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Thursday, 25 June 1998
Page: 5385

Mrs STONE (10:43 AM) —by leave—I would like to speak about Audit Report No. 10 1997-98 , which is part of the review of the Auditor-General's first quarter 1997-98. This report deals with aspects of corporate governance of the Australian Tourist Commission. The tourism industry in Australia is now a very substantial one. As the two previous speakers from our committee, the member for La Trobe (Mr Charles) and the member for Bruce (Mr Griffin), mentioned, in 1996 our international visitor arrivals totalled 4.2 million, which was an increase of about 12 per cent over the previous year.

When you consider too that our overseas fee paying students now contribute some $2 billion to the economy and that with them comes a lot of associated tourism in the form of their friends and relatives also visiting this country, we can see that tourism is a substan tial industry. Consequently, we have to take all possible steps to ensure that those visitors' experiences are positive and that the nation as a whole benefits.

In particular, the ATC board is responsible for the corporate governance of the commission and is obliged to ensure that they meet their statutory responsibilities, communicate appropriately with stakeholders, manage risks to the organisation soundly, manage the resources effectively and that appropriate internal controls exist which enable the agency to monitor performance and report on outcomes.

As the previous two speakers have said, there is a problem with the current methods of reporting performance. The ATC is doing a lot of advertising. It is doing a lot of overseas market research and marketing, but there is some difficulty in understanding exactly what the outcomes of that work are.

For example, a point made by the ATC is that, although you might undertake some media advertising, internationally or domestically, it might be four years before visitor numbers indicate a response to that media advertising because there is not an automatic or immediate response—you do not simply have an ordinary supply and demand situation. We recognise that there are some difficulties with performance monitoring, but there has to be a very careful scrutiny of the management strategies, the dollars spent and the outcomes.

In particular I want to pick up on one of the ATC's three statutory objectives:

(c) to ensure that Australia is protected from adverse environmental and social impacts of international tourism.

One of the major drawcards to our nation is our superb natural resources—flora, fauna and wide open spaces—and many of those places are very fragile. We all know about the threats to places like our Great Barrier Reef, the Bogong High Plains and perhaps even areas like Kakadu. While the areas are vast, often tourists congregate in very small parts of that vast wilderness, and we have to manage very carefully to make sure that there are not damaging impacts from both domestic and international tourists, because a conse quence of that is that the environment suffers and the tourist experience is a negative one.

We are concerned that the ANAO found that, while the ATC has a strategy for ensuring that international tourists do not have any adverse effect on the Australian environment, there was not an ability to distinguish between the impact of international and domestic tourists and there is also a need for it to have further dialogue with states and territories to ensure that there is a comprehensive strategy to achieve the particular objective of ensuring very little environmental damage.

We must guard our environmental integrity as we seek to increase our tourist numbers, and so this report is very timely. It received a very positive response from the Australian Tourist Commission itself, which understands only too well the work it needs to do. The ATC, in trying to achieve its statutory objective, explained to us that it will study social attitudes on the environmental impact of tourism. In conjunction with the Office of National Tourism, it will develop environmental messages to be published in ATC literature and on airlines flying to Australia, it will seek to develop partnerships with other organisations and undertake environmental best practice, and it will produce an annual portfolio of ecotourism and develop an environmental strategy.

We commend the ATC for its efforts. In commending its work thus far, we know it has taken note of the ANAO's recommendations and has agreed that they are sound recommendations, and we can expect our tourism industry to be stronger when it picks up on its performance monitoring and makes sure the environmental strategies are the best possible.