Re: ‘Toora locals want camping ground’, Letters, November 12.
The caravan industry as a whole recognises that there is a desire to ‘free camp’ and accepts it as being ‘one of our great Australian traditions’.
What, however, the industry does not agree with, is unfair and damaging competition that park operators are often subjected to when unthinking Councils assume that by offering ‘free’ camping sites within or nearby to local towns that it brings ‘economic benefit’ to the local economy. Whilst there is some rub-off within local businesses, it is more to the community’s detriment.
Independent studies conducted by prominent accounting firm BDO found that money spent in a caravan park has a ‘multiplier effect’ of for every dollar collected, a sum of $1.38 is spent within the local community.
Toora Caravan Park will always facilitate more spending in the local town than the free campers at Franklin river.
Caravan Park owners employ people, they pay rates, they spend their money locally, they contribute to the promotion of local tourism which in turn helps to bring visitors to local areas who then spend money at local businesses.
Furthermore, caravan parks are required to comply with state and local council regulations regarding OH & S, Emergency Management plans, fire evacuation plans, fire services such as hose reel and hydrant systems, a ratio of amenities including toilets, showers and water taps, local health by-laws, yearly health inspections and tri-annual registrations as well as being compelled to provide for someone to be ‘on-site’ 24/7 to provide assistance and security to guests along with a myriad of other regulations.
Added to this they invest capital which without there being a park in the area would otherwise not be spent. Additionally, there is often little or inadequate accommodation in small country towns where seasonal and infrastructure works employees can stay whilst working locally.
Is it ‘unfair’ that a caravan park owner would like to actually get a fair return on their substantial capital investment, just as any other business owner wants?
Imagine if the caravan park owners at Toora decided that the unlevel playing field was just ‘too hard’ and decided to close the park down. What effect would that have on the local economy?
And who pays for the cost of ‘free camping’? The ratepayers, of course! Council services to free camping are not free!
Local Councils are left to remove rubbish, clean amenity blocks, supply water and tend to overtax septic and sewer systems (as I understand it, the amenities block at Franklin River Reserve has a regular and nasty effluent overflow problem due to not being able to handle the amount of usage).
The compliance regulations do not apply to ‘free camping’ areas.
I ask Ms McConvill, does she think this is a fair and equitable situation when in effect by offering free camping, local shires are not adhering to a competitive neutrality state government policy and are by doing so are often in direct competition with caravan park operators who are actually tenants of the shire?
The true Australian traditions that we all appreciate is for a fair go, not a free go!
With regard to the comments made by Ms McConvill about cabins being installed in caravan parks, what is omitted regarding the statistics of 1250 being installed each year, is the fact that the majority of these are actually being installed in ‘lifestyle community’ retirement villages which are categorised as caravan parks, which are then being used as primary residences, not holidaymakers.
The free camping issue has been ongoing now for a considerable amount of time within the South Gippsland Shire. Lately, it seems the current administration has listened to the Toora Caravan Park operators and have taken steps to modify the previous administration’s attitude to this matter for which it should be congratulated.
The Bass Coast Shire is currently conducting a two-year study into free camping in the area and should also be commended for steps taken so far regarding its handling of free and unauthorised camping areas.
Ray Edwards, Inverloch.