Impounding Amendment (Unattended Boat Trailers) Bill 2015

26th August 2015

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) [10.55 a.m.]: I contribute to the debate on the Impounding Amendment (Unattended Boat Trailers) Bill 2015 which aims to give councils the powers to act against people who use public streets for the long-term storage of boats and trailers. It is argued that this power is needed to address potential safety concerns and loss of amenity to neighbouring residents. But it also goes to the heart of a very vexed issue in our society: Who has the moral right to park outside someone's property, and how far or, more specifically, for how long does that right extend?

Superficially, it is the sort of issue one might expect would be discussed satirically in an urban etiquette newspaper column—but for the fact that it elicits strong responses from people who are affected. It is a barbecue stopper, that is for sure, especially in areas such as my electorate where boating is a popular activity. I waded into treacherous waters a few weeks ago by posting on my Facebook page an outline of this proposed legislation and asking for readers' opinions. The response was spirited, to say the least, and the range of views diverse. Anyone who lives in an area, particularly an urban area, where boating is prevalent would likely have a view on this issue.

It is less of a problem in more sparsely populated areas where kerbside parking is not such a premium commodity. But in the city and suburban settings, the long-term parking of boats in the street can sorely test neighbourly relations. If a boat trailer is properly registered and maintained, is it unreasonable for it to be parked in an area that is, in fact, open to the public for such purposes? Is there any difference between a boat trailer occupying a parking space and a caravan, a box trailer or a promotional trailer, or even, for that matter, a car? Is a rate-paying boat owner who parks his boat on the street but his car on his property any less entitled to the use of a kerbside space in his own street than a neighbour who has no parking on his property and persistently uses the street to park one or more cars?

These are the arguments to which this legislation gives rise. I have received comments intimating that this is the sort of regulation that panders to nimbys and threatens to take us further down the path of the nanny State. On the other side, there are those who reasonably argue that long-term boat trailer parking, particularly in areas where it is endemic and space is restricted, can restrict traffic flow in narrow streets, impair a driver's line of sight and make it difficult for people without parking space on their properties to find a car parking space close to their homes. Any tolerance that is shown to people who park boat trailers on the street long term does not extend to those who use streets other than their own for the purpose of, for instance, parking trailers in streets near boat ramps.

The question is how to address these complaints without unfairly impinging on the rights of boat owners with lawfully registered trailers. As the Impounding Act 1993 stands, people who park boat trailers on the street, whether for a day or for a year, are not breaking any law so long as the trailer is not obstructing traffic or posing a danger to the public. The Minister acknowledged in his second reading speech that the boat trailers likely to be targeted by this legislation are in most cases registered and legally parked. While the Act allows enforcement officers to impound a vehicle or trailer they reasonably believe to have been abandoned, currently they cannot direct that legally parked boat trailers be moved by their owners, however long they have been parked. The proposed amendment will strengthen the power of officers to act in this situation by making parked boat trailers subject to impounding if they are parked on the street and not moved for three months or more. It provides for owners to be given at least 15 days notice before impounding occurs.

I have concerns with this bill. Even if we accept that a car has more right to parking space on a public street than another sort of vehicle, is it fair to target just boat trailers? Advertising and commercial trailers can be equally intrusive—in some cases, more intrusive—and obstructive, as can caravans and camper trailers. Council rangers apparently agree, as delegates to the Australian Institute of Local Government Rangers conference, held a few weeks ago, supported not only an expansion of the proposed legislation to include other kinds of trailers and caravans but also a reduction of the proposed enforcement period from three months to seven days. I am not sure it is reasonable to go that far, but clearly those at the front line of this issue see a problem with the long-term parking of vehicles of this nature in city streets.

The rangers also foreshadowed difficulties in enforcing the proposed regulations, given that owners could shift their boat trailers only a short distance and argue they were occupying a new parking spot, thereby resetting the three-month clock. This is a concern I share, and one expressed by a number of constituents and mentioned by a number of members in this debate. The Act says only that a boat trailer is taken to have been left unattended if the trailer has not been moved for a period of more than three months, or such other period as may be specified in the regulations. It does not define what constitutes being "moved", which I think is an omission that invites people to adopt a cynical interpretation.

I am not going to argue that there is not merit in addressing this issue, but it should be done holistically, incorporating, as I have said, all trailers and vehicles that could cause similar problems to boats. This bill just seems too flawed to be valuable as good public policy, and it will create problems for councils across the State in having to manage a new expectation on them, and one that is likely to be misused in neighbour disputes. I appreciate that much of this bill has been developed with an eye on conflicts in higher-density metropolitan areas. It is a bill for Drummoyne that will have the same effect in Dubbo, Deniliquin and, in my case, Boolaroo. There is merit in improving urban parking conflicts; however, I believe this bill is too narrow to be the answer that we need.

Website: Read full Parliamentary debate

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