Reef tax remains, body sheds jobs? Yesterday, Crikey‘s resident naturalist Lionel Elmore reported on concerns the Great Barrier Reef has become a dumping ground for local industry. An industry insider contacted Crikey and pointed us to the money trail — the “reef tax” that should have been withdrawn (and hasn’t) and the regulatory body under its own cost pressures. They report:

“In January this year, federal Environment Minister Tony Burke announced a temporary reduction to the environment management charge (EMC) that the Marine Park Authority has tourism operators collect from all tourists to visit the reef — the so-called ‘reef tax’. It’s the same charge they want to charge for dumping dredge spoil in the marine park. The EMC money collected is revenue for the Marine Park Authority that with normal government budget allocation directly makes up its annual budget. The tourist EMC was due to go up to $6/day per person this April. Instead, because reef tourism is obviously hurting from the slump in tourism in Australia, it will go down to $3.50/day in April. Good stuff to support the tourism industry, which is important economically and to promote the beauty of the reef.

“To make this change required changing legislation, but as late as August last year the tourism industry was told that EMC was still due to go up. Since 2008 when the GFC hit, and tourism has slumped, the Marine Park Authority has laid off some staff. Word is there’s just been a few more redundancies, and another 20 or so staff are set to go at the end of June. What better way to plug a budget hole than go after money from the resources boom in Qld? It is fair that there should be more equity across all industries using the reef, but that’s not the point here. With the Marine Park Authority’s budget under ongoing pressure from falling tourism (all this info is available from their website), so-called extra ‘efficiency dividends’ set by the government, more senior bureaucrats to pay, and no extra budget from the government, how can anyone be sure that there will not be extra pressure on the Marine Park Authority to give out permits to dump big loads of dredge spoil in the marine park?”

Filmmakers hit out at Aunty outsourcing. After our item yesterday on ABC TV head Kim Dalton defending himself from attacks on Wikipedia, an independent documentary filmmaker who works with Aunty offers some anonymous context on outsourcing TV production:

“It is important to remember that the main reason the ABC outsources is that it is cheaper. It allows the ABC via independent producers to access taxpayer funds from Screen Australia and a tax rebate from the ATO. It has nothing to do with quality. According to the Australian Directors Guild, 55.5% of surveyed documentary filmmakers earned less than $45,000 last year. Who are the beneficiaries of these substandard wages? Principally the ABC and SBS. The ABC has effectively abandoned any job security and training function it once gave to documentary filmmakers. It nows pay little for outsourced documentary compared to its real price. Hardly a recipe for excellence.”

Double dipping on Sydney Uni students? While some University of Sydney students closely watch how the Student Amenities Fee funding pool is being cut, as we reported yesterday, others are questioning why they still have to buy an “access card” — at $110 annually in the first year, a little less in subsequent years — to be able to join student clubs and societies given they are now paying student union fees again.

Vic Uni cuts could be deeper. Still on campus … Victoria University announced last week that 100 jobs would go in an administrative shake-up. We hear from a university employee the number is more like 200.

Peter Fray

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