Exemptions to island visitor fee challenged

Frana Cardno
Frana Cardno

A $5 fee to visit one of the glittering jewels of Southland's crown is one step closer.

The Southland District Council held a hearing for submissions on the Stewart Island-Rakiura Visitor Levy draft bylaw in Invercargill yesterday.

The Southland District Council (Stewart Island/Rakiura Visitor Levy) Empowering Act was passed by Parliament in March, and allows the district council to collect $5 a person from visitors.

Te Ao Marama kaupapa taiao manager Michael Skerrett said the wording of the legislation should be changed to recognise the ancestral connection of tangata whenua to the area.

The legislation includes an exemption for members of the Rakiura Maori Land Trust, but he did not believe it was intended to include the Southland District Health Board - as it was previously known - the Anglican Church and members of the Rangitane tribe, as they were not tangata whenua, Mr Skerrett said.

Wording should be changed to descendants of Ngai Tahu and Ngati Mamoe, original owners of Rakiura, he said.

The council agreed to include an amendment in its draft bylaw and policy, to monitor how frequently the issue was raised.

Council environment and community group manager Bruce Halligan said the council recognised the issue and would monitor whether there was a need to lobby for a legislative review.

The wording was bound by the act.

"It's not the intent of council to undermine the tangata whenua of Rakiura, but at the moment we're really stuck with the legislation as it sits," he said.

Island accommodation owner Peter Tait asked whether it would be counterproductive to "chase up" visitors who arrived by non-commercial transport, while Moturau Moana Gardens organiser Elaine Hamilton said she believed volunteers should be exempt from paying the $5 fee.

Volunteer projects such as hers could suffer if those taking part were forced to pay the fee, she said.

Volunteers with the garden project paid to be involved and stayed for about a week, she said - only seasonal workers staying for longer than 21 days would be exempt from paying the levy.

Southland District Mayor Frana Cardno said adult children of residents and ratepayers would not have to pay the fee as transport operators would only charge visitors who were not eligible to receive discounted travel rates.

The Southland Times