Paper: scissors for rock

Publish Date:
11th April 2014

by Maria Billias

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THE Territory’s iconic Uluru and Kakadu National Park could soon be paying their own way with the Federal Environment Department looking to make $100 million worth of budget savings over the next three years.
The parks are administered by Parks Australia, but declining visitor numbers and a crash in revenue has had the Federal Government look towards potential commercial ventures in a bid to rejuvenate tourism.
Federal Parliamentary Secretary Simon Birmingham also signalled potential fee increases – including differential fee structures for dry and wet seasons – at the parks.
The NT News understands a leaked internal government review has highlighted a slashing in the Environment Department budget by $460 million over the next three years – as well as a loss of 480 jobs.
The internal review also suggests the parks explore al-ternative areas of funding so as not to be solely reliant on the Environment Department.
A spokeswoman for Mr Birmingham would not confirm these figures yesterday, saying instead that the Department would streamline its structure in July, opening a “new voluntary redundancy round for 250
“The Department’s operating budget declines by around a quarter over the forward estimates and a further reduction of 250 staff during 2014 is required for the Department to continue to operate within its
budget profile. ”pending a “new voluntary redundancy round for 250 staff,” the spokeswoman said.
Mr Birmingham said a reduction in visitor numbers to Commonwealth Parks had an impact on revenue to the Commonwealth as well as payments to traditional owners of the park areas.
He said looking at visitor fees would be “part of a mix”, as was boosting tourism services at parks by ramping up luxury accommodation. “That isn’t necessarily hotels, it can be in the form of glamping – luxury tents, those kinds of services.
“This is the way that we can manage to better open up our parks for more visitors and in doing so, provide more opportunity and income for the local traditional owners of those parks.”
He said traditional owners had expressed concern about declining lease payments over recent years because of declining visitation.
Justin O’Brien, chief executive of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Mirrar traditional owners, said engaging traditional owners and boosting marketing of the Kakadu National Park was the key.
Mr O’Brien said it was important to increase occupancy at accommodation already in parks via a more  meaningful tourism experience.
“Marketing, distribution and engagement is the new way. Indigenous people need to own and operate tourism ventures ... to offer more culturally informed tourism,” he said.