NEWS FEATURE - Marine Industry Summit 2011

Getting out on the water is becoming trickier for recreational boaters, with issues such as grey imports, emerging Marine Parks, and government red tape impeding progress. The recreational boating industry has noted these infringements sporadically and without unison in the past, but in a unified front reiterated these concerns, and more in Brisbane, last July, when they came together for the Marine Industry Summit 2011.

Conducted by the Boating Industries Alliance of Australia (BIAA), the forum identified the major issues, including a far reaching self-criticism of the recreational marine industry itself, and formulated a plan of actions in response.

“Given the unique and unprecedented challenges before the industry, an acute focus on priorities for members was sought,” explained BIAA CEO, Don Jones.

All sectors of the industry took part in MIS 2011, including boat and component manufacturers, engine distributors, supply chain companies, dealers, brokers, syndicators, marina operators and developers, insurers, financiers, event organisers, charter operators, education and licensing providers, boat clubs, and other services.

Members were invited to submit feedback on the priorities for their businesses in the current depressed economic climate, identifying the following as key national priorities:

1. Grey Imports
2. Industry Promotion
3. Standards and Licensing
4. Marine Parks and Water Access
5. Government Red Tape
6. Industry Representation

The second part of the summit involved a workshop where participants identified the actions and priorities the industry requires to tackle these issues. Following is a précis of the details and industry response to the above key concerns.

The Summit noted a significant amount of imported product failing to meet local regulation and being sold at considerably discounted rates. This, it said, placed comparable compliant local and authorised imported products at a competitive disadvantage.

MIS says the issue is “widespread” and affects all sectors of the recreational marine industry from luxury boatbuilders to engine distributors through to spare parts, in naming a few.

Examples of non-compliance include electrical, C-tick labelling (indicates the product complies with the applicable standard and establishes a traceable link between the device and the manufacturer, importer or their agent), safety, and Australian consumer laws relating to product liability and descriptions.

“The enforcement of the relevant regulations at the point of entry into the country and at the point of registration is virtually non-existent,” stated the post-MIS report. “As a result, the market is being flooded with this product from distressed markets such as the United States and Europe.”

MIS said in response it has taken three courses of action:
* Compliance – To seek increased levels of enforcement by relevant agencies ensuring imports comply with relevant Australian regulations;
* Consumer Awareness - Raise the level of awareness of the pitfalls of buying non-compliant products; and,
* Regulatory Reforms - To address current defects in local regulations for marine products compared to motor vehicles, earthmoving equipment, etc.

The Summit found the marine recreational lifestyle is not marketed at the same level as competitor activities, such as camping and caravanning. Similarly, contemporary marketing tools, like social media, are not being utilised effectively at the industry level to promote recreational boating.

Of urgency, continued the report, is an industry promotional mechanism to stimulate consumer interest and demand in recreational activity, such as the Grow Boating and Discover Boating campaigns currently in place in a number of international countries. Discussions will commence immediately with key stakeholders in its development and implementation, we’re told.

Also reviewed are the role, function and manner of boat show operations following concerns of perceived duplication of effort and costs.

The Summit described the regulatory environment as evolving significantly in the last decade, including new consumer laws, revised safety regulations, new business laws, evolving product liability laws, etc.

According to MIS, similar industries have introduced new operating standards and mechanisms to ensure efficient and effective operations with high levels of compliance.

“It is timely to review the application of initiatives, such as build standards, safety control measures, survey practices, accreditation programs, licensing regimes and the like within the marine industry,” notes the MIS report, adding that “some of these initiatives” operate under Federal jurisdiction and others are under State control.

Slated for review, in consultation with industry sectors, are:

* Standards - Their nature, and their relevance in meeting industry requirements (e.g. consumer laws, safety standards, etc.), and identify options to increase the efficiency and effectiveness in the industry;
* Identify appropriate control points to better manage existing and future standards within industry;
* Identify other interventions, like training and education, which may be necessary to increase performance in the contemporary regulatory frameworks.

The Summit noted the national Bioregional Planning process is creating unnecessary restrictions for marine recreational activities, when new marine protection regimes are being developed.

Concerns include:
* Marine Park proposals are not based on objective science or appropriate risk assessments against prevailing threats;
* Water access for recreational users is being unnecessarily restricted, resulting in reduced demand by consumers for marine recreational activities;
* The proposed measures are not delivering effective protection to marine environments, thereby
reducing appeal to the community and directly impacting on the economic and social sustainability of the industry;
* Management regimes for marine protection areas are overly onerous on industry participants, such as charter boat operators and marine tourism operators;
* Green politics is negatively impacting the industry and its image unnecessarily.

The Summit’s response is to increase lobbying at the national and state level, targeting the development of marine protection regimes that are objectively sustainable economically, socially and environmentally. In addition, it wants to see an increase in objective and factual information to the community on marine conservation and the role of the boating industry in marine environments.

Part of this process, it said, may also include increased participation from industry representatives in the management of marine environments implemented by Federal and State agencies.

Government red tape is significantly impacting on future development of the marine industry, the MIS report continues. Examples include:

* Overly onerous and costly requirements associated with the planning and development of industry framework, such as marinas, and marine infrastructure (e.g. boat ramps, pontoons and dredging);
* Complex and inefficient requirements associated with testing regimes for domestic manufacturers. However, these same requirements are not enforced with private or commercial quantity imports through unauthorised channels;
* Australian Customs and Quarantine requirements on marine recreation activities, like international boating events, are overly onerous and complex.

The Summit’s response is to increase the level of representations to Government seeking to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of regulation and associated administrative processes as they apply in Queensland.

The MIS conceded there is too much fragmentation between various industry sectors and therefore a need for greater levels of alignment. There were also calls for enhanced levels of communications, and increased levels of efficiency and effectiveness in representing the needs of industry participants.

Enhanced member communications on these issues will be undertaken, via newsletters, member briefings, and Divisional and Regional meetings, the MIS reported.

Marine Queensland (MQ) has said it will be seeking closer working relationships with other industry organisations where mutual interest exists in an effort to provide enhanced levels of services to members. In this regard MQ has recently affiliated with the National Retail Association enabling members to access a broad range of professional services, including industrial relations advice and representation, property services, and training services.

A further workshop will be held for MQ members this month on issues raised at the Summit and to get member feedback on future actions to advance their interests.