Boaties taxed for tax’s sake

Local passenger boat operators say they are being bled dry by a tax that even the Government admits is used purely for administration of the tax itself.

Since mid-2012, operators have been required by the State Government to take out a tour operator licence (TOL).

However, many have refused to pay on the grounds that the fee unfairly targets their industry and provides nothing in return.

A Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) spokesperson confirmed that revenue collected through the licence was used on administration.

“The revenue collected from licensing is used for the ongoing administration of the licensing system. Administration of the licensing system includes assessing and issuing licences, regularly reviewing licence terms and conditions, undertaking compliance activities, etc,” the spokesperson said.

“Tour operator licence revenue is used by land managers to improve public land and waters by ensuring that tour operators and activity providers are implementing the necessary risk measures, meeting relevant safety standards and complying with environment protection conditions.”

Lady Cutler skipper and president of the Melbourne Passenger Boat Association (MPBA) Jeff Gordon said he would not pay the licence fee and is prepared to go to court over it.

He said other local operators had also refused to pay, some had felt pressured into taking out the licence while, for some operators, the licence had been the last straw and they had left the industry

“What we’re operating on is a domestic waterway, we’re not operating in a heritage or cultural area and we’re not really running tours,” Mr Gordon said.

Charter boats on the Yarra River had previously operated under trading vessel permits. However, when the relevant legislation expired in 2012, operators were required to transition to the TOL system.

Under this system, any operator running an organised tour or recreational activity for profit on public lands or waters is required to hold a TOL.

Mr Gordon said fishing tour operators were granted an exemption from the licence but the MPBA had been unsuccessful in its attempt to be made exempt.

Licence fees are paid to the land manager in the area which, in the case of Docklands, is Parks Victoria.

A Parks Victoria spokesperson said the organisation was unable to provide a figure on the total revenue collected from charter boat operators in the last financial year, through the TOL.

Individually, operators are currently required to pay a $282 annual fee along with $2.40 per adult and $1.60 per child, per day, capped at $13,488 per year.

Mr Gordon explained that this was in addition to berthing fees all operators paid in Docklands and elsewhere.

“I pay $30,000 to have Lady Cutler here, I feel that fee entitles me to a berth by the wharf and to operate,” he said.

He said the licence fee, along with berthing fees, operating costs, and underutilisation of the industry meant many operators were on their knees and needed support to survive.

“The question is, does the Government really want this industry?” Mr Gordon said.

“I believe the industry in Melbourne is terribly under-resourced. I think it has potential but it needs to be better recognised by the powers that be.”

Mr Gordon said the licence fee did nothing for the Victorian passenger boat industry.

“In other states they collect money from water-users through licences and there’s a lot that goes back to the water users,” Mr Gordon said.

“In Victoria it appears that only a small percentage of the money is returned to water users.”