Turning the tourism slump around

AFTER suffering from the effects of September 11 and the Ansett collapse, the Australian tourism industry is set to launch a $10 million advertising campaign on the international market.

It is understood the campaign will begin in the United States this week and in Asia and Europe later in the year.

The campaign follows a near $1 billion loss in export earnings through tourism during the past four months.

Industry operators have reported signs of recovery in Australia’s main sources of tourists.

Big cheese melts

ENRON CEO Kenneth Lay has resigned, saying investigations into the energy giant were occupying too much of his time.

Mr Lay will remain on Enron’s board of directors and will retire as an employee of the company that US legislators are analysing regarding accounting practices.

Enron was the country’s seventh-biggest company in revenue, but its traders and investors dispersed amid acknowledgement that it overstated profits for four years. Disappearing debt figures tied to controversial partnerships also have been blamed for its downfall.

The troubled company is seeking a specialist to guide it out of the bankruptcy it filed for in December.

Woodside seeks Oel deal

Woodside Petroleum’s interest in the oil and gas assets of German company Veba Oel will cost the company $3.8 billion if its bid is a success.

Analysts are predicting Woodside’s major shareholder, Royal Dutch/Shell, may not approve of the cost and the risks associated with locations of Veba Oel’s assets.

It is believed Woodside will be able to finance the majority of the acquisition, leaving a figure of at least $1 billion to be raised as equity.

Other bidders for Veba include German energy and utility company RWE group and the French TotalFinaElf group.

Veba produces 140,000 barrels of oil per day and falls within Woodside’s intention to acquire immediate oil production.

Woodside CEO John Akehurst refutes the perception the company is becoming an oil, rather than a gas, business.

Ponds of pollution

ALLEGATIONS have been levelled at Alcoa that ponds at the company’s Wagerup refinery are leaking sodium and trace elements into ground water.

Alcoa’s refinery operations produce wastes that contain toxic heavy metals such as cadmium and radioactive elements, including thorium.

It is not known what substances have leaked from the alkaline waste ponds, although groundwater at Kwinana, Pinjarra and Wagerup is alleged to have been affected.

It is understood the company is monitoring the spread of pollutants in groundwater and has taken measures to prevent further contamination.

But Alcoa management had bigger things on its mind than water pollution during the past week. Pittsburgh-based Alcoa chief executive Alain Belda had to talk down suggestions that the mining giant was making a second takeover approach of WMC after the market had spiked the share price on the rumours to a new high of $10.26, well above its September level of less than $7.

Mr Belda’s denouncement of the takeover, however, caused a quick sell-off with the share dropping back around 35 cents for the day.

Policy polarises

THE humanitarian aspect in the debate over Australia’s treatment of refugees continued to gain momentum as detainees resorted to extreme measures to highlight their plight, bringing both sympathy and disgust from various quarters of the Australian and international community.

The Federal Government, however, is showing signs of digging its heels in over the treatment of refugees.

The issue threatens to cloud Prime Minster John Howard’s visit to the US this week as he addresses the World Economic Forum in New York. Mr Howard is back in the US to finish of some of the business put on ice when he had to abandon his last visit, which was interrupted by the terrorist attacks.

While world terrorism and the refugee crisis may not be totally avoided, Mr Howard’s chief reason to visit the Big Apple will be to drum up support from large investment houses of the merits of doing business in Australia.

Efforts to form a free trade agreement between Australia and the US also will be a Howard priority.

Star performer

AUSTRALIA had another chance to celebrate its rich sporting identity when tennis champion Pat Rafter was named Australian of the Year at an Australia Day ceremony.

The 29-year-old, a two-time winner of the US Open and twice runner-up at Wimbledon, received the honour from Governor-General Peter Hollingworth at an Australia Day function at Admiralty House.

Flight deal done

IN a packed meeting at the Melbourne Tennis Centre, Ansett creditors have voted in favour of the airline’s sale to the Tesna consortium led by Melbourne businessmen, Solomon Lew and Lindsay Fox.

Administrator Mark Korda, of Andersen, told the meeting that the $3 billion deal with Tesna would be completed as soon as possible.

A time extension was granted for the sale to Tesna to conclude so that outstanding commercial and legal issues could be resolved.

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