A $35 levy at the border is a bargain and can save our biodiversity, writes Alexander Bisley.
The problem with politics is that everybody wants everything but no one wants to pay for it. A striking example is our world-class Department of Conservation (DoC), which has been underfunded for years.
New Zealand isn't Norway, and poor old DoC appears one of the last cabs on a bursting rank that includes overstretched public services for health, education, justice, corrections and the rest. Our political and bureaucratic rulers have a dogged cross-partisan fetish for running budget surpluses. So the best option left is a targeted tax, levy, whatever you want to call it.
It's also fair as.
We're getting millions of tourists to Aotearoa every year and the biggest drawcards are our magnificent national parks. DoC's budget is being gulped up by toilets and carparks — as well as tracks — for these visitors. Our hundreds of native birds and other creatures can't compete with public ablution blocks in Te Anau and Kerikeri. Not to mention crises like our majestic kauri trees dying in West Auckland and Northland.
I'm a keen walker; the majority of the people I meet during my walks are from overseas.
Whether it's Swiss on the East Coast, Dutch on the Kepler, or Americans on the Tongariro Crossing, people are loving being here, and think they are getting a bargain. Having a squad of hippies and elderly volunteers holding koha tins at the entrances and exits to almost a third of New Zealand's land mass is not practical. The place to levy it is at the border.
In February, German tourist Anna Karg and her partner Enoch Orious became public enemy No1 for a day after a dippy post on their Instagram boasting about how their months of travels totally eschewed spending money, and they'd been enjoying the free kai at a Wellington soup kitchen.
Heated criticism of the foolish couple suggested some New Zealanders have had a gutsful of an immodest minority of our many welcome budget guests: the freedom-camping, van-sleeping, and even toilet-challenged who are overly taking the proverbial.
Contributing to the local economy, not so much.
"New Zealand is already really expensive to visit; don't want to be seen as a rip-off," the details-deficient former Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett said, arguing her opposition to the levy last election season. Meanwhile, Gareth Morgan had a foul-mouthed rant about public-defecators being deported. Sure, some overly entitled Continentals will whinge noisily about having to pay $35 at the airport. Good riddance, and tell them they're dreaming!
In addition to the great outdoors, facilities like Te Papa Tongarewa — a strikingly good indigenous and bicultural museum and gallery — City Gallery Wellington, Christchurch Art Gallery and Dunedin Public Art Gallery are all free. There's an array of interesting galleries and museums nationwide that are also free, or subsidised from the public purse.
Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis predicts a $35 levy would collect about $80 million in its first year, to be split between essential tourist infrastructure and conservation.
There should be widespread political support for this. For the Left, it's about protecting Aotearoa's taonga. For the Right, it's tokenistic user-pays.
For the visitors — in addition to already getting gold-plated ACC accident coverage for nix (a controversy for another day) — $35 is a bargain.
We have wonderful biodiversity, so good it's even worth multiple long-haul Economy Class flights. We have superb day walks through every province in the country, from Northland to Stewart Island.
The $35 levy is a righteous and very necessary idea whose time has come.