm not sure that that would be the first place that we would look.

Ms O'TOOLE: Thank you very much for your presentation. I'd like to focus a little bit on the tourism side, because you talked about employment in hospitality. I'm assuming, and correct me if I'm wrong, that your training is accredited training.

Mr Harvey : Correct.

Ms O'TOOLE: Could you tell me what the gender breakdown is? Do you know the number of male employees versus the number of female employees?

Mr Pieper : Across the broad?

Ms O'TOOLE: In the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander space.

Mr Harvey : Roughly, 49 per cent of our trainees are females and 51 per cent are males. For other employees, it's 55 per cent males and 45 per cent females. So it's roughly fifty-fifty.

Ms O'TOOLE: That's good.

Mr Pieper : Across the board, they're similar figures. It's 54 per cent males and 46 per cent females.

Ms O'TOOLE: I ask that because what we know is that, if the women are doing well in families, kids do well, so it's really important. Do you have a program that is equivalent or similar to the Wet Tropics' cultural and interpretive tourism? It's been written and developed in very strong consultation with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Wet Tropics. That enabled people in those communities—this was a few years ago now—to look at what business opportunities might be available to them through the tourism opportunities they'd offer to potential clients. Do you have anything in that space at all?

Mr Harvey : In the case of Mossman Gorge, that's a critical part of our business. All of the Wet Tropics walks that we do have been developed by local people and were the vision of Roy Gibson, who was the guy who basically pushed government to establish the Mossman Gorge Centre. All of our products are deeply immersed within the local culture, driven by the local people and undertaken by the local people, so it's a very important part of our business delivery in Mossman Gorge. In the case of Ayers Rock Resort, as Mr Pieper said, all of our free activities are now delivered by Anangu. We're also working closely with local people, again, through the Real Jobs Program, and doing simple things. For example, one of the things we've started doing through the Real Jobs Program is the local teaching of Pitjantjatjara languages, so there's a broader understanding within the resort. Again, an important part of the fabric of Ayers Rock Resort is Indigenous cultural experience—whether it's in art and craft or in dance. Equally, the products that we sell both in Mossman Gorge and at Ayers Rock Resort are important. In the case of Mossman Gorge, all of the art and jewellery is based around the landscape and designed by local artists. Roy Gibson's own artwork is displayed on a whole lot of art and craft, as is the artwork of a number of other artists that we work. Equally, here at Ayers Rock Resort, a number of our local artists' artwork is turned into the sale of products which display local art and craft.

Mr Pieper : The focus of all of our galleries is on artists from the Mutitjulu, Docker River and Imanpa communities, as well as the wider APY Lands. Over the last three years, between cultural performances and sets of artwork, it is estimated that we have contributed about $4½ million into the immediate local community.

Ms O'TOOLE: What I understand is that you're saying that they're paid a fair price for their artwork.

Mr Pieper : Absolutely.

Ms O'TOOLE: Regarding the Mossman Gorge curriculum, I think I was intrinsically involved in the development of that cultural and interpretive tourism component. I know from my experience of writing that curriculum with the local people just how empowering it was, because it created training opportunities for them as well as business opportunities. You mentioned that, wherever possible, you aim to employ local people. How do you manage the 'wherever possible'? How do you do that?

Mr Harvey : I suppose we manage it by always saying we have a significant number of employment opportunities and by engaging with the local communities. For example, more broadly, we engage with jobactive providers and community development program providers. We do that through our recruitment teams. But also, in the case of Ayers Rock Resort, we have an Indigenous engagement team. Their mandate or agenda is to engage with the local communities on employment, training and business development. But, equally, in terms of the way that the resort operates, we engage with the communities on a range of activities. So we have job drives, we have opportunities for people to come and experience what we do here, and part of our mantra and our targets and the way we do business is to employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and also, importantly, to employ local people.

Mr Williams : The Real Jobs Program that Mr Harvey mentioned earlier is specifically targeted at the local community and aims to provide a transition for people who may not have worked in a full-time job previously to initially work part-time and flexible hours and build up over a period of time to reach full-time employment. That's solely targeted at the local community.

Ms O'TOOLE: Is that government funded?

Mr Williams : Yes.

Ms O'TOOLE: That'd be similar to Skilling Queenslanders for Work, I take it.

Mr Williams : It's funded through the Commonwealth. We receive the funding through the ILC, but it's a Commonwealth program.

Ms O'TOOLE: I have one last question. I'm particularly interested in how the community at Palm Island would be able to learn from your successes and the sorts of things that you have done, because they have a real opportunity for cultural tourism as well, but they're nowhere near where you're at. Are there avenues? You talked about developing other communities.

Mr Williams : Yes. From time to time we've had Aboriginal groups from elsewhere in Australia come and visit here, look at the academy, experience the resort and take learnings back. We've done that recently with a group from North Stradbroke Island, but there have been others over time. We'd be happy to speak to them and create that opportunity for them to come and visit the resort and see firsthand what we're doing here on the training side and also the operation of the resort.

Senator DODSON: In some places where we've been there have been questions raised about the relationship with national parks. I'm just wondering whether there are constraints or what the nature of that relationship is. I also understand you're surrounded by Anungu lands. Are there constraints with either of those for the development of the tourism experience?

Mr Pieper : I think the relationship from a formal point of view is regulated by a memorandum of understanding between the two parties: the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and Voyages. That was signed in January 2014. It pretty much addresses joint marketing opportunities. It addresses how, operationally, we can put our forces together and become more efficient with contractors coming in here to repair things. We try to exchange this information with the park and the park shares it with us so there are efficiencies which can be driven. As a perfect example moving forward, the park possibly has substantial roadworks to be done in the early part of next year. Hopefully, it can coincide with when we replace the pavement of the airport. Having all the plant and material out here would be of benefit, in terms of mobilisation costs, to Voyages as well as to the park. We are getting together regularly as well. There's a quarterly meeting between the local national park management and ourselves. Again, issues that are being touched upon are the environment. It is very important to us that, with the tourism drive and numbers, we are not interfering with the environment either at the cultural level or in regard to flora and fauna. So I would qualify our relationship with the park as efficient and I think we are working well.

CHAIR: You say 'sufficient', so do you—

Mr Pieper : I said 'efficient'.

CHAIR: And do you have a good working relationship?

Mr Pieper : Yes.

CHAIR: Some areas have a lot of conflict and a lot of concerns.

Mr Pieper : I think the only concern at one stage dating back was probably on the commercial side. Maybe there were times, from our point of view, we might have wished for a little more commercial interest, but over the last two years that has definitely changed and there is more of a wish to drive revenues and drive visitor numbers into Yulara and Uluru.

Senator DODSON: The relationship is basically set out in a MOU. Does that require permits to be issued?

Mr Pieper : Yes.

Mr Williams : For any commercial activity within the park such as photography and filming, there is a process in place to get permits.

Senator DODSON: Is that clear and easily navigated? Is it not cumbersome?

Mr Williams : It has improved, I would say, over recent years. I would not say it was easy but there is a clear process in place.

Mr Pieper : Our colleagues from the park here can better explain. There is definitely now a move towards park tickets being purchased online, including from the Voyager website, which will dramatically improve efficiency and ease for entering the park, moving forward.

Mr Williams : It is possibly worth mentioning in that context that we face some common challenges with the park, a major one of which is housing. You may be aware of an initiative recently to develop more tourism activities within the park, which we whole heartedly support, but the availability of housing to accommodate staff of operators that may be interested in developing new activities in the park is a real issue. The housing here at Yulara is at full capacity. We are investing at the moment $10 million in developing some additional staff housing ourselves but that is only going to enable us to reopen, as I mentioned earlier, the Lost Camel Hotel. It will not address the broader needs of our business partners or tour operators in the park itself in terms of availability of housing for staff so that is a real issue.

Senator DODSON: What is the extent of the land that you operate within?

Mr Williams : The land that is held by the ILC is 100 square kilometres approximately.

Mr SNOWDON: Could you tell us how much money is being raised through the Mutitjulu Foundation and how it is being used.

Mr Williams : We raise funds for the foundation through guests of the resort; we invite them to make a donation at check out. Staff also contribute if they choose to out of payroll. We, from time to time, receive philanthropic donations into the foundation. Voyagers matches the guest donations dollar for dollar up to $200,000 per annum. I do not have exact numbers in front of me but total of funds raised in the last year would be in the order of $400,000 or thereabouts. I know we have reached the cap in Voyager's contribution.

CHAIR: Does that include the $200,000?

Mr Williams : That is including the $200,000. It is a little more than that, but I do know that we've reached the cap this year. So as the occupancy of the resort has increased, so too have the donations. We work closely with the community in identifying projects that we can support. The charter of the foundation is the whole NPY region, and we support community projects in outlying communities as well as here in Mutitjulu but it is fair to say that, over the years, the lion's share has been to support projects in Mutitjulu. One that was completed recently was the refurbishment of a community facility as part of the aged care centre at Mutitjulu. There has been a range of small projects initiated by the community. There is a more major project on the drawing board at the moment to refurbish the adult education centre at Mutitjulu, which the foundation has earmarked some funds to contribute to. So we work closely with MCAC in terms of projects that they want the foundation to support. The foundation has its own board, which considers and approves funding applications.

CHAIR: Do you have a policy in relation to engaging indigenous contractors or suppliers or small businesses?

Mr Williams : We do. We have an Indigenous procurement policy that provides for favourable treatment for Indigenous suppliers. Depending on the value of the contract that is being let, there is a weighting that is given to Indigenous suppliers, and we measure our Indigenous procurement and set ourselves targets to achieve a percentage of total procurement. The bulk of that tends to be in the arts and crafts space, particularly at Mossman Gorge. It is mainly arts and crafts. That is a significant area here as well. It is also where we can use Indigenous companies as contractors for things like construction work and trades and so on—

CHAIR: And you have those here that you access?

Mr Williams : Yes.

Mr Pieper : And we include it as a condition in our contractor contracts, that they employ a certain number of Indigenous among their workforce.

CHAIR: As you have probably gathered, one of the measures of success of northern Australia is of course engagement of Indigenous Australians. We represent a very large portion of the northern Australian population, and if we don't get that engagement and don't see those successes then we have failed in initiatives. Particularly in places like the Indigenous-run ILC it is very important that we get that information and see what you are doing right. Is there is anything else that can be done to improve your engagement in this area, from a government perspective that you would you like to put on the record now? Is there anything else that can be done from government to assist you engaging both in businesses and Indigenous involvement?

Mr Williams : It would probably be supporting the development of those businesses. There is certainly a desire to utilise Indigenous suppliers wherever we can. A recent area we are focused on is in bush foods, but getting reliable, commercial quantities of those products is a challenge. I think it is where the government can help foster the development of Indigenous businesses to build that supply chain. I think the demand is there, but the supply chain isn't always.

CHAIR: We have a northern Australian tourism initiative, but the entry level for applications—and this to help small businesses—is $750,000. They have to be generating in excess of $750,000 to be able to access this funding. Now, of all of your small businesses that are involved in supplying and offering goods and services to your establishments, how many of those would qualify to put in an application for this northern Australian tourism initiative?

Mr Williams : In terms of art centres, for example, I think many of them would be below that threshold. There is the odd larger company that we do business with, as I mentioned earlier, in the trades area that would. I could not quote you an exact figure, but I would hazard a guess and say that the majority would fall below that threshold.

CHAIR: I think it would be fair to say that the overwhelming majority would fall well below that. It is not very well subscribed, and there is a significant amount of money there begging to be allocated to develop tourism in northern Australia, and it sits in the tent. And I think those that need it the most have very little chance of accessing it, from information that we've received to date.

Mr Williams : And it is the support for people and businesses to secure that funding thorough government as well. It is the business develop side, but also the support to put in a submission to secure the funding. Because if you are a small businesses you really have a very limited capacity in funds to seek funding from government.

CHAIR: We do have a couple of individuals that are there, one in Queensland the one in the Territory, and it is their job to assist in doing it. The problem is that the businesses that qualify are generally ones that don't really need to access to that type of funding. The ones who need it are of course disqualified because of the ceiling. This appears to be a growing problem, and someone here made mention of the rolling out of the bitumen, and of course there are lots of little microbusinesses along there that are going to grow significantly as that bitumen rolls out and more people come through. They are the ones that really need to build their capacity.

Thank you very much indeed for your time. We greatly appreciate it. I think there was a question on notice that was asked by Malarndirri, so if you could get that information to us by 10 August, that would be greatly appreciated. If we have any further questions we will fire them off through the secretariat. We look forward to catching up with you later on.