Oyster farmers claim lifting of rate exemption spells end for many

A recommendation that oyster farms should become rateable properties could drive some growers from the industry it is claimed.

Currently, land below the high water mark used for oyster cultivation receives rate exemptions. But in a draft report released in August, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal’s (IPART) recommended this exemption be removed. 

In its reasoning, IPART stated such exemptions have resulted in “inefficient and inequitable outcomes” including, in the case of oyster farming, being granted for land used to generate private benefits. 

Chair of the NSW Farmers oyster committee Caroline Henry said oyster growers were generally unhappy about the recommendation. 

The biggest problem is that we’re the end users of the water and we have no say in what happens around us.

Caroline Henry, NSW Farmers oyster committee

“The biggest problem is that we’re the end users of the water and we have no say in what happens around us,” she said. “For some reason [IPART] just picked out oyster farmers.” 

An oyster grower at Wonboyn herself, she said farmers do not have exclusive access to water as farms are on public spaces such as lakes, so face problems such as oyster theft and damage to lease infrastructure. 

Growers also already pay two sets of fees to the Department of Primary Industries and the NSW Food Authority. Ms Henry said on average growers already pay around $10,000 per year in fees and insurance before they sell an oyster and estimated the recommendation could mean another $2000 on top of what they already pay.

Ms Henry said if the recommendation was accepted it could “push some farmers over the edge” and see them leave the industry. 

“Some farmers say ‘this is ridiculous, I’m not getting enough on my returns as it is” and will walk away.”

The issue was also raised at last week’s council meeting, with Mayor Kristy McBain leading the call for the Bega Valley Shire Council to object to the lifting of exemptions for aquaculture operators.

“As part of Australia’s Oyster Coast we should be taking a stand here and those industries below the high water mark should still be exempt,” Cr McBain said.

Cr McBain pointed out oyster farmers already pay rates on their shore-based activities – lease fees, mooring fees, work sheds etc.

Submissions on the draft recommendations closed last week and final recommendations will be provided to the NSW Government in December. 


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