Action in the 1990s: changes to Australian coastal management

It is clear from the above that there is international acceptance of the need to improve and integrate coastal management practices for the sustainable use of global coastal resources. It is also possible to identify some key international issues or themes in coastal management that have influenced the late 20th century reform of Australian coastal management. (Current Australian coastal management practices are discussed in more detail in chapters 4 and 5.)

Australia is working within an international context in coastal management, and this work is stimulated by the four factors of global climatic change, sustainable development, the need for integrated management, and community participation in policy development. These changes have been occurring at various levels of government; they are discussed in chapter 4.

It is important to note that Australia has a three-tier system of government consisting of the Commonwealth, the state and territory governments, and local government. Most coastal management powers are spelt out in various pieces of state and territory legislation. These include a variety of approaches, from specific coastal legislation and policies to a lack of legislation or policies. Most of the coastal legislation has strong links to other pieces of legislation such as planning or pollution control, but generally much of the responsibility for coastal management and development control falls on local government authorities.

In the 1990s, Australian coastal management was subjected to an extensive period of review, both at the Commonwealth and the state level (see table 1.1; refer also to Harvey 1999, Thom & Harvey 2000). At the Commonwealth level, a key document was the Resource Assessment Commission's (RAC) Coastal Zone Inquiry Final Report, which attempted to examine coastal management responsibilities at the three levels of government (RAC 1993a). The timing of this report was important because there was already a Commonwealth government coastal inquiry being conducted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts (1991). In addition, the

Table 1.1 Australian coastal management changes in the 1990s

Key Commonwealth coastal inquiries, reports or programs


House of Representatives Injured Coastline Report


Commonwealth Draft Coastal Policy Document


Resource Assessment Commission Coastal Zone Inquiry


State of the Marine Environment Report


Commonwealth Coastal Policy 1995


Commonwealth Coasts and Clean Seas Program


Australia's Ocean Policy

Changes and initiatives at state/territory level


Coastal Management Act, Victoria


Queensland Coastal Protection and Management Act


Tasmania State Coastal Policy (revised 1999 and subject to legal challenge in 2002)


NSW Coastal Policy


Victorian Coastal Strategy

Commonwealth government was preparing for the 1992 UNCED by developing, national strategies on 'greenhouse' and ecologically sustainable development (ESD). In the same year the Commonwealth, state and territory governments drew up an Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment (Commonwealth of Australia 1992b). The Commonwealth also produced a document assessing the role of the Commonwealth in the coastal zone. Consequently, the findings of the RAC Inquiry were made within the context of these other national reports and agreements which were being prepared contemporaneously with the RAC Inquiry.

Apart from all these reports prepared in the early 1990s, there was also a plethora of previous inquiries into coastal management and related issues in Australia. In fact, the RAC had to produce its own review of previous inquiries and look at the recommendations of 29 previous national and state inquiries. This highlighted the need for something new, rather than yet another inquiry which would come up with similar conclusions. In particular there had already been a major Commonwealth coastal review over a decade earlier by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation (HORSCEC 1980). This report commented on the need for the development and promulgation of national policies and objectives for the conservation and preservation of the Australian coastline in consultation with the states (HORSCEC 1980, p. 38). Thirteen years later the RAC Inquiry recommended a National Coastal Action Plan, with adoption by the Council of Australian Governments of a set of common objectives (Resource Assessment Commission 1993). Both the HORSCEC and the RAC reports comment on the lack of integration of coastal management at different government levels. It is interesting to note that very little national integration had been done over the 13-year period between these two reports. However, significant advances have been made since the RAC Inquiry (see chapter 5 for further discussion).

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