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Fitness Australia backs objections to Wollongong City Council’s ‘sweat taxes’

Fitness Australia backs objections to Wollongong City Council’s ‘sweat taxes’
May 16, 2013

Peak body Fitness Australia is backing local fitness businesses' concerns over Wollongong City Council's plans to introduce significant increases in annual fees payable by outdoor fitness services using parks and beaches.

The Council's Draft Annual Plan 'Draft Revenue Policy, Fees & Charges 2013-2014' proposes rises is proposing to increase annual fees for fitness services using parks and beaches by more than $1,600 for some of the larger fitness organisations, which will have to pay up to $5,000 to train large groups in the Council's open spaces.

In some cases, the rises represent an an increase of up to 50% on rates that are already considered high by national standards.

Fitness Australia, which has been active in opposing Council 'sweat taxes' on fitness business, issued a position statement back in 2010, the 'Provision of Fitness Training Services in Public Areas', which outlined appropriate policy, regulation and fees for the provision of fitness training services in public areas.

In response to Wollongong City Council's plans, Fitness Australia has submitted a vigorous response on behalf of outdoor fitness services using the City's parks and beaches.

In the response, Fitness Australia highlights "an obvious lack of knowledge regarding outdoor fitness services (among many councisl) with a subsequent attempt to introduce unrealistic fees and unworkable licensing terms. In many cases, these terms have been eased following consultation and/or public pressure."

The response continues "in this instance, Fitness Australia is concerned that Wollongong City Council's proposal to increase fees by more than 30% for exercise professionals using public open space represents an unjustifiable impost that cannot be absorbed and will have to be passed on to rate payers, many of whom believe strongly that they already pay enough for the use of public land for exercise purposes, particularly those who contribute through their current rates and, of course, via their contribution to the existing fees their trainers currently pay. Some may simply have to stop their training programmes and look for more affordable alternatives.

"This 30% proposed increase seems more inequitable when Council is proposing an increase of not more than 5% for the use of its aquatic services - average increase is around 3.5% - and not more than 10% for its leisure centres and not more than 10% for community facilities such as senior citizen centres. Council's own personal training services in its centres will not be increased but private personal training licence (which we are assuming is for exercise professionals who want to use their facilities) will be increased by a maximum of 15.21% per month.

"Fitness Australia and its members who operate in Wollongong City Council area are therefore of the view that the proposed increase in fees for exercise professionals using public land are excessive, particularly for exercise professionals who have three or more residents participating. For example, currently an exercise professional providing a service to a group of three to ten participants in Zone C is paying $825 per annum, however if the proposed fee for 2013/14 is adopted the same professional will be asked to pay $1,073 – this is a $248 increase. In addition, if the same exercise professional was to provide the service in Zone A the increase to their operating costs for 2013/14 would be $405 (the proposed fee for 2013/14 is $1,750).

Affordability and feasibility of fees will have an impact on local rate payers

"In pursuit of a healthier and more productive community, Fitness Australia aims to promote affordable and convenient access to fitness services that will help to ensure that local residents can meet necessary levels of physical activity to protect against chronic illness and disease.

"This is particularly important given that more than 60% of adults in Wollongong are already at an unhealthy weight and we are facing a rise in chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardio vascular disease. One of the biggest challenges facing those whose lack of fitness is impacting their health is getting an exercise regime that is designed to meet their particular health and fitness limitations. Equally they may need a qualified exercise professional to support and motivate them on their journey back to fitness and health.

"Registered exercise professionals operate on tight margins. They have already invested significantly in their own education and training and they continue to do so that they can provide quality and safe training programmes. Council should be aware that by imposing overly high fees it will force fitness operators (mostly very small businesses or sole traders) to pass on the impost, thereby creating a barrier for those residents most in need of a skilled personal trainer and deterring them from embarking or continuing on their quest for fitness.

"That is why Fitness Australia strongly recommends that Council relate the fee to the impact that the trainer and the service delivered has on public land, taking into account the following: nature of the activity, scale of its operation, use and impact on the reserve, impact on the community - both beneficial and detrimental."

In conclusion, Fitness Australia recommends that to ensure the development and application of fair and effective outdoor training policy and regulation "the Council's proposed increase in fees for exercise professionals who use public space as outlined in the 'Draft Revenue Policy, Fees & Charges 2013-2014' be reviewed.

"Fitness Australia would like to work with Wollongong City Council to ensure a more equitable pricing structure that promotes the health and wellbeing of its residents.

"Our main concern is that Council's proposed fee structure for commercial fitness trainers will potentially have a negative impact on the health and fitness of Australians and the sustainability of small local businesses. Australia's obesity epidemic is getting worse each year and it would be unfair for Council to adopt policies that would restrict residents in having a variety of option to assist them in achieving a healthier lifestyle."

Wollongong City Council has traditionally offered free use of several of it swimming pools and, in the last financial year, subsidised these pools at a cost of $3.5 million.

Click here to view Fitness Australia's Submission to Wollongong City Council's Draft Annual Plan.







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