A BED tax should be considered to allow tourism centres to pay for infrastructure and services straining under the weight of a massive influx of holiday visitors, the Local Government Minister, Don Page, has said.
The issue came to a head after a surge in summer revellers at Byron Bay, on the state's north coast, sparked a furious debate among residents about how well its roads and amenities coped.
Mr Page, one of about 9000 residents of Byron Bay, said he was astounded at the amount of rubbish in the town, including in residential areas, on New Year's Day.
About 1.5 million visitors descend on the town each year. "I've never seen so many people in town," he said.
"I went for a walk on New Year's Day morning and I was staggered by the amount of rubbish all over the place. If there were bins, they were overflowing."
On ABC radio yesterday, Mr Page said a bed tax was one answer. "The reality is that the infrastructure can't cope and the question is: 'What do we do about it?' A bed tax is definitely an option."
He later admitted to Fairfax Media that such a levy went against his government's policy but maintained that laws controlling councils - now under review - should be amended to allow local authorities such as Byron Shire to tax businesses specifically to improve roads, parking, public toilets, parks, boardwalks and rubbish collection services.
Any changes to allow a special tax could be used in other tourism hot spots, such as Coffs Harbour and along parts of the central coast, he said.
"Under the Local Government Act, it's difficult for a council to impose a tourism levy because they have to be able to show a direct benefit that's delivered to the person paying the levy," Mr Page said. But legislation could be altered so councils had only to prove an indirect benefit, he said.
Proposals for a bed tax, which have long been controversial - and rejected - would meet staunch opposition from the accommodation industry, in Byron Bay and more widely.
Paul Waters, the president of Byron United, the chamber of commerce, said: "You wouldn't raise nearly enough funds."
The Accommodation Association of Australia, which represents businesses from bed and breakfasts to hotel chains, said a bed tax would lead to job losses and have a significant impact on domestic tourism.
"Domestic tourism just couldn't afford to have this sort of tax at the moment," said the chief executive, Richard Munro.