Row over Dawn Casey's 'outrageous' Ayers Rock Resort comments

Row over Dawn Casey's 'outrageous' Ayers Rock Resort comments

The head of the Indigenous Land Corporation has thrown down a challenge to sacked directors of the Ayers Rock Resort, saying if the $320 million acquisition of the resort overlooking Uluru was such a good deal they should put a consortium together and buy it.

The 2010 purchase of the five-hotel resort at Uluru has become a huge source of friction between the ILC, the new Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion and some of the biggest names in the business world.

Dawn Casey has been accused of making comments that have devalued Indigenous Land Corporation asset the Ayers Rock Resort.

Dawn Casey has been accused of making comments that have devalued Indigenous Land Corporation asset the Ayers Rock Resort.

In October last year, ILC chairwoman Dawn Casey and the board sacked the majority of the board of Voyages Indigenous Tourism - the company established to run the resort for the ILC - claiming it was a dud purchase and a financial drag on the authority.

The sacked directors include former Qantas boss Geoff Dixon, Investec Bank chairman Richard Longes and property executive Peter Barge. Voyages chief executive Koos Klein quit in protest at the surprise purge.

Longtime ILC director David Baffsky, who remains honorary chairman of Accor Hotels, was also shown the door when his tenure was not renewed.


Ms Casey told Fairfax Media: "If this group of businessmen think [the resort] was a good buy and still is a good buy then do they want to make an offer to the ILC?"

She was responding to the emergence of a 30-page consultants' report paid for by Mr Baffsky, Mr Dixon and the other sacked directors.

Authors, Aegis Consulting, were asked to highlight the indigenous employment benefits of the acquisition. They questioned the handling of the matter by the ILC under Ms Casey, finding that Ms Casey "may have commercially damaged a federal government asset" by questioning the sense of the purchase.

In November, Ms Casey told Fairfax Media the acquisition was "perhaps the largest single evaporation of public monies in the indigenous policy domain, ever" after the book value of the resort was cut to $250 million.

The current and former directors are at war over whether the resort is profitable in light of the near $200 million debt the ILC has been saddled with and there are different opinions on whether the sustained downturn in tourism had been seen coming when the sale was executed.

Mr Baffsky hit back angrily at Ms Casey's latest remarks, labelling them "outrageous" and "absolutely unbelievable".

He said they could affect contractors and suppliers to the resort.

"Talk about talking an asset down and destabilising the place. That is just irresponsible and should be of great concern," he said.

Mr Baffsky said a recent McGrathNicol report did not find any areas of concern about the actions of the former board.

The report, released in December, questioned the projections for hotel room occupancy assumptions used by Grant Samuel, the main adviser to the sale.

"The [Grant Samuel] model rightly identified that occupancy was the key driver for the [resort's] revenues. However, the model indicated a strong improvement in occupancy in years after the transaction, stabilising at a level of 67 per cent.

"The historical trend on occupancy at Ayers Rock Resort had seen a reduction to a trend level approximating 63 per cent for the four years prior to the global financial crisis. Adjusting the occupancy levels in the [Grant Samuel] model to reflect a 63 per cent occupancy level would suggest a net present value of $250 million (from the initial value of $292 million)."

Heath Aston

Heath Aston is the environment, energy and corporate correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

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