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Australia's oceans policy - report of the forum held in Canberra 2-3 December 1997

Department of Environment, Sport and Territories, 1998

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Welcome and introduction to the forum: Dr. Ian McPhail, Chairman of the forum

Welcome to the Oceans Policy Forum.

We have here in this group members of the Interdepartmental Committee on Oceans Policy; the State representatives from the Working Group of the Intergovernmental Committee on Ecologically Sustainable Development; the Ministerial Advisory Group on Oceans Policy; representatives from the Marine Science and Technology Working Group; and a broad range of industry, conservation and other non-governmental organisation representatives, who are not on those previously mentioned committees. Welcome also to Professor Frank Talbot who will be our rapporteur for the two days. I would like to go through some of the introductory material for the forum and look at how we can be involved in the process. We are grateful to you all for attending and we look forward to your willing contribution to a policy framework for the integrated resource management of the oceans.

As you are probably aware the Cabinet has given approval for a whole-of-government process for development of an Oceans Policy. I think it is extremely important that it is a whole-of-government responsibility, and therefore the policy in its final form must represent the views across the entire spectrum of government.

The draft policy has to be prepared by some time in February and it is the Government’s intention to finalise the Oceans Policy by the middle of the year.

Already the Cabinet and Government have established certain parameters for the Oceans Policy development. It is basically said that the Oceans Policy will establish a multiple use planning and management framework. It will address the legislative, jurisdictional and institutional arrangements underlying the oceans planning, management and use. It will encompass existing sectoral policies and programs, identify areas requiring further attention and provide for initiatives to integrate oceans planning and management and focus on identifying and promoting the economic opportunities from ecologically sustainable marine industries. It has also been decided that the Offshore Constitutional Settlement will not be reopened, but if there are some administrative arrangements that need to be adjusted, then these will be considered. However, it is very important that in the development of national institutional arrangements for managing the cross-sectoral implications of action affecting our oceans, the very heavy commitments that State and Territory governments have made to the management of coasts are recognised and we ensure that these are properly integrated into the final framework.

In creating national institutional arrangements, we will need to take account of the current well developed sector-specific resource allocations and management systems, such as fisheries, petroleum and minerals. These must be maintained and provide a basis for cross-sectoral arrangements under the proposed framework.

The consultations we are having should explore the advantages and disadvantages of options for institutional arrangements for our marine jurisdictional zones, such as a national body with associated regional bodies for planning and management. This would include assessing the minimum regulatory and legislative requirements to make such arrangements effective. The Oceans Policy will not be limited to Commonwealth waters, but will cover all our marine jurisdictions. It will build on the current cooperative arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories, recognising, for instance, existing State and Commonwealth coastal polices.

Conservation and sustainable use of the oceans’ resources will be pursued on the basis that marine ecosystems and biogeographical regions should underpin oceans management arrangements which are integrated across sectoral uses. This recognises that arrangements for managing some sectoral resource use, such as petroleum, will probably continue to emphasise other geographical and administrative features.

Again, in accord with the Government’s position, agreement will be pursued on how to apply key principles within the Oceans Policy, in particular multiple and sequential resource use principles and the precautionary principle.

These factors comprise the ground rules that have been established at this stage, but within these ground rules there are very significant issues of management that need to be thought through. That is very much the purpose of these next two days, where we hope those matters can be discussed in detail through a series of workshops, break-out sessions and plenary sessions.