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Rort comes back to bite bottom lines

<em>Illustration: michaelmucci.com</em>

Illustration: michaelmucci.com

One of the most odious things I've seen from a government agency, real Orwellian double-speak, is in the latest annual report of Waverley Council. Last year the council extracted $22.6 million from residents and visitors in parking fines and fees. It raised this amount by using parking inspectors to harass drivers, fining them for even minor infractions, skulking and stalking people who parked even briefly in the wrong place or at the wrong time. The council has milked the beach and cafe strips at Bondi, Bronte and Tamarama ruthlessly and with intent to hurt.

Yet not once is the term ''parking fine'' to be found in Waverley Council's annual report. Instead, under a section headed ''Parking Services'', the report says: ''This service provides essential community safety and amenity.''

No. It is not an ''essential community safety and amenity'' to produce stress and cynicism while generating a fat cash flow for a council with a stated aim, also found in the annual report, is ''to reduce both private car ownership and private car travel''.

Little wonder that many councils, including the social engineers and double-speakers at Waverley, received a shake-up last Saturday week in the local government elections. Everyone knows that parking would be abused to the point of gridlock if councils didn't clamp down on selfish car-owners. Access to parking is routinely rated as ''very important'' by most respondents to council surveys. But there is a line between policing and milking.

Many councils cross that line. Waverley Council generates $13 million a year in profit from parking fines and fees, more than $1 million every month in net cash flow, via its parking inspectors/tax collectors/street goons.

It is seeking to reduce private car ownership and car usage by harassing drivers. Or - to use the language of George Orwell the council preferred in its 2011 annual report - by ''continually calibrating the parking system to maximise its capacity and efficiency … while minimising the need to increase supply''.

I don't own a car, which should make me a model citizen at Waverley Council, except that I also loathe heavy-handed social engineering by governments. Evidently I am not alone. The brunt of elector disapproval in the 2012 local government elections was directed at Australia's pre-eminent would-be social engineers, the Greens.

This rejection came despite the Labor brand being toxic in NSW, which should be perfect growing weather for the Greens.

Instead, big anti-Green swings were recorded in the party's inner-city enclaves of Woollahra, Leichhardt, Marrickville and Waverley. There was an anti-Greens swing across the immigrant south-west in Canterbury, Burwood, Ashfield, Hurstville, Auburn, Bankstown and Rockdale. There were setbacks for the Greens in middle-class Randwick, Manly, Lane Cove and the nature-hugging Blue Mountains. The Greens vote also declined notably in the regions, from Byron Bay to Newcastle to the central coast and the southern highlands.

The Woollahra Municipal Council until nine days ago had been a Greens stronghold. Here, too, parking inspectors are used as a blunt instrument to generate cash and modify behaviour.

Last year, Woollahra raised almost $10 million in user fees, of which parking fines were the most important. (This shows just how much the Orwellian Waverley Council milks from Bondi Beach.) At least Woollahra council had the decency to refer to the $4.43 million in revenue it raised last year from ''parking fines''.

Another Greens bastion, Leichhardt Council, increased its revenue from ''user charges and fees'' by 16.6 per cent last year, or eight times the rate of inflation. A more infamously Greens bastion of Marrickville Council increased its revenue from ''user charges and fees'' by a robust 11.5 per cent last year, more than five times the rate of inflation. In both council elections, the Greens carried the brunt of voter discontent.

Parking issues are thus hurting in every way. They are a matter of commercial life and death for many small business owners - one of the banes of their lives along with growing red tape, growing green tape, growing compliance costs, growing taxes and soaring energy bills. All these problems are attaching themselves to the Greens brand.

We keep being told Australia is prospering, but small business is in a state of general stress. Some small businesses are booming but the majority appear to be having to swim faster to stay afloat or prosper. Many are just holding on as consumers stay cautious, or switch to internet commerce, or reduce debt, or all of the above.

My local canary in the coalmine is the part of the Woollahra Council area known as the Oxford Street fashion and food area. It is showing obvious evidence of stress. At the start of the year, I counted 40 empty shops along the busy commercial kilometre between Taylor Square and Queen Street. Since then multiple business owners keep telling me that trading conditions are becoming more arduous, no matter what the national economic statistics and the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, are saying.

On Saturday, I did another count. The 40 empty stores have grown to 57 along the same stretch. This particular cluster of small businesses has been caught by a pincer movement from the giant new Westfield malls in the city and Bondi Junction, a pincer made tighter by the rapidly evolving shift to online shopping. And the parking problem.

Stress patterns like this are repeating themselves. Sectors of the economy are in recession. Trading conditions are generally tough. Red tape, green tape, energy costs, compliance costs and government intrusion are the big growth areas in commercial life.

Thank god for local democracy. It enables the oppressed to modify the behaviour of their oppressors by voting them out of power.

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154 comments

  • We asphalt half of our beachside suburbs. Then give half of that over to people who want to put their cars when they are not even in them.

    Let the private sector provide the car parking. I'm sure the true cost will be more than a $100 fine here and there.

    Commenter
    Ian
    Date and time
    September 17, 2012, 8:51AM
    • Well said, Ian. God forbid the aspirationals have to walk anywhere or use public transport; can you imagine how undignified that might seem to the Joneses next door?
      Where I live, the gullible and superstitious who go to their Catholic temples park their 4WDs anywhere, everywhere, while the car park of the public school, which is open at all times and just 50 metres away, remains empty. The tooth fairy does not like walkers or pedestrians, and Santa must own shares in Shell, BP and Chevron, obviously.
      What a pathetic bunch we humans are becoming.

      Commenter
      Comrade Jordiet
      Location
      Somewhere over here
      Date and time
      September 17, 2012, 9:30AM
    • I live near North Sydney. Street parking is $6.80 an hour. On 5th Ave, Manhattan it's $2US an hour ($1.89) and on Champs Elysee,Paris (the world's most expensive land by some reckoning) it's $2EU an hour ($2.48). Need I say more? We are being robbed. The head planner for North Sydney has a stated aim to make driving and parking in North Sydney as uncomfortable, expensive and impractical as possible, He clearly does not have children, pets, a need to shop, or a life outside the reaches of public transport. Hopefully Jilly Gibson, the new Mayor, will fix this.

      Commenter
      tenorboy
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      September 17, 2012, 10:15AM
    • We, the public, already paid for those roads and continue to do so with every litre of fuel used, every rego, every stamp duty rort on car purchases and with our rates as well. There is no reason we should pay again. And again. And again.

      Commenter
      tenorboy
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      September 17, 2012, 10:17AM
    • they put zero effort into catching people abusing disabled permits but are happy to take the easy cash

      It isn't modifying my behaviour, just stealing my dreams of saving a deposit

      Councils should not get to keep the money raised, then we would see how important their 'parking services' really are

      Commenter
      davo 28
      Date and time
      September 17, 2012, 10:57AM
    • Paul, is it ok for your Lib mates to put toll roads all over western Sydney where the 'bogans' live but not ok to put parking meters where the Eastern Suburb 4WD's are?

      Surely you are a part of the user pays mantra except when you and your right wing mates have to pay

      Commenter
      Franky
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      September 17, 2012, 11:19AM
    • @tenorboy, the petrol tax and rego the average motorist forks out in a year pays for about one-sixth of a parking space. That's if the money actually makes it to Treasury at all.

      Each year the Commonwealth collects $15 billion or so in fuel tax revenue, immediately gives back $5 billion of that in Fuel Tax Credits, then hands back another $7 billion or so in tax breaks for motor vehicle use by businesses. That doesn't leave much over to build roads with. And that has to be shared with the states, since they only get the GST revenue which is 13 cents or so per litre of petrol rather than 38 cents.

      Rego doesn't pay for roads either - it pays for printing number plates and for fixing up people who get maimed in car crashes.

      Meanwhile, local councils spend heaps on roads but they don't get to tax fuel or vehicles at all. Even that horrible parking fine revenue only covers a small fraction of their road budget.

      Commenter
      Tony
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      September 17, 2012, 12:13PM
    • Ian, I wanted to say something in response to this article but you've said it perfectly for me. Thank you.

      Commenter
      Gina
      Location
      Sutherland
      Date and time
      September 17, 2012, 12:47PM
    • Well said Ian. We accomodate cars on the annecdotal need of individuals and ignore the costs to society. We cannot continue down this path indefinately. Motorists need to pay the full cost of using a car, especially when that car breaks the law.

      Commenter
      Alex
      Location
      We live in a society don't you know?
      Date and time
      September 17, 2012, 1:20PM
    • As a contractor we always return any tenders sent for pricing for the CBD or eastern suburbs.
      There is too much red tape we need to crawl through to price competitively and with no parking available we cannot get any of our workers to commute there.
      As for the beach side cafe strips I stopped visiting them in 2005 and these days give my hard earned money to the small townships that actually make you feel welcome and appreciate the $ we bring with us.
      BTW have not been fined for incorrect parking but I do keep an eye out for any talks in the media and will react accordingly

      Commenter
      Ray of Caringbah
      Date and time
      September 17, 2012, 1:28PM

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