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Do caravan park owners have friends in high places?

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Those of us who live on the road have a constant problem with authorities who put regulations in place to stop us from parking overnight in public places such as main roads rest areas.

Not all councils and governments do this and those that don't get a "tick in the box" for being motorhome friendly.

Those that do, and this seems to be a growing number, tell us that we must park in caravan parks. The reasons vary but they generally include references to "the cost of maintaining rest areas" being born by the ratepayers and that travellers who use these facilities at night are free-loaders. Caravan park owners tell us that the rest areas are maintained by the rates they pay and that we should contribute to this cost by staying in their caravan park.

Given the chance I ask the people who say this if they ever use the beaches which were maintained by the council to which I paid rates for many years. The point being that public infrastructure should be paid for from the public purse whether it be federal, state or local government, and should be available to the public at large. Our nation is called the Commonwealth of Australia because the founders believed that all public property is "common" and belongs to us all.

A question that exercises my mind is "Why do these authorities make these decisions?" They presumably see some benefit to their ratepayers in denying us access. I don't see what benefit there is to the ratepayers at large. Presumably the council has to empty the garbage bins in rest areas whether we park there overnight or just in the daytime. I can only assume that the perceived benefit to the caravan park owners is more important to these authorities than the "public good" which is their raison d'etre.

There is of course the other aspect of this thinking. Do caravan park owners really get any more business as a result of these restrictions. I am reminded of the situation in Ballina in NSW which closed the Bicentennial Gardens to overnight camping because, I understand, a caravan park owner councillor argued that the caravan parks of the town were losing $75,000 per annum because of the free camping in the rest area. One can calculate backwards approximately how he arrived at that figure. $75,000 per year is $225 per day which represent about 15 vehicle extra per night in the town's caravan parks.

Now there are several thing wrong with this argument. It assumes that there are 15 vehicles camped every night of the year in the park and that, after camping was banned, they would all go into the town's caravan parks. Firstly, it is unlikely that there would be 15 vehicles more than one night a year and there would certainly be some nights when there are no vehicles. Secondly, it is unlikely that anyone who had chosen to equip their vehicle so that they could camp without power and water would go into a caravan park in the town rather than find somewhere else to park.

It is recorded that many travellers who used to use the Bicentennial Gardens now don't stop at Ballina and don't shop there any more. Perhaps the town as a whole is actually losing money as a result of the ban.

There is a classic example of distorted thinking in Petrie in the Pine Rivers Shire just north of Brisbane. There is a large and well established rest area called Wyllie Park on a piece of land which has a railway embankment down one side. a main road and sports field down one side and a river along the other boundary. There are no neighbours overlooking the park. No-one who lives in the shire can be directly affected by what goes on in the park. The only people affected by what goes on in the park are the travellers who use it.

The council last year closed the park to all camping, reportedly to get rid of undesirable elements who were using the park for purposes other than camping. Eventually they did re-open it but on a restricted basis allowing only 2 night camping in any 30 day period. They have maintained the total ban on people who camp in their cars or in tents. Did I mention that there is a very large grassy area (over an acre) which is only useful for tent camping?

We know that the council are not against us using the area because they are in process of replacing the old ablutions block with a new one for the benefit of travellers who use such facilities. However, they must see some rationale for their restriction. Clearly anyone who wants to stay more than two nights is, in their view, putting an unreasonable demand on the shire. It apparently doesn't matter that they might need more time to get all the things done that they need to get done while they are in town; perhaps they are just visiting a sick relative in hospital. It might be reasonable to restrict the time one can stay if the place was ever full, but this is almost never the case. I can't see that one vehicle staying three night is any different from three vehicles staying one night.

The problem is not confined to local councils. The Queensland Government succumbed to the pressure from the caravan park lobby last year and declared "no camping" in any main roads rest area in the eastern part of the state which are "within 50 km of a caravan park". The response from the travelling public and from the businesses that make their living selling supplies to travellers was so fierce that those responsible for tourism in the state took fright and the bans were lifted if only a little. One can now stop legally for 20 hours in these public rest areas.

The question that concerns me most is why caravan parks are protected by these authorities while all the other businesses have to make their own way without any protection. Is it stupidity or is it cupidity?

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Created: 28.08.2004 and last revised 20.09.2004
Author: Robin Chalmers Copyright in all the material on this site is asserted by the author
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