Why cruising yachts avoid Australia -what's wrong with our regulations

Port2Port - returning Australian yachties celebrate
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Port2Port Lesley Grimminck
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Lesley Grimminck is the long time and highly respected president of the Bundaberg Cruising Yacht Club, which operates the annual Port2Port rally from Vanuatu, welcoming both circumnavigating international yachts and Australian homecoming yachts with a grand week of festivities to mark the end of the cruising season. However, according to Lesley, international yachts are now avoiding Australia. Read why:

Australia is no longer the favourite South Pacific destination of the blue water cruiser.

The current rules applied by the Australian Government Authorities are discouraging yachts from visiting this country. It has been well reported in many media outlets that Australia charges excessive fees and applies restrictive rules for arriving yachts with the goal posts constantly being moved.

International and returning Australian yachts are currently charged $330 ($618 for arrival on weekends) for entry into Australia. The income received would not nearly cover the cost of the administration of such fees.

Now the yachts are choosing to avoid Australia altogether and spend the cyclone season in New Zealand with Australia losing the income from repairs, overhauls, restocking, tourism and the general living expenses of these cruising visitors. This has been estimated per yacht between $36,000 & $50,000 per year and these amounts applied to the industry could see $25 million stripped from our economy.

Looking at the issues, it is easy to see how the rules could be changed to allow us the opportunity to welcome these visitors back to Australia.

Quarantine Fees:

The Australian Quarantine Inspection Service funds its own services through fee charges. Thus the bureaucrats are always looking for ways to increase the income. Yet the cost to implement the service does not pay for the service. Australian Customs is funded by taxpayers and no charges are applied to the yachts. It would be a simple exercise to let 'Border Security' take control to administer the yacht’s arrivals, check immigration requirements and confiscate those items which are deemed to risk Australia’s bio-security. Thus avoiding double handling and letting these visitors spend their dollars in our country.

Customs Notification:

Australian Customs currently require 96 hours notice of a yacht’s arrival in Australia. Heavy fines apply to all non-compliants. This simple act of control has the blue water cruisers in fear of coming to Australia, mainly due to the horror stories of fines and court cases relayed through the grapevine. These visitors are not refugees seeking asylum. They are generally independently funded adventurers. If they 'forgot' or simply 'did not know' or in some cases could not believe that such a rule exists, they could be let off with a warning. First time: a warning. Second time: a fine.

Termite Inspection:

Every yacht arriving in Australia is deemed at high risk if it has spent more than 3 months in the Pacific and contains more than 10% in the fitout. That is pretty much all of them. Yet profiling could show that only some specific types of yachts (i.e. age, general condition & hull construction) have been proven to carry termites. Australian yachts are required to undergo immediate termite inspection on arrival. Yet International yachts do not require termite inspection until they have remained in Australia for over 12 months. Can termites tell the difference?

Multi-entry visas:

Visas are granted to visitors proposing to visit Australia as per regulations. These are generally for 6 months, 12 months or several years. Yet they all contain a multi-entry condition. Yachts can stay but not the owners or crew. They must depart the country every 6 months. Customs will accept a quick dash across the Pacific to New Zealand in a 747 jet, returning the next day as fulfilling the requirements. This rule was put in place to deter the yachties from working and any quick exit would interrupt their work program. Yet it is very simple to fly out on a Saturday and back on a Sunday, just like a weekend excursion. While they are in NZ or South-East Asia, they often have a holiday and come back 4 weeks later. More income we have lost from tourism. Even the refugees can stay longer than 6 months without the multi-entry condition applying.
Solution: Create a specific 12 month visa for yachts without specific multi-entry requirements.

The Bundaberg Cruising Yacht Club is offering to refund the Australian Quarantine Entry fees (to $330) to all yachts who register with the Port2Port 2011 Yacht Rally and arrive in Bundaberg during October and November 2011.

To learn more about the Port2Port 2011 Yacht Rally, www.bcyc.net.au!click_here.