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Expanding the role of collaborative management and stewardship in the conservation management of Australia's marine and coastal resources

A report commissioned by Environment Australia 1997

Commonwealth of Australia
ISBN 0 642 54530 8

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Executive summary

The 1995 State of the Marine Environment Report sets out the serious resource issues affecting Australia's marine environment and identifies a causal lack of integrated planning and management. The Coastal Zone Inquiry (RAC, 1992) revealed that Australians regarded water and beach pollution as one of the nation's most pressing environmental problems and went on to emphasise the need for the involvement of all stakeholders in addressing such issues. Experience overseas has shown that failure to involve stakeholders can quickly lead to failure of resource management regimes.

Stakeholders in the marine and coastal environment constitute a diverse community. The actual role that individual stakeholder groups will play in a given resource management arrangement will depend on a range of factors. However, the possession of a stewardship ethic by stakeholders is crucial to the success of sustainable collaborative management.

The paper examines the history of the stewardship ethic in Australia and relates this to the rise of a number of government-funded collaborative management programs. A key conclusion is that, while increased awareness of environmental issues may help to generate a stewardship ethic in the individual, this will not be translated into changed behaviours until social norms emerge that will support and encourage this aspect. There is a need for public awareness campaigns that focus on changing behaviour.

When stakeholder groups are ready to adopt changed behaviours there is the potential to establish collaborative management arrangements whereby resource management responsibility is shared among stakeholder groups, including government agencies. Once established, effective collaborative management will bring more effective and sustainable resource use, as well as a number of other significant advantages.

The paper identifies a number of the characteristics of effective and sustainable collaborative management and suggests the most important as being:

It is considered that much that passes for collaborative management of marine and coastal resources in Australia is either not collaborative management or is at the lower end of the spectrum (minimal community involvement and control). Where collaborative arrangements with significant roles for non-government stakeholders are being put in place, they are in general project-oriented, short-term and probably not sustainable, especially in the absence of government funding.

There is significant evidence of an existing relevant stewardship ethic among a significant proportion of the population, but this tends to be narrowly focused and not to translate into widespread action in important areas.

There is a number of important steps that could be undertaken to change this situation. These are:

The paper concludes that Australia is beginning to embark on a range of initiatives with the potential to develop meaningful collaborative management arrangements in the marine and coastal environment. The success of these will be better assured if the range of initiatives suggested in this paper are undertaken.