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Aboriginal owners want to sell struggling Ayers Rock Resort they bought with $300 million of taxpayer money

Ayers Rock Resort in Yulara

The Indigenous parent company of the world-famous Ayers Rock Resort in Yulara has publicly declared that it is considering selling the business, which was handed to them by the taxpayer just 14 years ago.

The resort, which is the only accommodation provider at the central Australian tourist spot, is currently managed by Aboriginal-run company Voyages, a subsidiary of the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC), a Commonwealth government body.

“The ILSC’s primary objective is to fulfil its statutory obligations of returning land to First Nations peoples, and in doing so, create Indigenous benefit for traditional owners, and local, regional, and national First Nations peoples,” a spokesperson said.

“With this objective in mind, the assessment is focused on exploring potential alternative ownership options for the operations at Ayers Rock Resort.”

The property was controversially acquired using taxpayer funds in 2010 for $300 million.

But just five years after its acquisition the owners devalued the business on their books to $225 million, raising concerns about the original sale price, ABC News reported.

The once-thriving resort, which attracts around 250,000 visitors annually (down from 300,000 pre-Covid), is comprised of five hotels, a campground, swimming facilities, top-notch restaurants, and an airstrip.

The ILSC has appointed firms Gilbert + Tobin and Greenhill to assess market interest in the resort and assist the with the assessment, The Australian reported.

Addressing the potential sale of an asset given to them by the taxpayer with the express purpose of creating opportunities for local Aboriginals, ILSC group chief executive Joe Morrison said: “We are committed to getting this right and achieving a positive outcome with Indigenous benefit front of mind.”

The government’s original intention for the purchase was to enhance economic prospects for the local Aboriginal community. The arrangement involved transferring the resort to the ILSC, then known as the Indigenous Land Council (ILC), with a stipulated goal of achieving 50% Aboriginal employment.

However, this target has never been realised. Additionally, part of the deal was the establishment of an Indigenous tourism training academy in Yulara, but it has not been fully implemented and has faced persistent postponements.

Notably, opportunities for local Aboriginals remain scarce, with minimal employment prospects. The ban on climbing activity on Ayers Rock further exacerbated the challenges faced by the tourism sector in the area.

There are no further details about the Ayers Rock Resort ownership assessment, what sort of price will be expected or whether or local Aboriginals will benefit.

There are also unanswered questions about the government’s apparent unwillingness to investigate the handling of the resort or conduct any kind of audit.

Wesley Aird, a one-time Indigenous advisor to former prime minister John Howard, wrote a piece for The Australian in 2009 where he claimed there was a “culture of fabrication” within Indigenous affairs in Australia, targeting mainstream Australians.

Mr Aird wrote: “It thrives because of mainstream Australia’s inability to spot a cultural fraud even when it is staring it in the face. It is often shrouded in the mystical and unchallenged by the naïve for fear of giving offence.

“It is handsomely rewarded with grants by unwitting government officials. This false culture is abetted by a broad willingness to be hoodwinked.”

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