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The national oceans advisory group - Australia's oceans policy
National Oceans Office, Hobart June 2000
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Chair, National Oceans Advisory Group
Good Morning: and thank you all for coming. My name is Russell Reichelt. I'm chairman of The National Oceans Advisory Group, and we are hosting the Forum. I would like to welcome you all, and to offer a special welcome to Senator Robert Hill, Minister for the Environment and Heritage.Why are we here? The objectives of the workshop, as you can see, are:
What I'd like to do is put that into context for those who haven't been tracking the oceans policy or the regional marine planning process, and to give you some of the background as to how this came about.
Where did it all start? It begins with Australia's Oceans Policy, a two-volume document published in 1998 after very wide consultation by the Federal Government. I commend the full policy documents to you but you will have received the supplementary document An invitation to Participate which addresses the specific area with which we're concerned - the South-east Region.Oceans Policy is a major national development and it's a landmark for Australia. In many ways Australia is ahead of the game. The US put out an oceans policy about 12 months after ours emerged, and you would swear they'd been reading our notes.
Why do we need an Oceans Policy? Ocean phenomena are very complex, starting with the biophysics, the oceanography and the biology and the bio-diversity of the seas. It's a phenomenally large area we're talking about, much of it unexplored. So it's complicated, but why is it important to us? It's important to us for its natural and its cultural value for its potential to deliver economic wealth.
So why have an oceans policy: what is it? In brief, it gives us a framework within which we can work to achieve some of these common goals - exploring, using, protecting, enjoying our extensive marine resources. That's the large picture but the policy itself gets more specific and as you get into it you realize that it is very outcome-oriented. The framework underpinning our Oceans Policy has been set up to get things done. The goals of the policy draw their strength from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. That wasn't a quick process! It took about 30 or 40 years to get going. Hopefully we can be a bit quicker with implementing our version of it, the Australian Oceans Policy. If you compare UNCLOS and our policy there are a lot of words in common. Each talks about understanding and protecting bio-diversity, promoting sustainable ecological development and job creation.
In Australia, we're talking about integrated oceans planning and management, community needs and aspirations and improving our capabilities in exploring the oceans scientifically. Science, technology and engineering are an integral part of the policy as are protecting natural and cultural heritage, promoting public awareness and creating an understanding of marine environments.
These are all very broad goals but what are the specific initiatives, what's happening inside that policy? They classify into a few broad areas. The major plank is regional marine planning. It's about balancing commercial, conservation and cultural interests and promoting complimentary management regimes across multiple jurisdictions.
So that is what we're here to talk about: that and the first case study, which is planning for the South-east Region. It takes in a very large area.The policy goes beyond regional marine planning, however. It encompasses the national representative system of marine protected areas, national moorings programs to help prevent anchor damage in sensitive sites and the management of acid sulphate soils. There are pollution issues such as the anti-fouling Tributyltin (TBT); particular species protection including whales; and national marine and estuary water quality standards.
These are all major initiatives happening already: the Oceans Policy gives a framework for that action.In regard to the Oceans Policy, I don't want to dwell on process too much. I'd rather talk about the outcomes we're seeking. But there is in place a National Oceans Advisory Group, and there is a National Oceans Office. The Minister might say more about the Office later, but the Oceans Advisory Group is my responsibility.
Our Group comprises representatives from many sectors: ports, shipping, fisheries, oil and gas, conservation, the general community, indigenous groups, marine policy, law, and minerals. It has a very broad constituency and our role is to advise the National Oceans Ministerial Board, which represents broad government portfolios with an interest in the oceans. What we are doing is advising the Board on cross-sectoral issues, focusing on the gaps and overlaps and priorities, across and between the sectors and jurisdictions. We're interested in integration issues, including ecosystem-based planning and management.
Incidentally, I forecast that trying to understand what 'ecosystem- based management' is may be a topic for hot debate in the next couple of days.We also advise on the scope and effectiveness of the regional marine planning process and we are also a forum for the exchange of views on questions of ocean management. All of the members of the Advisory Group are here, and their glorious photographs are in the handouts. It is an ideal opportunity for you to make contact with members who you think you share an interest or who might even have an opposing view. Please engage with them because they are looking for your input and an opportunity to discuss their particular sectoral interest within the broader domain of Oceans Policy.So that's The National Oceans Advisory Group.
Let me refocus on the Forum: what are we trying to do? What is a regional marine plan? I want to emphasize that we are very much at the beginning of a process. This isn't about having a two-day Forum, wrapping up a few conclusions about a regional marine plan, putting a nice bow on it and presenting as an outcome of this workshop. It's about beginning a process of broad consultation; of gathering views: of looking for solutions to some of the problems that confront management and other interests in the oceans.
I commend to you this introductory pamphlet An invitation to Participate, the cover of which shows Tasmania at the top of the world, a good starting point for a debate. Look in particular at the issues listed in the beginning of the document: resource planning and management: equitable and secure access to resources; conservation and the recognition of traditional uses. It looks beyond these to things that are probably problems for the future:
and it is forward-looking, acknowledging the strong possibility of new development opportunities.
Regional marine planning is not about creating new layers of bureaucracy and jurisdictional complexity. It's complex enough already. It's about simplifying these in order to achieve the broader goals of protecting the marine environment, exploring it and capturing the wealth that it can offer for Australia. So that's the Regional Marine Plan and my perception of what should be our goals here. It's a beginning, and we're looking for the opportunities and challenges, and the chance to start work on methods for tackling some of the hard problems associated with the process. That's why we are here.
Federal Minister for the Environment & Heritage
More than 200 years ago, British settlers first brought their European farming techniques to Australia. In the two centuries since, this ancient continent has fed our population and provided us with great wealth through agricultural and mineral exports. Its vast sweeping landscapes have challenged explorers and adventurers and inspired our poets, authors and painters. The sheer size of our continent has helped protect us from invasion.
I'm not sure that we have been so kind to it in return. The land management techniques we introduced were not always suited to this rugged but fragile land. We are now seeing the consequences of our actions through, for example, the spread of dryland salinity which now threatens a land area half the size of Victoria, and the plight of the once mighty Murray River.
It's almost as if the vast size of our continent lulled us into a false sense of infallibility - surely a landmass of this size could take anything we could throw at it.
We have learnt, at considerable expense, that it could not and we must now set out on a path to ensure we treat our natural resources with greater care.
And of course the lesson of managing our natural resources in a sustainable manner is as relevant at sea as it is on land.
Our continent is vast - but it is dwarfed by our marine area. By the year 2004 we will have jurisdiction over approximately 16.2 million square kilometres of seabed - that is more than twice the landmass of Australia.
Our marine industries - fisheries and aquaculture, oil, gas and petroleum extraction, and tourism - already contribute an estimated $30 billion a year to the Australian economy, or around 8% of GDP. In addition to that, 97% of the volume of our trade is moved by sea.
Our oceans are an immense natural resource. Pardon the pun, but it is difficult to fathom the extent of the wealth that could be gained from them.
We would, however, be foolish to allow the vast size of this resource to instil in us the same false over-confidence that has marred our past management of our land-based resources.
The Howard Government has been keen to ensure that we do not take our marine resources for granted.
On coming to office in 1996 we quickly learned that marine policy was an area which had been badly neglected by the former Labor government. I can only assume they didn't see any votes in it or perhaps they considered oceans to be un-newsworthy because unlike land-based issues such as forests, they weren't characterised by rowdy protests.
This was also a mistake made by some but not all green groups. It is difficult to see, for example, Senator Bob Brown playing to the TV cameras by chaining himself to a bulldozer on the seabed.
Unlike others, our government has chosen to make marine issues a high environmental priority.
This has included our determination to make Australia a world leader in marine conservation and sustainable marine resource use.
There have been three key planks in the development of our overall marine strategy - addressing land-based impacts on the marine environment, effective planning and management of our coastal regions, and the development of a National Oceans Policy to take our efforts right out to the boundaries of the Exclusive Economic Zone.
The 1996 State of the Environment Report estimated that 7 billion tonnes of debris enters the world's oceans each year.
Australia is a strong supporter of the global efforts to combat this growing problem and has taken a leading role in encouraging action in the Asia-Pacific region.
We will be hosting an Asia-Pacific workshop in Townsville in May, and we are also developing a project aimed at assisting China with preventing land and ship based marine pollution, to give just two examples.
Here in Australia we have provided significant financial resources to tackle the key threats to our marine environment - stormwater and the rubbish which it carries to our oceans, and the impact of sewage and wastewater outfalls.
Through the Natural Heritage Trust, funded through the part-sale of Telstra, we have been able to support projects to reduce or effectively eliminate discharges to coastal or inland waters.
One of the more high profile projects targets the amount of rubbish being washed into the waters of Bondi Beach.
With the support of a Trust grant of $185,000, the Waverly Council is set to install pollutant traps on stormwater drains which will capture an estimated 100 tonnes of rubbish each year before it hits the beach.
The project has sound environmental credentials and will also deliver a benefit in terms of tourist presentation of what is one of Australia’s most famous beaches.
On a larger scale, one of the most successful projects funded under the Clean Seas Program is here on the rural outskirts of Hobart.
A grant of almost $800,000 to the Brighton Council helped them implement a major regional wastewater and stormwater reuse scheme to remove discharges to the Derwent Estuary.
I am advised that this partnership between industry, government and the community achieved its target of being the first region in Australia to have no sewage discharges to any coastal or inland waters by the Year 2000.
Effluent is being totally reused for irrigation in horticulture and forestry and in the future, on to a new golf course and for viticulture.
The project has been so successful that the Council is now heading up a larger regional project to provide bulk irrigation water for the wider region of Southern Tasmania.
The simple concept of reducing ocean pollution by reducing the amount of wastewater and stormwater which enters our rivers is being replicated around Australia with the help of the Natural Heritage Trust.
The Commonwealth recently announced it would invest $10 million from the Trust into two new programs to clean up urban waterways.
These programs will again build on the partnership between governments, industry, and local communities to achieve the best outcome for our marine environment.
This partnership has been central to delivering the second key plank of our marine strategy - the effective management and planning of our coastal regions.
Community involvement has been essential to the success of the Natural Heritage Trust.
For example more than 10,000 people have been involved in our community-based coastal program, Coastcare, which has invested $8 million in more than 1750 projects.
Coastcare funds a range of small to large scale projects aimed at on-ground coastal management and protection.
As the Mid-Term Review of the Natural Heritage Trust reported "Coastal vegetation is being regenerated, coastal access is being improved and controlled, weeds and feral pests eradicated, important marine species such as sea dragons are being monitored, and community awareness of coastal values and issues is being raised."
As the review noted, this is being achieved because "Coastcare is bringing people together to find solutions to local problems."
On the broader scale, the Commonwealth has been at the forefront of moves to improve regional planning for our coastal areas.
Given the love Australians have for living near the beach, development in our coastal regions is inevitable. What has been missing in the past is the strategic approach required to minimise the impact of this development on the very natural asset that had attracted people in the first place.
Through the $5 million Coastal and Marine Planning Program we support the involvement of around 600 coastal and marine management agencies and participants from government, the community and industry in developing better, more coordinated planning processes.
This work already covers more than 90% of Australia's coastal population with projects spread over 40% of Australia's coastline.
Again I can point to a local success story - the Integrated Environment Strategy for the Derwent Estuary. This project is developing an environmental management plan that outlines the responsibilities and actions to be taken by State and Local Government to improve the water quality of the Derwent for both recreational and aquaculture purposes.
The plan will focus on water quality issues - land pollution, contaminated sediments - and protection/ rehabilitation in areas of high conservation value.
With efforts to reduce land-based impacts on the marine environment, coupled with a push for better regional management, the next logical step has been the development of a truly national marine strategy.
Our Oceans Policy represents the first time that a national government has attempted to pull together all our marine and coastal actions under a coordinated framework.
And as a logical progression, it extends these efforts out to the boundaries of our Exclusive Economic Zone.
There is a raft of some 400 actions outlined in Australia's Oceans Policy
Further to the policy, Environment Australia is implementing a range of projects addressing such issues as:
The policy also endorses our push for a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas. The Howard Government has set the pace in the development of these multiple use areas which protect our marine biological diversity. We have already created three new Marine Protected Areas and have announced notices of intent for two more. We will be looking for greater efforts from the States to complement these to create a truly representative national system.
Another recommendation of the policy is the establishment of a National Oceans Office. Today we are opening the office.
The Office will drive the development of Regional Marine Plans for each major region of our marine jurisdiction, starting with the waters off South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales.
Regional marine planning for such areas has never been attempted before and this first one presents a great challenge in that it will cover 2 million square kilometres and a diverse range of marine habitats.
Its success will depend on the full involvement of all levels of government, industry and the community. This National Oceans Forum is the perfect launching pad for this cooperative effort.
We will use the outcomes of this Forum to quickly develop a formal scoping paper setting out the detail of Government's intentions for the South-east Regional Marine Plan and the consultation processes which will be used.
And I take the opportunity to invite State Governments to participate in [this] vitally important project. In fact, the Commonwealth Government is committed to complementing and integrating with States management arrangements where that is productive.
For those who fear the burden of a new tier of regulation I can assure you that one preferred approach is to apply only the minimum regulation necessary to meet the preferred environmental, economic, social and cultural outcomes.
And, to demonstrate that the Commonwealth Government is committed to the outcomes of the Regional Marine Plan we have agreed that these outcomes will bind all Federal agencies.
As we have set out in the Oceans Policy, we will make an assessment whether we need additional legislation to give effect to the Regional Marine Plan.
I would hope that everyone involved in this Forum will commit to making this process a success.
The development of this first Regional Marine Plan would be a signal that we have learned from the mistakes made in developing our land-based resources and are committed to not repeating them at sea.
It would also be another run on the board for Australia's already impressive international reputation on marine conservation issues.
Australia is recognised for our world-leading role in the protection of marine wildlife such as whales, albatross, dugongs, turtles, southern bluefin tuna, and the Patagonian Toothfish.
We can also be justifiably proud that our Oceans Policy itself is considered to be an international benchmark in best practice, and I know that many of you here today had a great deal of input to the policy.
The effective implementation of the Oceans Policy will further add to our global marine credentials.
In closing, I would like to introduce to you the new Director of the National Oceans Office, Veronica Sakell, and congratulate her on her appointment.
Veronica comes to the position with experience in both the public and private sectors.
In particular, she has previously done extensive work for the former Tasmanian government in inter-governmental and inter-sectoral issues relating to natural resource management.
She appreciates the importance of striking the right balance between the conservation values which we all would like to see protected, and the provision of resource security for industry to operate on a sustainable basis.
These are the principles which the Federal Government would like to see reflected in the implementation of our Oceans Policy.
I wish Veronica and her staff every success in our combined effort to ensure the conservation and wise use of our marine resources.
Mike Young, CSIRO
I come from that other half, the terrestrial half of Australia. I was daunted about 10 years ago to see a map with all the ocean areas that we now claim and have responsibility for. When I was asked to speak to this Forum I thought: why do you want someone whose experience is really in land to talk about oceans policy?
The more I thought about it the more I started to realize that there are many vital links with the land and a lot of considerations that were very important to understand and get right. Oceans are inescapably linked to land. We go from the land via the estuaries, across the inshore areas and out to the continental shelf and the slopes.
It's a complicated system. If you look at it ecologically, contemplate the problems and set them out showing all the interactions you will see that it's very much a web. All the sectors are interdependent or interlinked and activity in one may impose costs on another.
If somehow all of this could be harnessed we'd have a tremendously powerful system. We have some very important institutional problems, challenges and issues to sort out. Some things are controlled internationally, some by the Commonwealth, some through offshore agreements, some by constitutional settlements, some by State laws and then there's local government.
That's one layer of complexity: then we go to codes of practice and so forth. There are many, many interconnected and overlapping phenomena and jurisdictions. Australia's challenge is to make connected sense of this.
Over the last two days I've been lucky to be part of some very exciting discussions about ecosystem services, and the tone of that discussion was about a search for a triple bottom line. Getting the environment right, the economy right and the social side right simultaneously.
People were talking about aligning. Aligning commercial interests, business and profit with ecosystems 'services', the functions of which are supplied at the moment at no cost. They are a natural 'given'. The task of the Oceans Forum here today is really to work out how to use all these ecosystems and use them 'for gain'.
Commercial and recreational benefits, and gains in lots of different ways. In doing this we need to be mature enough to recognize the role of private enterprise. This was the message that came out of these discussions, only we were not talking about oceans but talking about land. To recognize that private enterprise is powerful, and that to fight powerful people is a risky game.
If you can use that power and align with it and guide it in the right direction, there are tremendous opportunities, once you recognize and acknowledge that private enterprise is innovative and adaptive and can do things a lot faster than government.
I've been quite close at times to Senator Hill and in his hearing, I keep on agonizing about the time it takes to get government to change policy and to get it to admit that we can only change things one at a time.
If we can leave things, in the words of his opening speech 'unregulated as much as possible, but structured so that things can change and adapt', we have a much stronger system, and that's what alignment is about. The challenge is to do it: to recognize that private enterprise is efficient, but to also acknowledge the downside of efficiency - that in all efficient systems the way to make most profits is to privatize all the gain and socialize the losses.
This may sound ironic and amusing, but it's a very serious problem. I have been spending quite a bit of my time over the last month looking at dry land salinity. Using the ecosystem of which the drylands are a part is like flying an aircraft day after day. You fly along and forget to maintain it. For a while - quite a long while, everything is ok Then one day - and I am a pilot - you glance at the instrument panel; a light starts flashing, and a warning horn sounds, and you think "Oh my God, what are we going to do?"
You look down: there's nowhere to land and panic sets in. A lot of Australia's landscape, that other side of the ocean : land equation, has now got some very big flashing lights. This is because we didn't align ourselves with nature and actually work through an understanding of the ecosystem. We need to be pragmatic as well. The other part of the triple bottom line is to align governments with actual communities and all the sectors in business, and to develop some kind of multi-dimensional partnership. This is reflected in the framework that's being proposed for the Regional Marine Plan. There's nothing surprising there.
If we think of oceans as a service to the planet, and try to conceptualize what they supply free of any direct charge, and how much it would cost to replace these with a man-made system it will change our way of thinking about them. It's risky to think of oceans as only being about, let's say, fishing. Oceans are about many things: they are sources of food and income, they are sources of recreation, and they are a place where we dump our variously treated wastes.
They are an important medium for transport and they are a source of products like oil, natural gas, minerals, bio-pharmaceuticals. Lots of resources. But they are also a source of all the ecological processes that keep everything else on the planet functioning. We abuse oceans at our own peril.
If we think about what governments do conventionally to regulate land-based systems, it looks nice and simple. Several years ago, I sat down with some of my colleagues to try and map what an oceans framework policy and strategy might look like - it came out like this.
We have everything: we have licenses, bag limits, user fees, accreditation, voluntary codes of practice, discharge licenses, integrated catchment frameworks that operate right around Australia. We have all sorts of control over shipping, labelling arrangements, fines, penalties, regulations, zones and it goes on and on and on.
But somehow, Australia has to be clever and not get drowned in a tangled mess of confusion. The challenge is to get all of this right. It really is a big challenge. Look at the rural areas of Australia, the major part of the landmass and see what's happening. There's a big shift towards regional ecosystems as a basis for land management.
It's still being talked about and we're still working out how to do it. But co-management is starting to occur. You find in South Australia catchment boards controlled largely by land holders and local government, raising their own funds, controlling their own funds and strategies and investments and putting it together. Setting up the whole process in an co-management framework, and understanding for the first time that everybody depends upon, lives alongside and uses the same water resource, that it's complex , and that it's an ecosystem.
I would like to think that similar ideas could flow out into oceans management somehow. We are also starting to talk about 'a duty of care'. Duty of care is a concept that came out of industry. It began with worker safety and the employer's responsibility. It is now moving out into many other areas, including management of environments. It is beginning to colour the way we are thinking about, caring for, the oceans. Australia's Oceans Policy is a reflection of this broader way of thinking.
It is having an effect on working out what things we should hope for and expect from those who use the oceans of Australia, including paying for the real costs of actually doing that. That's the conclusion that's starting to emerge out of rural Australia and is being agonized over. The question is: how do we define these rules for sustainable oceans use, and how do we work out what the duty of care is.
The old-fashioned approach was to attempt to cover it with legislation in the form of state laws. Increasingly we are moving towards using plans, regional plans that work within and across man-made boundaries to define and establish a duty of care as the benchmark.
We are also getting innovative in our management and starting to outsource work to non-government organizations (NGOs). You find a lot of the actual field programs now are no longer run by government. Species recovery, forestry management, land care - all sorts of activities are going out and are being managed and implemented on the ground by the people who live there.
NGOs are being used in ways that have never before happened. Environmental management systems have become important in terms of accreditation. Enterprises are now seeking market advantage by moving to the environmental high ground.
Australia is leading the world in some aspects of this. A good example is the Rock Lobster Fishery over in Western Australia. That fishery is in the process of moving towards accreditation at the highest standard set in the world for actual fisheries. They see an advantage in getting the environment right through alignment.
The work that I've been closely involved in is about market incentives, about trying to align market processes and use them to advantage, rather than the confrontation that often accompanies the one-sided framing and application of regulations. We are seeing the emergence of processes in which governments and communities and segments of communities are getting together and setting mutually agreed (rather than imposed from 'above') targets.
In a number of cases I've been struck by the frequency with which the regional groups have set tighter and harder targets than would actually flow out of government. This has come through sitting down and aligning and talking together and realizing that if you fly a plane or are a passenger in it and suddenly all the lights starts flashing, then everyone on board realizes that it's going to be very, very expensive to salvage the mess. And infinitely more expensive than if the necessary maintenance had been properly carried out in the first place. It's as hard to recover from a system crash as it is from an aeroplane one.
The other thing which has emerged and is being much discussed and in some places is really happening, is trading in rights to use resources. The fishing industry, although it has lots of problems is, leading Australia in many ways.
On the land we're moving towards salination trading, irrigation water rights are becoming tradeable and this process is moving on across the agricultural spectrum. We are also realizing that adjustment takes time and that it's unfair to blame people who are doing what we originally told them to do. I know this from my own experience. As a young boy and a farmer's son, every time I came home at school holidays my father sat me on the tractor and every September we cleared scrub. We did that because government said after World War II that we had to make Australia grow, we had to invest. Today, the clearing that I did has resulted in salinity.
Nobody told me what would ultimately happen when I was out there clearing because no scientist knew what the consequences would be. Many of the problems in oceans are the same sort. We are probably doing things today thinking that what we do is 'right'. There are probably lots of rural parents telling their sons or daughters to help them do things which at the time they feel proud about but which in time they will come to regret. I regret what I did, but at the time I thought I was doing the right thing.
I'm sure that in the oceans there are similar mistakes and comparable unseen consequences. I hope we find them fast enough to solve them before they become the mess we now have to solve in terrestrial Australia. Cost sharing is part of that. Sharing the cost of going through that change.
What we are really talking about are all the externalities, to work out when you reward people, when you subsidize their activities, when you promote and help, and when you give incentives. Often we fine people and say look no, this is something you'll have to pay for and if you cheat we'll have to fine you or regulate you or do something to stop it happening. But it's going to change through time.
I would hope in oceans as we move forward that we find a way to think about implementing a duty of care by evolving policy over time. We need to use negotiation and not unilaterally set unattainably high standards at the outset which cause conflict or result in evasion. We need to work through a transitional process, to identify where we're going, to exercise our duty of care and to work through it in a sensible, mature, aligned and evolving way.
Talking about incentives, I like to portray them as resting on a firm foundation of information and knowledge. I'm struck continually by how little we know about the way ecosystems actually function and how much we fail to understand how they are likely to respond to our interventions.
It's a big challenge and it's difficult to understand and get it right; I think we've got some big surprises coming and I understand that we will have to deal with the unforeseen consequences of our earlier actions. The resulting 'precautionary approach' is often talked about as part of that and sometimes negatively, but it's about learning, not freezing.
It's really about how we make flexible decisions that will evolve, change and adapt through time, and as circumstances change. It's important to take a holistic approach and look at all aspects of a system before you start making decisions about it.
For example, if I look at the sensitive issue of property rights, say in relation to estuarine fisheries the first thing that occurs to me is that estuaries are linked to the land. It might therefore pay some fishermen to establish coastal filter strips, or to lock up some land in the estuary's catchment and protect it.
Perhaps the fishermen might take some land out of production altogether and do it in partnership with rural land holders with the objective of reducing run-off, siltation and excessive nutrient flows. They might also set up offset arrangements in urban areas so that if somebody wants to clear an area they have to actually plant something somewhere else in the catchment to balance the consequences.
We see that in a number of Australian states the environment protection agency is licensing the emission of wastes and just starting to make these licenses transferable. In the United States, arrangements are being introduced so that if an urban group of people want to increase the waste load involved in any estuarine activity, they have a choice of offsetting it one for one in an urban area or going out into rural areas and doing it on a three for one basis.
It's interesting: the rural area, it seems, is a lot cheaper to clean up even allowing for the three to one improvements. This is using market mechanisms and principles to clean up estuaries. I can see the same sorts of opportunities in Australia, because estuaries are often the source of lots of important other changes in the oceans.
Still thinking in terms of price, we can see that South Australia has introduced a levy to fund co-management in water catchments. It's interesting to see how people are embracing this and getting quite aggressive and brave as they realize the benefits of fixing up problems in the catchments.
There's an interesting example I heard about in the last day or so. In New York the cost for treating the water supply by putting it all through a new cleaning and purifying plant is about $1.5 billion. To treat the resultant waste that was extracted from the water would have cost them another $8 million. So they went back upstream and in improving the catchments for urban water supply they also cleaned up some estuary and ocean problems as well. There are some really big opportunities to think outside the square, and to think of how you can drive some of those things through by linking from land through into other areas.
If you look at fisheries, property rights are discussed a lot and are evolving in Australia in terms of the arrangements for licenses to take fish and there are various systems being discussed. I spent a lot of time actually working in the early stage of the share system in New South Wales, which still has quite a way to go to operate the way I would like to see it operate.
Recreational fishing licenses are now being argued about in Australia. In some parts of the world they already exist, and in some parts of the country there's a lot of discussion about them at the moment. There's also some agonizing over the terms of private ownership to fishing rights: for example should abalone fishers have fixed areas in which to fish or should they have a quota which allows them to fish anywhere?
Coming as I do from a land-based system I can see a different set of issues. I can see the logic in not having a quota system for abalone but instead allocating fishing areas. These would be managed with specified outputs and a prescription for the environmental requirements rather than being so obsessed with quota.
It's a different approach and one that's worthwhile talking about, honestly and openly and trying to find the best way forward.
There's a lot of value in harnessing motivation, and the whole theme of alignment is that if you can get people motivated, keen to be part of solving problems then we have an exciting future for Australia's oceans. Regulation will still be part of that, it must be part of that, because regulation is that necessary bottom line which is required to get some people to do the things that are needed. If you don't do it there is a chance that they will actually go out and ruin the fishery for a long time, and set those red lights flashing.
We have that problem now, but it would be nicer to have an arrangement where regulations are rarely invoked because people don't see any profit in going down that path.
If we look at some of the other things like marine recreation and tourism, very important issues arise once again. How are we going to handle all the licensing arrangements? Is government going to run it, are licenses going to be tradable? Are the licenses going to rest on minimum regulations or performance standards?
Are we going to rely much more on codes of conduct, and the accreditation systems that are starting to take off around the world? Who is going to run the accreditation systems? The world's best ones are now being run by a combination of industry, NGOs and government, but government is a very small part of it.
We are contemplating moving out and setting up frameworks where people have strong incentives to comply. They are doing it to make money and that's the driving force. They are aligning with the environment and finding that there is a market there which is worth being part of.
Protected areas are also going to be part of the whole oceans system. In the other half of Australia, the land half, we have a big problem. We didn't get in in time and we cleared too much of the landscape. As a result of doing that we are starting pay dearly for it. We are understanding that the bill for problems like salinity is now having to be paid, partly because we thought we could develop the whole lot without thought to the future.
I don't know what the equivalents in oceans are, but I hope Australia doesn't repeat the mistake. We've learnt from terrestrial Australia that conservation is achieved much more effectively in partnership with people out on the land, the working and accessible land. Off-reserve conservation is now a routine part of it.
In an innovative framework in oceans management you'd expect to find that the licensing arrangements that would operate for people in recreation, tourism, fishing, mining, extraction of gas and so forth would involve using those people to help actually conserve Australia's resources. Such arrangements would enable them to be part of the conservation scene and to be even actually paid for some of the work they would need to do as part of the activity for which they were licensed.
We've learned through the Natural Heritage Trust to develop partnership with landholders to implement conservation initiatives by working with the people who make their living out of the resources out there and aligning the people and resource conservation in an effective and powerful way.
Conflict is the hardest bit to get managed. I've been involved a couple of times in oceans issues and I get stunned and furious and frustrated over the anger and the speed with which people get themselves into corners and then stop talking. If we can find the pragmatic approaches that enable us to do things that resolve some of the conflict we can make progress.
One of the first things is to allocate property rights that acknowledge that people are making major investments and that this involves big risks. In such circumstances, it's very important to specify the rights that people have.
We're moving in the allocation and use of water resources in Australia to a time-based framework, in which we grant people a tradeable right and a guarantee to compensation if we change the rules of the game halfway through that framework. You set the rules down and sign off and say if we've got it wrong we're still in partnership with you and we will compensate you if an action of ours results in disadvantage to you.
Targets are being set mutually and with an acknowledgment that they will evolve through time. In doing this we are trying to find ways to specify openly and to say honestly what we really mean, and to sign on the bottom line. We want to move on from what has certainly been the standard in pollution control in Australia and water licensing in the past where we would issue a license which was in effect an 'all care, no responsibility' undertaking.
In this model, you enter into an arrangement with the licensee but you prescribe all the rules, regulate them all the way and then at the bottom of the agreement there is a clause that says '…and the government reserves the right to change the rules of the game tomorrow', rather than mutually defining the process which you would go through to renegotiate the arrangement.
This form of licensing hurts people and it hurts investment. It almost encourages people into conflict, and to cheat because they are not guaranteed a stake in the things to which they have committed themselves. It seems obvious but it's often forgotten.
Transport is an important use of oceans and exploration similarly so. Property rights relating to these uses are evolving but they aren't really formalized yet. We're getting into some labeling arrangements and things like that, but it's still in its early stages.
We are starting to control rights for entry into Australian waters and we need to think much more innovatively about how, for example, we handle pollution from ships. We should be thinking about a possible accreditation system which aligns with the interests of and provides incentive for those people who sail into Australia, to enable them to do so with advantage because they accept the need to look after Australia's oceans. We need a set of incentives that encourages shipping and encourages people in exporting to be part of keeping our oceans alive forever. To do all of this, and profit from it, there's the challenge.
There are opportunities here. I don't have time to develop them now but I think they are quite exciting. They are likely to be built around fines, fees, performance bonds and insurance bonds. I'm impressed by one of the systems in the Victorian EPA which links into oceans and is almost part of the South-east Marine Region: it accredits large companies to manage waste themselves. The rules are simple: if an enterprise can get all the households [or the community] which surround its factory to sign off on its waste management plan then the EPA will halve its fees.
And it's amazing to see how many big factories are sitting down with local communities, because half the waste management fee is a good idea! This then gives them a foundation on which to get their waste management processes accredited. and so it's really starting to work. Attitudes and policies like these can benefit oceans, and perhaps when we start to work with the enterprises involved in exploration and transport we can do similar sorts of things.
These possibilities haven't yet been much talked about but they are there. It's complex, it's difficult, it may contradict international codes and laws of the sea, but somewhere in there, I'm convinced, there must be some similar opportunities. They may take time to evolve but they really are worth pursuing.
Let me talk about this issue of the oceans as part of a continuum which is inexorably linked to the land. Many of the problems which end up in the ocean have their origins back up in the top of the catchment. This raises a lot of institutional questions about how we organise government of Australia's oceans. Are the oceans just the oceans? Should, for example, fishery people be sitting on land care boards, and should the Australian Land Care Council have a fisheries or an oceans representative on it? Should you find oceans people sitting with the EPA setting waste management policy?
It seems to me that there are some tremendous opportunities to start thinking in terms of these frameworks: if we think we look after the oceans by only looking at the oceans, we're wrong. My perspective is that of an ecologist and an economist looking at these systems, and it's clear to me that we've got to think about the entire system and to harness it.
I think this is a very important concept. The other big question is: can we be brave enough to co-manage the resources, and to delegate responsibility and accountability to regional or local bodies? Local government in Australia is characterised by the fact that we expect it to work. We have empowered local government, we've given local regions control and the political commitment now is to go with that system in place of a process where you pretend to offer local autonomy, but with a minister sitting at the top all the time saying 'if you get it wrong I'm going to call it back in'.
When I look at all the complex frameworks and processes which connect local government, states and all the other organisations, the challenge that I'd like to leave for the National Oceans Office which is being set up and launched here today is to consider setting up a working environment like football. The Oceans Office would be the coaches, encouraging everybody to get the game right, and occasionally acting as an umpire and blowing the whistle when people cheat. For most of the time, however, I'd like to think that the game was being played and played openly with everybody aligning, trying to get it right. That requires us to move away from the customary conflict-based process to one centred on negotiation and getting it really functioning in a constructive and exciting way.
We're just at the start of trying to do something that's very important and that's where I think Australia should be going. How we do it is the challenge for today, tomorrow and the next decades. I hope that my children's children are really excited about the foundations that emerged today.
Let me look into a crystal ball, and to think particularly about what you might find out if you played the game that's played in Sliders. Some of you will have seen the TV show. The exciting thing about it is that there's a group of people who have this ability to jump forward in time to see what's happening. They get shocked at the things that have gone wrong: then they go back in time to fix up history to put them right.
It's a lovely idea. I would hope not to go forward in time and find lots of things going wrong, systems collapsing, waste everywhere, spoilt environments, and the disasters now evident on the land (that other half of Australia).
My hope would be that somehow we would have alignment as a central concept, with people using partnership, not conflict. The alignment has to do with the forces of nature as much as with society. Partnership is always thought about in terms of people getting together. The really clever thing is to use natural environments that are the oceans to help us. They come to nothing if we use them just to get huge economic returns. If we get the management of the oceans wrong, the people of the future are going to have to pay dearly and find other ways to fix up the mess.
The way out of this is obviously going to be to use incentives: and I said to Senator Hill as he was leaving this meeting "this is going to cost you". I mean that quite seriously. There are some major transitions that have to be made in our processes and our ways of managing large natural resources like the oceans, and some of the costs of this have to be shared. The money has to be found to take people through these changes: and there are some big changes.
Cost sharing will be part of that process. I hope that the plans that emerge as a consequence will be plans that are signed off and agreed to by all involved and affected, and that they will know where you go to find out what the rules of the game are and about the things that are going to change.
My closing comment is that somehow we have to recognise that the oceans are about estuaries and about the land as well, and that managing the oceans well requires Australia to get it all right, the marine and terrestrial Australia, not just the half that I spend my time in. We are one. It is one system and we have to manage that properly and carefully with prudence and excitement.
I hope the Forum goes well.