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5 Spring 2023

Freedom camping under the new law

Miriam Richardson

There are new penalties and some exemptions

There are now fines of $400–1200 for freedom camping or preparing to freedom camp, in the wrong place. The homeless are exempt from most (but not all) of the new penalties. Note 1


Are you homeless, or making a lifestyle choice?

The legislators were keen to prevent people who have chosen to live on the road from claiming to be homeless (and exempt), so changed the definition of ‘homeless’ for the purpose of this act. Homeless doesn’t mean not having a home to go to, it means being ‘unable to live in appropriate residential accommodation’, with the definition of ‘residential accommodation’ being revised to include ‘accommodation in a dwelling house, flat, hotel, motel, boarding house, or camping ground’; and, no stone unturned, ‘camping ground’ is redefined to include ‘any site at which a fee is payable for camping’. Unless you are ‘unable’ to live in a motel or camping ground etc, you are not ‘homeless’, and not exempt from this act. Note 2


It is also now an offence if a person makes ‘preparations’ to freedom camp in the wrong place. This is defined as ‘setting up a tent’ or ‘parking a vehicle’ to use to freedom camp. Short term parking, day-trip excursions, and recovering from driver fatigue are not ‘freedom camping’. Note 3


Who gets fined and how they are notified

Fines can be levied either on the person accused of doing wrong or the vehicle owner. Further, even if you never actually receive the notice of an offence, you are still liable. Enforcement sends an email and you are ‘served’. Note 4


The law is vague Are you ‘unable’ to stay in this campground?

The homeless definition does not define what ‘unable’ means. A motel or camping ground is too far away (what is ‘too far’)? Not enough money to pay (is having 1 night’s worth of dollars for a camp ground enough) (what about night 2)? The camping ground is not open when the person arrives in a town?


The law does not define ‘appropriate’ accommodation. Personal circumstances will determine what counts as ‘appropriate’ but does the camper’s judgement count?


What counts as ‘preparing’ to freedom camp? Putting out a chair? Drying a tea towel? Using an awning? Everything that is part of camping can also be part of an exempt day-excursion.


Councils and enforcement officers

Councils are tasked with translating the vague law into working rules for their officers to apply in real life.


  • Is this vehicle: parked, day-tripping, freedom camping or is the driver recovering from driver fatigue?

  • Is this person homeless?

  • Is this person preparing to freedom camp? It so hard (impossible?) to evaluate intentions.

  • If homlessness depends on what is available, then the enforcement officer will need to assess local accomodation in relation to this person and this vehicle.

  • Is local accomodation available, appropriate, affordable for this traveller?

  • Is a local, paid, parking site / camp ground able to take this particular vehicle? Can it take this length of vehicle? Are there parking or driving hazards: is the driveway wide enough without scratching the vehicle, will it fit under the trees (without damaging panels and vents on the roof), are both the driver and vehicle able to negotiate the gate, a bend on the drive? Is the ground firm enough for the weight of this vehicle (at this time of year, in this weather, after tonight’s rain)?

  • Councils will need procedures for responding to alleged offences, as campers and councils work out how to bring the new laws into real life.


Notes

Note 1 (Section 5, 2a, FCA) (FCP)

Note 2 (Section 5, 3b, FCA)

Note 3 (Section 20, 2b, FCA) (Section 5, 2, FCA)

Note 4 (Section 27 A, 2, FCA)


FCA: Freedom Camping Act 2011

FCP: Freedom Camping (Penalties for Infringement Offences) Regulations 2023

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Issues in making this real

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