Tourists may soon have to pay to drive, park and visit natural sites along the Great Ocean Road.
The public has just over a week to have a say on a number of revenue-raising tactics proposed along the iconic stretch of coastline, which include parking fees, permits to travel by vehicle and park, increased costs to tourism operators and public/private commercial partnerships to open cafes, galleries and retail outlets.
Locals would be exempt from the proposed new fees, which are outlined in an action plan for the road.
The funds would go to setting up a new Great Ocean Road Coast and Parks Authority that would take control of all public land along the 243-kilometre stretch of road from Torquay to Allansford.
The establishment of the authority is outlined in a new Great Ocean Road and Environs Protection Bill that is currently before parliament.
Questions still remain over who would be on the authority and what its powers would be.
Corangamite Shire Mayor Neil Trotter said while he supported new funding options, more information was needed.
"If the Great Ocean Road Authority comes into being it's important that it's not just another bureaucratic tool and that it's something that is putting money back into the infrastructure to improve the visitor experience here, that's the whole purpose of it," he said.
"In the past we often see that where there's a good, steady stream of income that the government is keen to get their hands on it and claim it as revenue.
"It's still early days, we're still working through issues and I encourage the public to have their say."
He said there were many examples in Australia and the world where tourists pay to see natural attractions.
"There are other areas you charge to get access to, such as Uluru, you pay to see the Great Barrier Reef, there's a fee to go into Wilson's Prom and even in alpine areas there are gate fees," he said.
"We would prefer to see a permit fee where day visitors pay a higher rate than people who are staying two or three days to encourage people to stay over and explore the area. Bus companies pay a fee per head but no-one else does.
"We can't just keep constantly going to the state government, cap in hand, asking for them to meet the running costs.
"We have 2.5 million people coming to the area and we need an income stream to make that sustainable in the long-term."
Currently it is free for motorists to drive, park or visit major natural sites along the Great Ocean Road.
Tour operators currently pay tourism operator licences (TOL) and fees, which are managed by Parks Victoria.
They comprise an annual licence fee plus a per-visitor fee which is currently capped at an annual maximum across Victoria.
The proposal looks at removing or raising the cap, and increasing the per user fee to raise revenue and ensure visitors pay a standard rate.
Port Campbell Community Group secretary Marion Manifold said the community was concerned about the authority and where the additional revenue would go.
"This is an overriding authority that appears to be dangerous for the local community and local environment," she said.
"We're concerned the consultation for this authority has not been complete - it hasn't been worked out how it would run or who would be on it, yet there's a bill including it into legislation.
"How can they pass a bill to include an authority before we know what the authority will actually be? It's putting the cart before the horse."
Ms Manifold said she was concerned for the region's natural environment.
"The first words in the bill refer to 'economic prosperity', they don't even mention protecting the environment and the same goes for the authority - the type of people who are going to be on the board are just about all tourism focused," she said.
"It is a mistake to think that the Great Ocean Road needs more development. There are any number of places tourists can go to if they want to see buildings. They come to the Great Ocean Road to see its natural attractions - the wild undeveloped coastline and its wildlife.
"They come here because we have something different, and not to see the same as everywhere else."
Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism Board chair Wayne Kayler-Thomson said more detail would emerge about the authority once the bill was passed.
"The bill does not go into detail of the formation of the authority and its roles and responsibilities in detail because that will be formed in the next stage of the process once the bill has passed," he said.
"The authority requires funding for the actual operation of the authority itself, which will be determined once we get the full scope of what its responsibility would be, then beyond that in terms of ongoing maintenance of the Great Ocean Road."
He said the authority's goal would be to transform the region into the most sustainable visitor economy in Australia.
"We want to dispel the myth that economic prosperity and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive, without tourism the area wouldn't be as prosperous as what it currently is," he said.
DELWP Great Ocean Road Management Reform project officer Maddie Harrington said the department was considering a variety of funding options for the authority.
"We recognise the pressures facing the road such as coastal erosion and ageing infrastructure - and support a sustainable funding model for the authority so it can do something about them long-term," she said.
"Parks Victoria looks forward to working positively with the new authority and will continue to have an active role ensuring the area continues to be a healthy environment and a great place to visit."
Have your say on the future of the Great Ocean Road here.
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