The federal government has stepped in to bail out the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) from skyrocketing debt stemming from the acquisition of Ayers Rock Resort at Uluru for $300 million in 2010. The $65 million loan was revealed in the Budget last week.
The minister for Indigenous affairs, Nigel Scullion, told a press conference over the weekend that the ILC was worth bailing out because the resort was one of only a handful of successful Indigenous employment initiatives in the country.
"Uluru is Australia’s most recognisable natural site and a focal point for acknowledging Aboriginal culture, not only in Australia, but around the world. And nowhere else in the world is there a tourism operation with the scale and significance of the Ayers Rock Resort – in Indigenous ownership," Scullion said.
Gomeroi man Trent Rose, 29, is one of 262 Indigenous employees at the Ayers Rock Resort. Rose grew up in the small town of Muswellbrook in the Hunter region of New South Wales and felt like he had limited career prospects after finishing school.
“As a young Aboriginal person I didn’t have any opportunities,” Rose told BuzzFeed News.
Three years ago Rose made the 3000-kilometre journey to Uluru and found work as a porter for the Ayers Rock Resort. Today, he is a talented manager with an ambitious eye on becoming a senior manager.
"The opportunities presented to me here have been massive. Unfortunately, those opportunities aren't there for me back in NSW. Ideally, I would love to go back home and utilise the skills I've learnt here," Rose said.
"You see other companies talk about Indigenous employment engagement and throw figures out there. Unfortunately, the numbers often don't actually reflect the Indigenous workforce. Without us, there would be very few employment opportunities for our mob.”
The federal government will loan the ILC $65 million with a small interest rate (the rate remains undisclosed) to help the group stabilise and repay their debts.
“As it stood, the ILC would have continued to divert money it should have been spending on supporting more jobs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in order to service interest repayments that would have been as high as 9%. This was an intolerable situation,” Scullion said during a speech at the resort over the weekend.
The ILC, which manages around $3 billion with the mandate to buy land to create economic and employment benefits for Indigenous people, has been plagued by accusations of mismanagement from outgoing ILC chairperson Dawn Casey over the acquisition of the Ayers Rock Resort.
In 2015, a report by advisory firm McGrathNicol found that the ILC had paid in excess of $22 million over three pre-sale valuations of the property.
Last year, Casey called for a federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) investigation into the former board's decision to acquire the resort.
"I'm not suggesting for one minute at all that there is corruption, because I have no evidence of that," Casey told the ABC.
"But we do have evidence of serious short comings as identified in the McGrathNicol report resulting in tens of millions of dollars and a burden for the ILC for years to come."
Scullion has dismissed those allegations and pointed to investigations that cleared previous boards of any wrongdoing and stated that the global financial crisis exacerbated debts.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare only one in four Indigenous young people aged 15–24 were employed.
Indigenous people aged between 15 and 64 are currently four times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population.
Trent Rose says he's just grateful to have found steady employment.
"I want to inspire our mob that sometimes we need to spread our wings, relocate and take a risk and have courage. We need to go out into the big world and take advantage of whatever opportunities we are offered."
Formerly with BuzzFeed News, Allan Clarke is a NITV reporter based in Sydney.
Contact Allan Clarke at arielle.benedek+AC@buzzfeed.com.
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