The Marine Crisis Forum, a national initiative held in Brisbane 11 July and hosted by The Boating Industries Alliance Australia (BIAA), was certainly a 'talk fest' as many (who did not attend) have deemed it. But according to Nik Parker, General Manager of the BIAA, 'it was a great success in terms of feedback, input and future direction of the industry'.
'It was a lot more than hot air,' he explains. 'The forum was about bringing national issues to the forefront and setting a national agenda so real and considered action can be taken to improve the industry. There are many issues, such as grey imports, government interference in the form of over regulating, costs and red tape.'
Referring to the 90-100 people who attended and who lent their experiences and ideas to the forum, Parker says: 'There was a lot of venting and in some respects, some negativity because of the current climate of challenges to our industry, but not in terms of detractors of the event. Everybody was very forthcoming with their impressions of the current state of play and some new approaches and ideas to overcoming these difficulties and creating a competitive, sustainable industry for all.'
The first of several planned forums, the first was held in Brisbane in response to requests from the members of Marine Queensland who had broached the idea with General Manager, Don Jones.
'There are many large manufacturers in the greater Brisbane area and the Gold Coast, so it made sense. But there were people there from WA, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, as well as Queensland. The aim is to repeat the format elsewhere and we will no doubt roll out similar events in Sydney, Melbourne and other cities.'
Parker has been involved in member associations, including the British Marine Federation where he was Technical Director for 10 years until 2008, for the past 15 to 20 years. He retains the position of Chairman of the ISO Small Craft Standards Committee. Parker says he has seen 'all sorts of challenges over the years' and is not deterred by the seemingly never-ending barrage of obstacles to the prosperity of the recreational boating industry.
'The forum allowed people to have their say on what they think is going wrong and where the industry can act in terms of particular challenges. You only have to watch the news to see the world is in turmoil and there are many threats to selling boats in this country. We can’t change the world, but we can adapt, learn new ways of presenting our industry and selling products. We are competing for discretionary spend in a tough environment. Especially with issues like grey imports, we need to ensure a fair go and a voice for the industry.'
Parker says one thing that heartened him and the other organisers was the vocal and collaborative spirit at the event. 'The forum was highly representative of the industry. Whether it was the big manufacturers or the small one man operations, people had the opportunity to have their say.'
And it was a soul-felt and passionate discussion.
'The Australian marine industry certainly enjoys more robust debate than the UK and Europe, who are a bit more restrained. I was very impressed by the level of input. There were so many ideas that arose from the forum. It’s now up to the Board of the BIAA to review the outcomes and make decisions about our focus in the form of an Action Plan, which we hope to reveal in a few weeks.'
Parker says the Action Plan will be on the agenda at the BIAA Board Meeting to be held next Monday.
'The issues are very significant and complex, so it’s important to get our priorities in order. A lot of the issues are driven by the market and the difficult boating conditions. People are stressed about the future direction and they need to know there is industry support and representation, promotion of the industry and creating a sustainable industry. The BIAA Board will get to the core of the issues and while we hope to have the Action Plan ready to reveal by the end of the month, some of the detail will take a little longer to work through.'
The Crisis Forum was not just 'hot air', he states unequivocally. 'We have plenty of material to work with, and the next series of forums will no doubt produce more issues and more ideas. It’s up to us to then generate programs and strategies that match them. Then we will have a strong footing and direction for our industry over the next few years.'
More at www.biaa.com.au