Chris Brown writes to Crikey…

Chris Brown of the Tourism Task Force, now the Tourism and Transport Forum, has written to chide us:

Apparently your ‘expert’ commentator, “Pemberton Strong”, is not so expert after all. His piece in today’s Crikey, which was forwarded to me, is dramatically short on substance, well wide of the mark on detail and plain wrong.

The ‘Tourism Task Force’ as it was known ceased to exist two years ago when it rebranded to the ‘Tourism & Transport Forum’. (This might also explain your on-line link not actually working). [Chris, this is the link to the TTF, and its working]

TTF comprises the Chief Executives of the 200 most prestigious investors, operators, regulators and developers of infrastructure and services in Australia’s tourism, property, transport and infrastructure finance sectors. This successful, national, not-for-profit forum is brilliantly led by Chairman, Les Cassar AM KSJ, one of the most eminent business leaders that the Australian tourism industry has ever produced.

Approximately 40% of TTF national CEO Members are industry leaders in the transport/ infrastructure sector, an important point that was obviously missed by Crikey.

Leighton Holdings is a natural Member of TTF due to its involvement in the provision of transport infrastructure, and we are blessed to have a person of Penny Bingham Hall’s stature to serve as TTF’s honorary Deputy Chair. Contrary to your report, Leighton does have direct links to the tourism industry with its redevelopment of the Hilton in Sydney, and many such investments and building projects around Australia over the past twenty years.

A simple phone call to TTF or a quick check of the website would have saved the embarrassment caused to your contributor and to Crikey itself by this article.

Like everything Chris has said and written in his life, he’s right. In fact he’s never known to be wrong. But looking at the track record of Leighton it is impressive, especially the contract for the Hilton Hotel, mentioned by Chris in his email.

That’s the contract Leighton wishes it never had entered into. The company is losing money after botching the bid price because not enough work was done on finding out just how much asbestos was in the old hotel building in Sydney. Inadequate due diligence was the verdict of CEO, Wal King late last year.

It is also the contract where Leighton and Hilton are in difficult talks to try and resolve the argument. Failure of these will probably see legal action.

The Hilton contract was due to be completed in mid 2004, according to the Leighton website. Obviously not one of that fine company’s shining hours!

And it is also natural for the chief executive of an organisation to praise the chairman and deputy of that organisation and Chris’s songs of praise for Les Cassar and Penny Bingham-Hall are no different.

Qantas letter writer and chief flack, Michael Sharp is on the TTF. Both he and Ms Bingham-Hall are not CEO’s of their respective organisations.

They are there with a brief, to ‘watch out’ for their respective companies and their respective industries. It is as much corporate self-interest as corporate altruism.

Leighton certainly does build a lot of things, but at present in Sydney alone it is spending more money meeting contracts on the ring road, cross city tunnel and the Lane Cove tunnel project than it is spending on pure tourism projects.

Yes, tourists will use this infrastructure, but these projects are being built for Sydney people, not tourists. Tourist use will be a minor part of the income streams from these toll roads and tunnels.

Looking at the membership of the TTF its natural that Leighton is a member. After all some of its major competitors in Baulderstone and Multiplex are there and membership of an organisation like the TTF is a good way to keep an eye on the competition, and that applies to the competition as well.

A necessary talk shop and nothing else.

Geoff Dixon obviously knows Les Cassar well enough not to socialise with him via board membership of the TTF, but to spend time with him on the slopes of Colarado in the snow-laden Rockies of the US.

That says it all!