Australia's tourism industry has been without data for 18 months because of a failed computer system at the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) which is used to process international tourism information.
An optical computer system, used for scanning passenger cards of international travellers, crashed in mid-2000 and since then has created a backlog of data on up to 1.5 million passenger cards per month, according to a DIMA spokesman.
DIMA said in a statement that the glitch delayed the processing of statistical data on international passenger movements from August 2000 to December 2001.
"Certain" data from this period has not been available to authorities like the Australian Bureau of Statistics and other major data users, the spokesman said, refusing to specify what type of data was involved.
The Federal Tourism Taskforce spokesman, Chris Brown, said: "The Government has stuffed it up monumentally. The boofheads can't even scan a passenger card."
"We're punching in the dark . . . people are making multi-million dollar investment decisions with no data," Brown said.
Meanwhile, the DIMA spokesman said the glitch "did not have any impact on the monitoring and control of passenger movements for things like border control purposes", saying that such data continued to be "captured, stored and retrieved electronically in real time".
The system was returned to working order this week, the DIMA spokesman said.
The statistical information retrieved from passenger cards is considered "very important" by users in a "wide variety of applications like demographics, aviation and tourism", DIMA said in a statement.
However, DIMA conceded it had experienced "some technical problems" with migrating from an old system to an optical one, but since when, the department declined to say.
DIMA will provide big users of tourism statistics like the ABS with data from the July to December 2001 period at the end of March.
However, DIMA has not set a deadline for supplying the ABS with data from the August 2000 to July 2001 backlog.