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Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia
23/07/2017
Opportunities and methods for stimulating the tourism industry in Northern Australia

BAILEY, Mr Geoff, Assistant Secretary, Parks Australia

BALDWIN, Mr Steven, Visitor and Tourism Services Manager, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Organisation, Parks Australia

MISSO, Mr Michael, Park Manager, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Parks Australia

[16:26]

CHAIR: Will now welcome our next witnesses. These hearings are formal proceedings of the parliament, and the giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of the parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. Would you like to make an opening statement?

Mr Bailey : Just start off with, Parks Australia is undergoing some considerable organisational change in its approach to managing, particularly, these very large parks. We are, as was alluded to earlier by the Voyages people, moving to a more businesslike approach to how we manage them and getting our systems and processes in order so that we are much more efficient. It is also so we take the revenue side of our activities much more seriously. There is a range of reasons for that, but just coming to this particular park, at the moment, between 70 and 80 per cent of our revenue is self-generated and is generated from park entry fees and other licenses et cetera. We plan to lift that revenue level to above 100 per cent of the cost of operating the park. The lease agreement with the traditional owners, remembering that the board is controlled by Anangu traditional owners, provides for 25 per cent of self-generated revenue to be returned to traditional owners, and that's distributed through the Central Land Council. Once we can reach 100 per cent of the operational costs for the park, we would then distribute any revenue above that not at 25 per cent but at 100 per cent. We think that in the medium to long term a park that can sustain itself economically and provide its landowners with a long-term and reliable income stream is an objective worth pursuing. We are getting close now, and we think it is relatively achievable in the next few years.

The other thing I would say, following on from the comments by my colleague from Voyages, is that there is nothing they said that we disagree with. In fact, we believe that we have quite a good relationship. We obviously have slightly different interests, but the fact is we have a symbiotic relationship with Voyages and always will. Their success is our success and vice versa. We try hard to maintain a good relationship, as they do. Inevitably, in any marriage there is some friction every now and again, but, overall, I would characterise it, as they did, as a positive relationship. Senator Dodson asked about process. Voyages were more generous than I would be about our processes. I think they are a bit cumbersome, and that is one of the things I was alluding to when I said we are working on improving our systems and processes, so that all of our stakeholders—in this case, Voyages—are not encumbered by processes that aren't necessary or take too long.

CHAIR: You say that processes are too cumbersome. Why are they too cumbersome, and where are the chokes and blocks?

Mr Bailey : An example would be for a permit application. I think this is not peculiar to Parks Australia; it is something that happens in any bureaucracy. Over time, when you set up systems they tend to accrete. Somebody will see someone else's system over the fence, and go, 'We'll include that provision in our application form as well,' and so the process of acquiring information from a permit applicant, for example, can develop a bit like Topsy. Every now and again it needs a little bit of a refresh.

CHAIR: Is the process evolving from local parks management, or is it coming from the Canberra bureaucracy—in constraining you in what you can and can't do?

Mr Bailey : It would be a mixture of both.

CHAIR: I assume it would be those who come from outside the area, and don't understand it well enough, who maybe cause some of the chokes?

Mr Bailey : I have been here 18 months and Mike a little less. We are both looking at the systems that are in place and thinking that we can improve those a bit by streamlining them.

Senator DODSON: Are there communication challenges that the government ought to be looking at with wi-fi access, emarketing and that sort of stuff?

Mr Bailey : Yes, there are. Wi-fi is probably not one of them, although we can always do better in that area. What you are touching on is a broader question: what are the impediments to the whole show? Overall—I say some of these things in the context of Kakadu and Booderee as well—in the case of Uluru much of the infrastructure here is in pretty good shape: the roads, the signage and those sorts of things. I think the quality of the experience that visitors have is a high one. Regarding impediments, I echo some of the comments of my colleagues from Voyages. At the moment, as I said, it is a symbiotic relationship. The resort is pretty close to full—as close as most resorts can be. The big limitation on any growth in visitation or the addition of any new tourist experience is, first of all, the lack of staff housing. Related to that are services—electricity, water, sewer and those sorts of things. There is a limitation on the introduction of new staff housing because of the availability of services, so these are all interconnected. In terms of electronic communication, mobile coverage is pretty good. With wi-fi we can always do better, and I'm sure Steve would be kicking me under the table and saying, 'We can always have a lot more wi-fi', and that is probably true, but in terms of priorities it is probably housing. The marketing and those sorts of things that you mentioned are sort of dependent on that, so it is lining all your ducks up: unless you've got the housing and the accommodation sorted first, more marketing right now is going to force the prices up.

CHAIR: I'm going to do something here which is highly unusual. Our next witness needs to go at five o'clock because they have an evening flight. I ask you just to withdraw for a short period of time to be able to accommodate the opportunity. They've been here, and we are running a little late, but could you just sit back for a moment. We now invite Professional Helicopter Services to come forward. That way we can get an opportunity so you meet your other requirements as well. You've made the effort to be here. We'll resume as quickly as we can on this. This is inevitable, unfortunately, with these people. We tend to go over a little. It's the enthusiasm of my colleagues. I blame them!