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SENATE ENVIRONMENT, RECREATION, COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS REFERENCES COMMITTEE
Access to heritage
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SENATE ENVIRONMENT, RECREATION, COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS REFERENCES COMMITTEE
Access to heritage
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SENATE ENVIRONMENT, RECREATION, COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS REFERENCES COMMITTEE
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Content WindowSENATE ENVIRONMENT, RECREATION, COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS REFERENCES COMMITTEE - 16/09/97 - Access to heritage
CHAIR —Welcome. I explain, for the benefit of the committee, that we are going to deal firstly with the access to heritage inquiry and then look very briefly at the other inquiry regarding the Commonwealth powers, which Mr Serventy has put in a submission on. We had hoped to have the third group of witnesses so we could do both of those together. We might do some later juggling when they come.
The committee prefers evidence to be given in public, but you may at any time request that your evidence or part of your evidence or an answer to a question is given in private, and the committee will consider that request. We have submission No. 6 from Nature Inherited Pty Ltd, dated January 1997, and submission No. 9, dated 2 February 1997, from the Wildlife Preservation Society and also submission No. 55, dated August 1997, on access to heritage. We authorise their publications in a separate volume. Would either of you like to make any changes, alterations or formal additions before we ask you to make an opening statement?
Mr Serventy —I would like to add a brief statement on something I forgot about on Commonwealth environmental powers.
CHAIR —We will do the Commonwealth environmental powers one later on. Is there anything you would like to add or alter on this one?
Mr Donovan —Nothing to my submission.
CHAIR —We will begin looking at the question of access to heritage. Mr Donovan, do you have any opening comments that you would like to make?
Mr Donovan —Only, as I say in these submissions, that I am in favour of the user-pays system for areas of high value. I believe that not enough is being taken from the public purse or the tourist purse to support these assets. I am supported in this view by organisations like PATA, who have produced a statement which I gave an extract from in my paper.
The World Tourism and Travel Organisation and the World Tourism Council support that heritage areas should be supported by fees or levies of some sort on people who come in and use them. This is being applied right around the world in many countries. In fact, some tourists are now even paying more than locals when they come to
national areas, particularly in Costa Rica and South Africa, and soon in Malaysia with a project that I have just finished up there. In general, I just want to support what I have put here and provide any other information that you might like.
Mr Serventy —In my statement, I made it quite clear why we should not charge for heritage access, after my experience of six years as an Australian heritage commissioner. What happens in developing nations is a different business to what happens in a developed country like Australia. We feel the two are quite different situations.
CHAIR —Thank you. I now ask the committee to put questions to you.
Senator REYNOLDS —I would just like to have a debate with Mr Donovan about his opening statement. I suppose that user-pays has become the buzz word for the 1980s and 1990s. We say that it is accepted around the world. How do we know that this user-pays principle will not become so prevalent that governments will opt out of their responsibilities?
Mr Donovan —I cannot answer that on behalf of the government; I am not the government. But I feel that we are losing assets. They are being consumed by too many people going and visiting them. The impacts are such that they are being destroyed. That has to be ameliorated in some way; sites have to be hardened. There is not enough money coming from government. We are selling at a national level most of our natural assets for tourism. Domestic tourism is consuming those assets as well by large millions of the population travelling all round the country as visitors to different states to try to have a look and the assets are suffering. We either close them off, restrict parts of them or use price as a method of deterring people from coming. We have to do something because we are losing the asset.
Yes, the hackneyed phrase used generally is `user-pays'. I believe that people should appreciate what they are being shown and contribute to it. I have suggested to the national parks service in this state that user-pays can constitute a fee at the gate; it can constitute paying more for food and beverages inside the site than you would outside the site, with that difference going into preserving the park. It can be that you pay for additional services when you go in, like people movers, research or information technology. There are many ways of getting more out of the people that consume or use the facility.
—I accept that this is a very pragmatic response to the reality of a globalised economy we now have. But I think that it is time—and that is why we are having this inquiry—to sit back and take stock of precisely what is happening. Having accepted the foot in the door of user-pays, we are now in the situation where, for example, a private developer is taking over two areas of world heritage in North Queensland. The private sector has no obligations to meet international agreements or standards.
While I have accepted a partnership between public and private sectors and, as a sometimes pragmatic politician, I can accept that that kind of relationship is in the community interest, I just think the purpose of this inquiry is to try to find what is the appropriate mix. We have heard about core responsibilities and other responsibilities. I am wondering if you have a view on the extent to which government is responsible for basic activity and to what extent incremental private sector is acceptable.
Mr Donovan —I do not believe the developments you mentioned up in northern Queensland are appropriate, quite frankly, and I do not think to say that they are user-pays is a correct view of them. They are an unnecessary development in a highly sensitive area and I do not personally support them. But if we are dealing with national parks in any state, or Uluru, or Northern Territory wildlife parks—places like that—they are simply not getting sufficient funds from government for their maintenance, that is, core activities, operational costs, et cetera. They are getting more and more use by visitors, tourists—call them what you will: people who show up at the gate who want to have a look at it because they are interested in our natural heritage or they are visitors to Australia. There is quite a difference there, so that if government cannot or will not provide sufficient for core operations, the only other source is from people visiting it.
My view is that that is quite appropriate and I do not think there is enough of it. We have the Royal National Park here in Sydney which is being impacted on to death because too little is charged to get in there: pricing is not used as a deterrent and it is being overused. We have other parks around this state, and in other states of Australia, where you can get free access and they are being deteriorated very badly. I have quite a separate view about development that is inappropriate, because that is not user-pays; that is capitalism coming in and taking over something that should be for everybody. But where we do have—
Senator REYNOLDS —But one can lead to the other, in terms of philosophy.
Mr Donovan —Yes; you can have a park where you say, `Okay. Let's have user-pays in here. Let's put commercial management in to run it.' In my experience, where I have inspected those contracts they are very poorly drafted so that there is a question about what the conditions are if somebody does something wrong; they are not administered properly, because there is not enough money to do it; and they should not have been done in the first place. So I have a very clear view, certainly in my mind anyway, about where the delineation is.
—In that case, do you believe that there is a need for a national approach to this question of user-pays and access? Is it necessary for the national government to establish some very clear guidelines, that obviously have to be negotiated with the states, so that you do not have this mishmash approach we have at the moment, depending on which state you are in and which museum or national park you are visiting? The whole question is an absolute dog's breakfast. This inquiry actually arose out of a
dramatic increase in a charge for visiting the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park which was quite disproportionate to charges incurred in other national parks or museums. So do you see a role for the Commonwealth in trying to resolve these questions and to find the appropriate balance between public and private and the user-pay principle?
Mr Donovan —Very definitely; I do believe that there should be a national standard set that everybody conforms to, for a whole range of reasons. It will be easier to sell tourism internationally and get the money extracted from that to pay for it; it will be a standard that can be viewed by everybody across the country and understood by them; and there will be less ability for states to pick off and make exceptions about what they will do, and what they cannot do, due to special interest submissions and politicians being pressured into making decisions at the state level. So, very definitely, it has to be done.
The reason it is called national heritage is that it is national. It does not matter where something exists in a single state—it is part of the national heritage. We should be mature enough to look at it in those terms and apply it nationally.
Senator REYNOLDS —Thank you.
CHAIR —I have a question for either Mr Donovan or Mr Serventy. I am looking particularly at Mr Serventy's submission and his opposition to the general idea of full user pays. But it also relates to something you just said in answer to a question from Senator Reynolds regarding putting on a charge—and you used a national park to the south of us as an example—and that is that we do begin to restrict access to those people who are relatively well-off or at least have a reasonable level of disposable income. If areas are being overused and the pressure is too great, are there not other ways that we can look at to look after them better?
Mr Serventy —I have a difficulty in that I have been to most of the national parks in Australia, and many national parks around the world, I have heard of this `loved to death' and I have never seen it happening in Australia. The point is that good management can control it. In other words, at Kakadu, by putting a railing in, people can walk along without touching the paintings at Obiri rock hole. There are mechanisms. In developing nations, of course, they have the problem of needing more money and, quite often, only the tourists can provide that. But that is a different ball game to Australia. I feel that the things we want to keep are what we are interested in.
What will happen in the case of Hinchinbrook is that the user will certainly pay, because, whereas a person could go there by yacht or kayak in the old days and enjoy one of the most remarkable passages in Australia, now he will pay because he will have 1,000 people with their jet-skis and motor boats all pouring along there and ruining it for him. That is because it is unwise development. In my opinion, governments have to make sure those unwise developments are not allowed.
CHAIR —Thank you. Mr Donovan?
Mr Donovan —Addressing your issue of what I call social equity—how do you in fact have a charge on an area, a location or a particular exhibit that may push it into a separate socioeconomic bracket?—if you apply social equity because of the government of the day's views or other sorts of pressure, it still has to equate with the fact that if, by letting everybody in, everybody can see it and maybe everybody touch it, it will not exist in the future. How are you going to explain to the future that we tried to give everybody access now but nothing is left for the future?
We are not talking about charges here that are so great that people cannot, out of discretionary income, occasionally go to see places of high national worth. There are people in society who simply do not have any money at any time to spend, and that is unfortunate. There are, however, mechanisms that are used in Australia to recognise that. For instance, I think most of us who pay rates get free dumping allowances at the local tip when we pay our rates.
It is possible to provide vouchers to people who live in an area where there is a national park so that they can get so many accesses a year free of charge and then pay for the rest. All tourism—and even some of the lower socioeconomic groups become tourists—is discretionary income. Should not some of it be used to pay for national heritage? At the other end of the spectrum, you could take the hard view that council parks are all free, and therefore they can go to council parks. I think that is divisive, but it is an answer that has been given to me on several occasions.
I do not have an answer for it. What we are trying to do is to provide a level of income from volume attendances that provides something to harden the sites and operate them. I have done some work where if you go out and you ask for donations for a certain project in a national park you get an enormous response at $2 a head. In one instance, we found out that they get 40,000 bucks a year. They only needed about $17,500 to do the work needed on site, yet nobody had gone out and put together a proper donation or giving program.
In effect, that is a type of user pays. It does not have to be a legislative charge. You can say, `This park needs boardwalks, or it needs viewing areas, or it needs certain things preserved through research, rare and endangered species protection, or whatever. If you would like to contribute, here is the basin—put your money in.' That is a form of it as well.
—This inquiry so far I think has found charges ranging from obviously zero up to $100 per access. I think one of the things that has concerned us, particularly from earlier witnesses today who talked about the Powerhouse Museum, is that we are probably excluding sections of the population if we put on any charge—and as it goes up, others. But if I can just leave that and come back to Mr Serventy's submission, it is with
interest I note the terms that you use relating to the private and the public good which were what were used by economists that we had before us yesterday. We are very interested in where the public good lies as opposed to where it really is a private advantage for you to get access to a national park or a museum. Could either of you comment on where you see the line between what is a public good and the private benefit that someone may accrue from doing something?
Mr Serventy —I think the user-pays syndrome is economic rationalism. I come from Western Australia where we had a free university which is now user pays. I thought it was a marvellous idea. If we want a clever country, why should people not go to free universities? As for the argument, `Where is the money coming from?' I notice Australia is the least taxed country in the world. I had quite a discussion on how the federal government can solve the unemployment problem, which I did pass on to Bob Hawke many years ago. Possibly Landcare may have developed problems in that period, but there is an immense amount being done. The only thing is that governments have to accept that they have to start taxing more heavily in Australia to pay for these things.
At present we have not got any worries, I think, in terms of too much use of resource. I am quite sure about that. I have been all over Australia and very rarely do I have that thing. In India, for example, at the Taj, they have a free day one day of the week and then the whole Taj is crowded. I have been on both days—on the days when you pay and the days when it is free—and the magic of the Taj was not destroyed by the fact that there were 20,000 Indians there. In the same way, the magic of a painting is not destroyed because a lot of people are watching it at the same time. Quite frankly, I think it is just an economic rationalism argument to get money out of people and not have to collect tax. In other words they do not have to worry so much about it.
Mr Donovan —One of the problems with taxation is that it is universal. Everybody has to pay, but not everybody might use part of the elements to which it contributes. The arguments occur over the toll here on the bridge. Only those people on the north shore have to pay it when they come into town, so why tax the whole of the city for it? Therefore the charge on the bridge remains, even though the bridge has now been paid for.
The user-pays principle is for those people that want to go and have recreation or go and have a view of something—they do pay. Yes, it is very close to commercialism, but you pay for so many things these days. If the government cannot find, through their budgets, sufficient money out of the taxation base to keep supporting these places of national heritage, what is the alternative? In fact they will not be here some time in the future—and I am not going to predict whether it is five, 10, 15 years of my lifetime or your lifetime. I am surprised to hear that somebody has said it should be $100 a head. I think we are talking here more of levels of volume that go through certain areas at $5 a head. They are not huge amounts of money. I would be concerned if there were huge amounts of money being asked for because it would push them specifically towards being very commercial. There has to be some sensible stance taken as to what is necessary. I
have not come across a really good budget by any area of culture that says this is exactly what we need and these are the numbers we put through. They are not really good at marketing. They are going for volume market and I believe that we should have markets that are niche markets to get the people in who are really interested and have an appreciation. That is not to say that you do not market to everybody else in general, but you should strike a balance.
Mr Serventy —Friends of national parks and friends of museums contribute millions of dollars of unpaid work. The Organ Pipes National Park in Victoria rangers told me that over a 10-year period they had gained a million dollars of work on that—university students getting rid of the intrusive weeds. At the Australian Museum here they tell me that the friends supply at least $100,000 in unpaid work to supplement the fact that they have not got enough staff to do the work that is needed. The friends are spending a lot of time helping out because they enjoy it. As you know from Red Cross, these friends of all kinds put hundreds of millions of dollars into the public purse, in effect.
Senator GIBBS —Just picking up on what Mr Donovan had to say, national parks in Australia comprise a very small area of our country and as it is our national heritage, why should people not pay for it out of their taxes? After all, people pay taxes for a variety of things, like hospitals. There are some people who never use a hospital but they do not mind paying their tax dollar for those people who are in need of hospitals.
It is the same with education. People do not mind paying for education. They might be childless, they might never be married, they might never have a child, yet they do not mind paying. Why should governments renege on paying money out of our tax dollars when it is in the national interest? After all, there are a lot of people in this country who do not have disposable incomes and therefore they cannot take their children to these places and then the children are not benefiting. As Mr Serventy said, we are supposed to be going into the era of a clever country. Surely, this is beneficial to everybody.
Mr Donovan —I do not disagree with you in what you have just said. The point is that nobody in government has ever put their hand up and said, `We are going to fund national parks or areas of high cultural value to the level that they need', whatever that might be. The debate then is that if they do not have that amount of money and if they are not marketing properly, where does the extra money come from?
Senator GIBBS —The problem that we are looking at is if a user-pays system is implemented and then you recoup a certain amount of money from those people who do go through the gate, do governments then take away that extra money rather than it being a supplement to what the government is already paying? That is the danger. Whatever government of the day it is, it can say they are giving so many thousands and then take that money from them. That is simply supplementing what they were getting originally.
—I am not in favour of the money going back into the government
purse because I have never seen it ever given back again. That is the problem. Look at the operation of a site. Let us say it is going to cost $10 to run this site and government will support $8.50 of it but the other $1.50 has to come from ancillary services, including people who pay through the gate or donations or whatever, and it is a targeted, properly run program and it meets its budget. However, let us say through rain, or because the economy does not do too well, they only get to $9.73, then they can look at a top-up the next year. It is not a matter of saying, `We are only going to give you $4 and you have got to get the other $6 but you cannot charge for admission.' There is no business that I know that will ever generate that off-site through concessions or other services or sponsorship.
If you do not have a sufficient base from government and you cannot charge, people will go to sponsorship. Sponsorship has to be very carefully managed in these areas so that it is long term, so that it does not green the organisation that is giving the money unnecessarily. It must be a balance out, that they are giving it because they want to give it and they are getting a good reputation for being a green organisation for supporting the national heritage.
You can work it if you get near to what can be cut and managed. The problem is that we have this chunk in the middle, that there is simply not enough to even maintain the infrastructure, much less try and get the operating costs out of it. It has been let slip. Vince's comment was that you can harden sites so you can keep people away. That is terrific, but that takes maintenance, it takes more people, it has got ongoing costs associated with it. It is one thing to put the infrastructure in but you have got to allow the organisations that manage these areas the ability to earn enough money to then operate them, and government traditionally has not done that.
Senator LUNDY —Mr Donovan, in your opening remarks you referred quite specifically to the depreciation of the asset or the expending of the particular asset. How do you offset what you have described as depreciation in financial terms with government investment and strategic development of that asset? I am interested in seeing how you extend the financial terminology into the actual input end of natural heritage assets.
Mr Donovan —If you are the owner of a building, you provide depreciation, you put together a sinking fund; you make an allowance that allows you to repair and renew over a period of time so the attractiveness of what you have is maintained. From the figures that I gave in there, we know that something of the order of 28 per cent of the people who go to areas of high national value are very concerned with their upkeep. Yet there does not appear to be the equivalent in commercial terms of depreciation allowances or sinking funds provided for the upkeep of these areas; they are slowly deteriorating.
What I am suggesting is that there are lessons that can be learnt out of how businesses run, and that you put aside elements for repair and maintenance. It is a recurrent capital works budget that is applied for. Quite often you may get it; quite often
you may not get it. If you do not get it you let it run for another few years. If you do get it you do as much as you possibly can and the money from government can only ever be spent for that purpose.
I am suggesting that if you look at the way commerce provides depreciation and sinking funds and allows for that to be an element within the budgetary factors of some of these agencies, I think more could be done to keep renewing and maintaining the upkeep and standard of them to a level where more people will come and appreciate them. Whether entry is free or people pay, it is all to do with, `We think this is terrific,' and therefore there is national pride involved in it.
Senator LUNDY —If you extend that analogy to the input end, how do you quantify what investment there is on behalf of the government in terms of offsetting depreciation? How does it factor up in your equation? You seem to have one side of it in accounting terms but you have not extended your analogy to the input or investment end on the management of that asset.
Mr Donovan —One of them is an accounting term; the other is dealing with subjective appreciation of something, but there are—
Senator LUNDY —But how do you rationalise the two issues? How do they come together to complete your analogy?
Mr Donovan —I think the bottom line is that there has to be sufficient money to keep the asset maintained. That is from the point of view of all the built material that happens in it and it is quite easy to see whether that is failing. The other side is to do enough research to see where the impact is happening within the natural environment and measure it—that is a scientific and often subjective view of it—and try to marry the two of those together.
There are—again I am going to step outside Australia which Vince may not like me doing—many areas around the world that are simply closed off for certain periods of the year to let them renew outside of their peak attraction period. They just shut them down and let them regrow because the impact during their peak period is so great. I am not aware that we do that in Australia; we may do it in some areas. That is a very good way of looking at it: during a certain season the asset depreciates—I am using a financial term there—but it is allowed to renew naturally. The physical elements of it can be planned because you can go along and say, `That's rusty, that's peeling and that needs to be redone.' We tend, through our mind's eye, if we are in a place every day, not to see the nature of the place deteriorate.
—I guess my point is that I am finding it hard to interpret the financial analogies with the concept of placing a monetary value on a natural asset and then using that as a basis to justify your particular viewpoint. I can see your point and I
can understand where you are coming from, but I just do not feel that the analogy flows through and picks up all the points if you were to apply it.
Mr Donovan —I think the African elephant has been valued at about $US127,000 each, as far as what it can develop in tourism in Kruger National Park. What you are doing is saying that the number of people who can be enticed to come and see this will have a value in accounting terms that you can work out. They equate one acre of potatoes in Africa to be the equivalent of 100 tourists—and a damned site easier to pick.
What I think I am trying to get across is that we need to be clever and innovative, and we should be going out and saying, `What is this site worth? Is it of such high value that, like the Wollemi pine, we are not going to get anybody in to see it but we will commercialise its application so people can actually grow one', or is it an area where it is sensitive for a certain part of the year or we can open it all year, as the Royal is, and look after it? I do not have an answer to it. What I am trying to say is that most of the agencies that operate tend to operate within very strict scientific paradigms. There are other ways of doing it outside that I would like them to look at.
Senator LUNDY —With previous witnesses to this inquiry we had some discussion about the application of economic rationalism to arts, and particularly to access to such assets. It seems that what you are doing is just overlaying that type of terminology or that sort of approach on the natural asset without going back to the substance of the issue, which is protection enhancement and public access. It is trying to couch the issue which we are addressing in terms that are understood by the corporate sector and those that think in financial terms.
Mr Donovan —But aren't you trying to be all things to all people? Part of what I do, how I earn my living, is to go in and advise people as to when the business side of the management of the natural assets should pull back. There are principles under Agenda 21 that I have been working up in Malaysia—and Ramsar—that say, `If the deterioration of the site reaches a point so that in fact you can measure it, you have gone too far. The business has to pull back.' That is what I have been doing for the last six years—advising people where that line might be drawn and taking a very conservative view.
I wrote in a report on the national parks of New South Wales that they try to be all things to all people all the time—providing absolute access, all the facilities. You cannot do it. You are not dealing with something that can regenerate overnight; you are not dealing with something that can be reconstructed in a short period of time. You are dealing with flora and fauna that have a sensitivity that is very hard to measure.
So I am all for shutting areas off, letting them go quiet and using principles there that in fact pull the business back to the level where it says, `This is where we can acceptably allow access but, beyond that, we are gaining in fact, over time, 200 or 300 years—call it what you will—or we will not have an asset there eventually.'
Senator HOGG —A question for you, Mr Donovan. I understood in your opening statement you made the comment that tourists should pay more than locals. Is that correct?
Mr Donovan —No. I said that I believe there is a view that some tourists should pay more than locals. It is actually applied in places like Costa Rica, in the game parks in Africa and some other places. Where they have the ability to recognise that a person is a tourist, particularly an international tourist, they actually pay a little bit more for the privilege.
Senator HOGG —Can you give me some idea of how one then defines a tourist under those circumstances?
Mr Donovan —I heard your question to the previous people when I was sitting in the room.
Senator HOGG —Yes. It is very germane to what we are doing.
Mr Donovan —I believe the tourism industry says that a tourist is someone who is staying away from their normal place of domicile for at least one night. Your description of someone coming from the Blue Mountains, I believe, would be classed a visitor. The tourism industry looks at visitors and tourists. Someone who is coming down from the Blue Mountains for the day would be a visitor. If you are going from Sydney to Wollongong just in the day, you would be a visitor. But visitors have recreation.
A tourist is somebody who is leaving their place of domicile for the purpose of, in my view anyway, recreation or lifestyle change and visiting somewhere else that they may or may not have been to before for the purposes of lifestyle recreation. It means that where a visitor would be coming down to do some shopping in Sydney from the Blue Mountains but would take in an art gallery if they had time, a tourist would in fact have discretional dollars and would have planned a visit to that gallery as part of the visit to the city. So in my mind they are two separate functions. However, they do tend to blend together.
Senator HOGG —Right. You probably heard my other question about what constitutes a user. Undoubtedly, there will be different elements of what constitutes a user.
Mr Donovan —That is far more difficult.
Senator HOGG —We are looking at a user-pays basis of entry into some of these cultural sites and heritage sites, so what constitutes a user becomes very important.
—We would have to come up with some quantifiable description of someone who actually goes in and consumes something. The problem with the word `consumption' tends to be that I am going to pick up a pen and use it and, therefore, it
will eventually become empty. Is a user someone who lives over the road from a national park and goes in and has a picnic there every weekend? Yes, they are. The park throws their garbage away if they do not take it with them, and the park provides toilets and water facilities and all those sorts of things. They will bring their families in and they will talk about it highly to other people that they have met and maybe entice tourists.
Does the fact that I live around the corner from the Stanton Library in North Sydney and go there to do a lot of research mean I am a user? Yes, I am. If there was some way that I could pay formally to do the research, I would be quite happy to do it. I, in fact, invented a way for the Australian National Botanic Gardens to have user pays on their web site through secure funds transfer. There are ways you can do it. If it is casual use, such as somebody once or twice a year lying in the Domain during lunch because they have nothing else to do, does that constitute use? I suppose it does in the very narrow view of it. If they only do it once, should they be entitled to go there? I would say yes.
Senator HOGG —So where do you suggest we can look for a definition?
Mr Donovan —If someone is going to a national park—and I am using some work I did in Canberra—and drive their car in and park, should they pay for the parking? In my view, the answer is yes. It is infrastructure that should be paid for. If they just go for a walk around the park, should there be payment for that? If they paid sufficient for the parking, maybe not—it is horses for courses. You have to look at every situation to see how it might be applied. If they buy food and drink when they go into that park, should they pay more for it? I believe so—up to 15 per cent more, and that 15 per cent should go to the park management to look after it.
Senator REYNOLDS —But we do not apply this approach to anything else in our taxing system. I might choose to not contribute to all kinds of things that government funds. I could opt out and say I am not going to contribute to certain things I might not agree with. I will not embarrass Senator Tierney by saying what they might be. There would be anarchy if people could opt in and out of those areas of government activity that are funded by the taxpayer. Surely, we have to look at collective responsibility. That is why, if anything needs user pays, it is a question of reforming the tax system, so that those who are not paying taxes at the moment do pay.
Mr Donovan —The counter-argument to that, as a person who pays taxes and looks at the way the government spends it, is that I would say to government `Become more efficient in the way that you actually apply our tax dollars before you ask us for more money.'
Senator REYNOLDS —I do not think we have a meeting of minds here, Mr Donovan.
—No, I know. But the point is this: if you assume that what we
should do is put the tax system up and have universality—a catholic approach—to it, I have no objection to that. But as a consumer who would be quite happy to pay if the money was going into national cultural areas, I would also want to have the right to turn around to government and say, `I think you are wasteful in some areas. Before you put the taxes up can we see whether we can trim a bit here and a bit there and reapply that to the area?'
Senator REYNOLDS —But it is that philosophy that is making life so difficult.
Mr Donovan —The philosophy of government not wanting to trim their budgets or asking for too much from the consumer?
Senator REYNOLDS —The fact that people are not wanting to pay more tax is making life so difficult for all governments. In actual fact, Australia is a low taxed country by OECD standards, and we would all be much better off if we paid a bit more and did not have to run around paying a bit extra here and there in user pays.
Mr Donovan —Yes. Running on that logic, we pay less for our meat than Japan does: does that mean we should pay more for our meats? If we are one of the lowest taxed countries in the world, I would still say look at how efficiently that tax is being applied to where it is necessary. Are there other areas of government that it could opt out of?
CHAIR —I am just looking at the time here, and we are juggling two inquiries. I am going to ask Mr Serventy to stay at the table when I call the Colong Foundation. We will continue with the access to heritage inquiry for a while and then we will move on to the new inquiry. Mr Serventy, do you mind staying with us?
Mr Serventy —I can stay.
CHAIR —Are there any further questions for Mr Donovan?
Senator TIERNEY —Yes. Mr Donovan, you mentioned you worked overseas and you were giving advice on when organisations had to pull back to protect the asset. Are there any principles underlying the sort of priority they should place on pulling back? The point I am making is that there are often conflicting groups who want to use an asset in particular ways. If they are pulling back, if it is not a total shutdown, how do you work out the priorities? Are there any principles underlying that?
Mr Donovan —I have been working with people outside Australia and inside Australia. If an area is terribly sensitive you can open it for a certain period of a year. That is one form of pulling the business back, that it only operates for a limited period of time. You can cap the number of people who would go onto the site on any one day for a period of days. You can use quotas to do that sort of thing.
You can restrict access to certain parts of an area for certain periods of the year, be that days, weeks or months. You can restrict access by charging people more money the further they go into certain areas. We have one area where there is a very highly prized peat swamp forest. You will pay an amount at the door to get in and see most of the park but to get into the peat swamp you will pay a hell of a lot more. We are using price to pull the numbers of people back. There is a whole range of mechanisms that you can use which are physical or economic barriers.
I have no problem in saying to someone, `The sensitivity of this area is such that it should close down for a certain period of time to allow regeneration.' That can either be a place within a place, or the whole place.
Senator TIERNEY —You indicated you are giving advice to places like Malaysia. What sorts of organisations in Australia do you work with?
Mr Donovan —I have worked with the Australian National Botanic Gardens and the national parks. Here in this state I have worked with the economic and regional development people. In Western Australia I was looking at natural outdoor ecomuseums and places like that.
Senator TIERNEY —To what extent do they take your advice on rationing resources in these various ways that you have indicated?
Mr Donovan —Of the 114 recommendations that we put to the national parks service here, about 23 have happened. You really need to ask them. Quite often I go back and work with a client but I do not stick around to see how much of it they actually put in. A lot of the methodology has been adopted in quite a few places.
As for the places overseas, the whole structure of what I recommend is usually implemented. You would need to go back to the source people to find out how much of it. They have all liked what I have written. When you say how much of it has been applied, they need money, they need political will, they need time and they need people who want to see it happen as well. Without some of those factors things may not happen. It does not mean to say the recommendation was not good in the first place. I do have a lot of recurring customers.
CHAIR —I thank Mr Donovan for his time and I ask Mr Serventy to stay with us while we call the Colong Foundation people.