This article was published by The Age on 23 October, 2013.
New national park camping fees are set to put the squeeze on grey nomads but will make private caravan parks more viable.
The state government plans to introduce camping fees in 11 national parks and increase fees at 24 parks. Another 98 parks or reserves will also charge fees by 2015, raising an estimated $13.5 million.
Environment minister Ryan Smith blamed a $178 million budget shortfall for the rise and said the money raised would return to the parks.
Mr Smith estimated that costs would rise by $16 to $20 for a site. He said this was the first fee rise in 10 years.
"We need to make Victorians to understand there hasn't been an increase in a very long time," he said.
The government did not expect the "modest" price rises to affect demand," Mr Smith said.
"Certainly visiting our national parks, enjoying the great scenery and the great things that our national parks have to offer is still an affordable holiday," he said.
National Association of Caravan Clubs chairman Brian Kelleher? said the national parks were a public asset and opposed any move that would restrict access. He said increasing costs might cause some parks to close.
“The government will end up shutting the gates to national parks because people cannot afford to go there,” Mr Kelleher said.
He agreed that national park facilities required improvement and that many were falling behind the standards of private competitors. And he feared not all the revenue raised would be used for parks.
VicParks, which represents private camp and holiday park operators, is in favour of the fee hike.
VicParks chief executive Elizabeth White said holidaymakers often turned to the cheaper or free national parks. She did not believe it would affect camping's allure.
“People wouldn't want to take their families to hotels and have the kids going stark crazy in a hotel room," Mrs White said. "They like the charm of being outside. So it puts the government parks on a level playing field with our parks.”
Bev Parkinson, an avid camper and secretary of the Combined Caravan Club of Victoria said the fee hike would hit older campers, especially pensioners. She urged the government to keep rates low.
“I don't think they need to be extravagant [fees] . . . or people will just find somewhere else," Mrs Parkinson said.
"All the grey nomads look like they're on a permanent holiday, but they budget very carefully.”
The Victorian National Parks Association, a not-for-profit conservation body, raised concerns that the cost of collecting the fees would outstrip? revenue. Executive director Matt Ruchel said they would be difficult to collect in remote areas like the Alpine National Park.
Mr Ruchel said revenue should be reserved for park conservation.
Anton Stanitzki, owner of the The Equipment Library, which rents camping equipment to schools, said many national parks were in dire need of rangers and upkeep.
Even popular parks like Wilson's Promontory and the Alpine National Park had pot-holed roads, poorly maintained walking tracks, weed invasions and a low standard of services after a decade of underspending.
"Wilson's Prom will have 1000 people on Melbourne Cup weekend," he said. "But the main road in has pot holes everywhere.''