We have a lot to thank the Greenies for. They were warning of ozone holes and global warming while the rest of us preferred to bask in the extra sun. They saw the evils of plastic while we indulged in the novelty of filling self-seal bags with salted peanuts at the local supermarket.
But their righteousness can get a bit irritating, so it was amusing last weekend to see that when it comes to a free ride, they're just like you and me, they take it. Even when it comes at the expense of the environment they've been put on earth to save.
It seems the 120,000 or so trampers that book into huts along the Department of Conservation's nine "Great Walks," are being subsidised - in 2017 the shortfall between hut fees collected and costs was $3.8 million. In other words, money that DOC should be spending on killing rats and possums , is instead being diverted into paying to helicopter out, the Greenie holiday-makers' poos and wees.
Last weekend, Green MP and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage, followed through with the previous National Government's pledge to up fees to cover costs. But she managed to retain the existing subsidy for the New Zealanders who make up about 40 per cent of users. Kiwi trampers will now bludge off their overseas fellow travellers, whose hut fees will double to $140 per night on the Milford Track, $130 per night on the Kepler and Routeburn Tracks and $75 per night on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. Kiwi trampers fees will remain unchanged at half this rate. In addition, international children under 18 will now pay the full fee, while New Zealand kids will pay nothing.
Eugenie Sage says the free ride for Kiwi kids is "to encourage our tamariki to engage with their natural heritage." Fair enough, but why are they and their parents, doing their "engaging," at the expense of overseas visitors and their children? They certainly wouldn't get half-rates at a beach motel or bach over the same period.
The old "but I'm a taxpayer" justification hardly stands up. Most of us are taxpayers, but only a small minority go tramping. I can't imagine I'd get very far if I turned up to the next concert of the State-backed NZ Symphony Orchestra and demanded a half-price ticket because I was a taxpayer , and oh, by the way, the people in the queue behind me sound German, you'd better charge them double.
Back in August last year on the campaign trail, National Party leader and then Prime Minister Bill English announced the discriminatory fee hike that Sage has now embraced as her own. At the time the Greens were talking of $20 tourism levy at the border, and Labour was "looking at our options."
It now seems "fleece the tourist" has become the new game of the day. Last week, Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis told the Herald he was still working on the details of a proposed "international Visitor Levy" and would release more information in the coming weeks. Last election, Labour campaigned on a $25 a person border tax, which would raise $75 million a year to help pay to improve tourist infrastructure that is groaning under the weight of the tourism boom.
And of course last week, Auckland Council beat other envious local bodies to the draw, by agreeing to levy a bed tax on hotels and motels. The aim is to raise $13.5 million to meet half the cost of tourism marketing and events. Unlike the Great Walks impost, it doesn't single out foreigners for special treatment.
Apparently DOC "inspectors" will make random hut checks, to ensure no cheating Aussies or Poms have booked online at half price, masquerading as Kiwis. It brings back my university days, and me and my under-age mates, slipping out the pub window, as the barman signalled the cops were approaching. What else? Will the first-class foreigners get the top bunks – and first use of the long drop?
If the hugely popular walks are not paying their way, then of course, put up the price, but fairly, for all users alike. If we want to tax tourists, then do it once, at the border, and get it over with.