No welcome mat for Cairns free campers

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Free camping crackdown in Cairns
Cairns has fantastic facilities ... but who is paying for them? Photo: Tourism Queensland

With grey nomads seemingly heading north in ever greater numbers each dry season, the Queensland city of Cairns – like many others – is grappling with the best way to approach the ongoing free camping conundrum.

In late 2013, Cairns Regional Council started issuing $220 fines for people camping il­legally in the CBD … but has since run into serious trouble receiving payment from most on-the-move offenders.

Several leading business people have now called on the council to relax its policy. They say the city should be encouraging more young campervan tourists to the region, not frightening them away.

It has all led to a wider debate about free camping in general.

As part of its local laws survey, the council has been asking the public for feedback on whether there is enough free camping in the region, and where more might be needed.

The survey results have not yet been revealed but the chief of Tourism Tropical North Queensland, Alex De Waal, has already firmly expressed his view. He told the ABC that the tourism business was not a charity and it didn’t need to subsidise visitation.

“There may be some people that don’t come because of the fact that we have fantastic facilities that need to be paid for,” he said. “But we don’t want that type of visitor.”

And the city’s Deputy Mayor, Cllr Terry James said critics of the free camping crackdown had no regard for ratepayers and caravan park operators.

“They are struggling to keep their doors open at the moment because no one is staying there,” he said. “$30 a night for a camping site and they’ve got free showers, they’ve got laundry, they’ve got all their facilities.”

The debate echoes a similar one that divided the Darwin community a while ago when the mayor, Ms Fong Lim, said the high cost of accommo­dation was not the council’s problem.

“We don’t have control over what camping people charge,” she said at the time. “If you visit our great city make sure you have enough money to pay for it.”

She later clarified her remarks to say she hadn’t intended them for the grey nomad community “most of whom are law-abiding budget travel­lers”.

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