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Wednesday, 8 December 1993
Page: 4180

Senator IAN MACDONALD (5.05 p.m.) —Unfortunately I have not been able to read the 517 pages of the report of the Resource Assessment Commission on the coastal zone inquiry since obtaining it recently, nor the 87 pages of appendices, but I have had a look at some of the recommendations, particularly those concerning the economic and financial instruments to meet the objectives of the national coastal action program. I have also noted the commentary in the press on these recommendations and it was this commentary which raised my concern.

  I refer to an AAP story today which indicated that, should this report into the coastal zone by the Resource Assessment Commission be adopted, it will require new pricing proposals for a levy on developers in all coastal areas to cover social, ecological and economic costs of their development, the imposition of an accommodation tax, and the imposition of a user-pays system for water charges on all users. As I say, I have looked at the recommendations as they appear in the report and the words used in the report are not quite as inflammatory as the language in the press comment. Nevertheless, the report does not quell my concerns.

  I have very serious concerns about the prospect of a special new tax on coastal accommodation. This would be an absolute disaster for the tourism industry, particularly in my home state of Queensland with its coastal tourist attractions such as Cairns, Port Douglas, Mission Beach, Townsville, Mackay, the Whitsunday Islands and the Sunshine and Gold Coasts. These tourist operators are already coming to terms with increases in sales and fuel taxes.

  What really concerns me is the prospect of a tax on the use of our beaches in Queensland. Can honourable senators just imagine, if this recommendation is adopted, a tax on using beaches in Queensland? It would hit the Australian way of life in a way that I would find very disturbing and quite unacceptable. Can honourable senators just imagine a beach tax and the images that that conjures up? Can they imagine beach tax collectors walking along the beach? Can they imagine barbed wire fences being put up to keep tax avoiders from the beach? Can they imagine gates to the beach? Can they imagine these sorts of things? Perhaps there would be a new industry for bathing costume makers. Bathing costumes would have to be made with little pockets so that money could be kept in them to pay the beach tax collector. I note the following comment in the report:

. . . concessional charges or exemptions be applied to lower income groups to ensure that they continue to have access to such areas.

Does this mean that people wanting to use the beach will have to apply to the tax office for a beach tax discount or an exemption? What will a person have to show to prove that he or she is a lower income earner so that he or she can get a beach tax discount to use the beach? The thought of going through a means test at the gate of the local beach is a pretty distressing one, particularly to those of us who accept beaches as a fundamental part of family life in Australia. The whole concept of a beach tax is unegalitarian and un-Australian. If this government has its way, our children will not be allowed to sing Christmas carols. But under this proposal—

  Senator Ferguson interjecting—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —There will no carols on the beach unless a fee or tax is paid to use the beach, but then we will not be allowed to sing Christmas carols anyway. I appreciate the need to pursue user-pay principles in some instances. I urge the government to look at this recommendation and to deal with it very cautiously. It should show a bit of commonsense which, regrettably, this government has shown little evidence of.

  I ask the government to be very sensitive about free access to the beach, which Australians hold very dear. I ask the government particularly to look at that when it is considering this report and to remember that many Australian families regard beaches and beach holidays as part of their lives. The idea of having a tax on the usage of the local beach is abhorrent to most Australians.