LGAT seeks government review of free camping on council land

LGAT: Break O'Day mayor Mick Tucker, Northern Midlands mayor David Downie, Clarence Council mayor Doug Chipman, Burnie mayor Anita Dow, West Tamar mayor Christina Holmdahl and Brighton mayor Tony Foster. Picture: Neil Richardson
LGAT: Break O'Day mayor Mick Tucker, Northern Midlands mayor David Downie, Clarence Council mayor Doug Chipman, Burnie mayor Anita Dow, West Tamar mayor Christina Holmdahl and Brighton mayor Tony Foster. Picture: Neil Richardson

Clarity is needed on the legality of free camping on council land, according to the Local Government Association of Tasmania.

LGAT passed a motion at its Friday meeting to “seek a state government review of the current application of national competition principles as they relate to free camping in regional towns in Tasmania”, according to president Doug Chipman. 

The decision comes in the wake of backlash at the Meander Valley Council after it banned RVs from parking on council-owned lands

Mayor Craig Perkins said the ban was due to the perceived illegality of the practice as dictated by the National Competition Policy. 

The guidelines, enforced locally by the state government and the Tasmanian Economic Regulator, state that councils must not offer free camping to protect private businesses. 

According to the state government’s 2012 Review of Council Recreational Vehicle Overnight Camping Services, the guidelines must be observed even when there are no private RV or caravan parks in the municipality. 

However, Cr Perkins said the national competition principles were not enforced statewide.

We're talking about an asset that belongs to ratepayers, so it needs to be leased accordingly.

George Town mayor Bridget Archer

The Northern Midlands Council, Dorset Council and Break O’Day Council operate free RV parks that could be in breach of the guidelines, according to the 2012 paper. 

However, the Tasmanian Economic Regulator said it could only interfere with councils offering free camping if a complaint was lodged.

George Town mayor Bridget Archer described the practice of councils offering free camping as “a bit onerous”. “We're talking about an asset that belongs to ratepayers, so it needs to be leased accordingly,” she said.

Northern Midlands mayor David Downie defended council-owned free RV parks, saying that campers generate significant economic activity.

“They’re going to stop anyway, so you’re better off having them in a place where they’re supposed to be,” he said. 

Mr Chipman hoped councils were provided a statewide response soon.

“Other jurisdictions in Australia and New Zealand have much clearer guidelines on the competitive neutrality principles and how they apply,” he said. “We need some guidance and some principles on how to apply it – it’s that greater clarity and guidance that we’re looking for.”

Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania chief executive Luke Martin said the law should be enforced on a case-by-case basis.