Department of the Environment

About us | Contact us | Publications

Header imagesHeader imagesHeader images



Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Resource Assessment Commission Coastal Zone Inquiry - Final Report November 1993

Resource Assessment Commission, November 1993
ISBN 0 64429457

Chapter 3 Future uses of the resources of the coastal zone

3.0.1 Current uses of the coastal zone are creating serious impacts, and Australia's future growth and development hold the prospect of even graver implications for the resources of the zone. This chapter discusses major factors that will influence growth and development and their implications for resource use and the way in which resources need to be managed in the future.

3.0.2 Section 3.1 discusses the underlying factors that will influence growth and development, particularly Australia's economic and demographic prospects. Section 3.2 discusses development prospects in the coastal zone in relation to building, tourism and mariculture. The Inquiry's conclusions about the future uses of coastal zone resources are presented in Section 3.3.

3.1 Economic, demographic and physical prospects

Economic prospects

3.1.1 The rate at which future development of Australia's coastal zone resources occurs will depend largely on the future growth of the Australian economy, which in turn will depend largely on the future growth of the international economy. The World Bank's scenarios for the world economy incorporate for major industrial countries annual growth rates of between 1.2 and 4.0 per cent; for developing countries as a whole the range is 2.9 to 6.5 per cent (World Bank 1991a).

3.1.2 A study undertaken for the Ecologically Sustainable Development Working Groups provides some quantitative estimates of future growth possibilities in the Australian economy (Adams et al. 1991). Among the study results of particular interest to this Inquiry are the findings that dwelling construction in the 1990s is likely to grow substantially, particularly in the second half of the decade, and that nondwelling construction will continue to grow at a much lower rate than general economic growth. The study also concluded that tourism-related industries, which include the provision of hotel and other accommodation as well as entertainment and leisure-related services, will grow at much the same rate as overall economic growth. Their growth rate may slow considerably after the turn of the century because of the impact on domestic tourism of measures to reduce Australia's external deficit. The depreciation of the real exchange rate for the Australian dollar assumed in the study would increase the importance of foreign tourists to the tourism industry.

3.1.3 The Inquiry has not attempted to construct detailed scenarios of future developments, but it has considered some of the broad implications of two different scenarios relating to the demand for goods and services produced in the coastal zone: one scenario assumes a high rate of economic growth and development; the other incorporates a much lower rate. Box 3.1 sketches the broad qualitative implications of these 'high growth' and 'low growth' scenarios.

Box 3.1 Some possible implications of 'high growth' and 'low growth' economic scenarios
High-growth scenario Low-growth scenario
The international economy The international economy
Moderate growth of world population
Gradual reduction of major economic imbalances
Success of Uruguay Round of trade negotiations
High rate of technological change
High growth of real GDP and per capita income
Real prices of primary products fall slowly
Absence of major political tensions Continuance of strong economic growth in east and south-east Asia Environment versus development issues settled without major tensions
Failure to curb population growth
Continuance of major economic imbalances
Failure of Uruguay Round of trade negotiations
Slow rate of technological change
Slow growth of real GDP; stagnation of real income per head
Real prices of primary products fall significantly
Continuance of major political tensions
Continued acrimony over environment versus development issues
The Australian economy The Australian economy
High growth of demand for Australian exports
Expansion of exports of manufactures and services and increasing importance of trade with Asia
Real exchange rate falls sufficiently to enable reduction in current account deficit to stabilise foreign debt/GDP ratio
Real income rises steadily
Population growth steady (say, 1 percent per annum, mainly through immigration)
Population continues to age
Substantial fall in real prices of export commodities; increasing difficulty in finding markets for other goods and services
Insufficient fall in real exchange rate to contain external debt situation
Population growth slow; immigration very restricted
Little or no increase in real income per head
Population continues to age
Possible implications for the coastal zone Possible implications for the coastal zone
Arising from increased affluence in world economy and decline in Australian dollar-further growth in number of visitors from OECD and Asian countries; further growth in demand for exports of goods produced in the coastal zone
Arising from growth of Australian population and its increasing real income-further growth of domestic tourism; further increase in number of retirees living in coastal areas
Slow growth in number of tourists from abroad
Stagnant domestic tourism
Relatively slow increase in pressure on coastal resources from tourism and other development
Limited government funds available for resource management

3.1.4 The scenarios reveal the importance of population growth rates for potential increases in demand for coastal zone resources. The overall growth of the Australian population will probably remain very dependent on the rate of economic growth, principally because population growth is heavily dependent on net migration and the level of net migration is in turn dependent on economic prospects. Variations in economic growth in Australia, and in other countries, are likely to have a marked effect on the growth in the number of visitors to the coastal zone; continuing growth in real income per head, as envisaged in the high-growth scenario, will be accompanied by high rates of growth in demand for tourism and related activities in the zone. Irrespective of variations in the rate of economic growth, patterns of population movement will continue to shape coastal settlement. As the population of Australia ages, greater numbers of retirees can be expected to want to take up residence in selected parts of the coastal zone. The population also appears to be relocating to coastal areas because costs are lower and the lifestyle is more appealing. Higher rates of growth may accelerate these trends because they will probably be accompanied by higher living costs in metropolitan areas, which will stimulate the movement of population to other coastal areas (see Box 2.3).

Demographic prospects

3.1.5 Despite uncertainties about future rates of economic and population growth, population projections can be used to consider some of the implications of growth for resource use in the coastal zone. Medium-term projections made by the Australian Bureau of Statistics are used here for this purpose.

3.1.6 Australian Bureau of Statistics population projections for the period to 2005 assume that, despite some changes in growth patterns within regions, overall population growth in the coastal zone will be approximately the same as it was in the decade from 1981 to 1991 and will be broadly concentrated in the same geographical areas. If this happens, the population of nonmetropolitan areas of the coastal zone will increase from 4.1 million to more than 5 million and will account for nearly one half of total population growth in Australia. As in the previous decade, regional projections suggest that most growth outside central metropolitan areas will occur in coastal areas of Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and Victoria (see Figure 3.1 and Table 3.1). South-east Queensland, coastal New South Wales, south-east Melbourne and the areas north and south of Perth are likely to remain the centres of population growth.

3.1.7 The ageing of the population will probably be a very important demographic change affecting the use of coastal zone resources; the proportion of the population aged over 65 years is projected to increase until at least the middle of the next century (see Table 3.2). The shift of unemployed persons and persons on social security benefits into the new growth areas of the coastal zone is also marked. These trends will have important implications for the demand for services. Providers of community and health services, transport and housing in coastal areas will therefore have to take greater account of the needs of the elderly and those dependent on social security income. This will be particularly important in many coastal urban areas that at present do not offer a number of the services available in larger cities.

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1 Projected non-metropolitan coastal zone population growth, by state, 1990-2005
Source: RAC, based on Australian Bureau of Statistics population projections.

Table 3.1 Projected change in proportion of population in the non-metropolitan coastal zone, by state, 1990-2005

(per cent)
State 1990 2005 Change 1990-2005
New South Wales 22 24 2
Victoria 13 15 2
Queensland 45 49 4
Western Australia 32 34 2
South Australia 13 11 -2
Tasmania 42 43 1
Northern Territory 68 65 -3

Source: RAC, based on Australian Bureau of Statistics population projections.

3.1.8 Further growth in tourism and associated industries will be accompanied by further increases in the workforce producing goods and services in many coastal areas. Based on developments in the last decade, it seems probable that these trends will continue, even if the overall rate of population growth is slower than it was in the 1980s.

Table 3.2 Proportion of persons aged over 65 years, 1971-91, and projections for 2001-31

Year Percentage Median age of population (years)
1971 8.3 27.5
1981 9.7 29.6
1991 11.4 32.5
2001 12.3 35.8
2011 13.8 39.1
2021 17.6 41.6
2031 21.5 43.8

Source: House of Representatives Standing Committee on Long Term Strategies (1992).

3.1.9 Since 1961 the rate of household formation in Australia has been more rapid than the rate of population growth (see Table 3.3). As a consequence, the average number of people in households has fallen considerably; for example, in New South Wales between 1971 and 1991 the average number of people in households fell from 3.09 to 2.62. The result of this was that growth in demand for new dwellings was greater than population growth. Although the rate of household formation will probably slow, it is expected to exceed population growth for at least the next decade (NHS 1992).

Table 3.3 Growth in household numbers relative to population growth, 1961-66 to 1981-86

(% p.a.)
(% p.a.)
1961-66 373.3 2.6 1091.3 2.0
1966-71 515.3 3.1 1156.1 1.9
1971-76 469.9 2.4 792.8 1.2
1976-81 528.4 2.4 1027.9 1.5
1981-86 518.5 2.1 1025.9 1.4

Source: NHS (1992).

3.1.10 Much of the supply of new housing could occur on the fringe of metropolitan areas (Berry 1992). Many of these areas are in the coastal zone, and the demand for residential land, buildings and support services in outer urban fringes near the coast will probably continue to grow at a higher rate than overall population growth. As a consequence, there will probably be further demands for development and use of sites in areas of high environmental quality. The supply of housing will depend partly on the availability of land in appropriate locations and the provision of infrastructure and other support services.

3.1.11 There is an increasing risk that the pressures arising from further development, when combined with pressures arising from current resource use by both rural and urban industries, will lead to significant impacts on the quality of resources in the coastal zone. Unless adequately managed these pressures will, in many cases, lead to deterioration in the quality of water and other important resources; as a result, the sustainability of the resource base will be further endangered. The high quality of Australia's environment, which is taken for granted by all Australians, will be lowered and Australia's current international reputation for providing high-quality tourist destinations and living conditions will be severely affected. Such an outcome would have serious implications for the future of the tourism and associated industries, as well as seriously affecting the high quality of life enjoyed by most Australians.

3.1.12 One approach to dealing with pressures arising from further development in the coastal zone would be to consider the option of restricting the growth of the population; a proposal made to the Inquiry would curtail immigration and move towards zero population growth (Haselgrove, Submission 426). But evidence establishing a simple and direct relationship between overall population growth in Australia and environmental deterioration is lacking, particularly in view of the improvements that have been achieved in reducing some types of pollution in recent years (National Population Council 1991). A recent review by the Bureau of Immigration Research notes that much of the environmental destruction that has occurred in Australia took place or was set in train during the first 150 years of European settlement, when the Australian population was far smaller than at present. Further research into the relationships between urban and rural activities and environmental effects is necessary before consideration can be given to the formulation of appropriate policies to deal with this issue (Fincher 1991). It has not been established to date that an increase in Australia's population is, in itself, the cause of degradation of the environmental amenity of the coastal zone.

3.1.13 Although no convincing case has been established for attempting to prescribe maximum population levels for Australia as a whole, it is clear that current patterns of population settlement warrant consideration when strategies are being formulated for particular regions and local areas. The so-called carrying capacity concept was developed as a technical framework in which these and related issues might be considered; it was initially applied to biological issues but later extended to encompass broader considerations that ought to be taken into account when determining the number of people that may make use of specific resources. After several decades of experience the concept has been considerably refined and can be used to assist in analysing some of the issues associated with development and conservation of resources (RAC 1993a). The relationship between resource use levels, management and impacts of use is, however, neither simple nor uniform. Use limits may be avoided or made more effective by alternative management actions such as user education, investment in user facilities, and other strategies designed to enhance the sustainability of resource use.

Community attitudes

3.1.14 The demand for residential land, buildings and support services in the outer urban fringe near the coast will probably continue at a higher rate than overall population growth. Greater environmental awareness means there will probably be continuing demand for development and use of sites in areas of high environmental quality. The coastal zone currently has many such sites and they are likely to be favoured for development. At the same time, concern for the quality of coastal environments and the demand for better management of coastal zone resources and for protection of high-quality environments will continue.

3.1.15 These underlying economic, social and demographic factors suggest that the patterns of demand for use, development and management of coastal zone resources in the next decade and beyond will be similar to those experienced in recent years.

Natural processes

3.1.16 Many Inquiry participants expressed concern that the impacts of the enhanced greenhouse effect are not adequately considered in planning and management. As described in Chapter 2, physical processes also have a significant impact on human activities in the coastal zone. Management and development of resources in the coastal zone need to take account of the potential hazards posed by natural processes, the possibility of changes induced by the enhanced greenhouse effect, and the impact of human settlement on these processes. Specific conclusions relating to research into the management of natural hazards are put forward in Chapter 14.

3.2 Prospects for Building, Tourism and Mariculture

3.2.1 Future changes in the industries that are the principal focus of this Inquiry-building, tourism and mariculture-will be closely related to both future population growth and future economic growth; they will also be affected by social, political and other changes.


3.2.2 If the number of people per household does not change substantially the number of dwellings in the coastal zone will increase at least at the same rate as the population increases; this suggests that a minimum of 400 000 dwellings may be constructed in the nonmetropolitan coastal zone in the next decade. If the ratio of dwellings to land remains the same as it has been recently (approximately 14 houses per hectare), these additional dwellings will require approximately 35 000 hectares of land.

3.2.3 The principal component of coastal zone population growth will probably continue to be rapid outer fringe metropolitan growth accompanied by some migration from inner metropolitan areas:

About 90 per cent of urban population growth will be located near and beyond the existing fringe. To achieve a significantly higher degree of containment in this time horizon [20 years] would require truly radical policy interventions ... (Berry 1992)

3.2.3 For a number of reasons it seems that the patterns of urban development that emerged in the 1980s will continue:

3.2.4 There will probably be continued emphasis on construction of low-density, detached, single-storey residential buildings in the coastal zone, although some innovative forms of housing may be introduced, with resulting changes in land use. There is considerable interest in pursuing policy and program reforms that will promote better land use and coordination of urban development within and between governments. For example, the introduction and promotion of national initiatives such as the Australian Model Code for Residential Development (Green Street Joint Venture 1990) and the Australian Model Code for Residential Development-Urban (Australian Housing Industry Development Council 1992) could lead to a trend towards housing forms that better reflect changing family structures, an ageing population and changing economic circumstances.

3.2.5 Some initiatives have been taken to change the form of new housing. For example, the Robina Central Park Estate in Albert Shire in south-east Queensland is a high-density housing estate developed by private enterprise with the support of Albert Shire, using technical and planning principles, which were developed as part of a Commonwealth-funded urban development program. Promotion and policy changes by governments and changing community attitudes and economic circumstances could lead to similar initiatives in other areas. Some higher density developments could also occur in the more expensive range of the residential market, although many such developments are designed principally to meet the needs of people wishing to stay briefly in major tourist destinations.

3.2.6 Nevertheless, the potential for extensive changes in the form and density of residential development does not appear to be great. As a consequence, the sprawling nature of much urban development in the coastal zone will probably persist for some time unless policies are introduced to encourage change.

3.2.7 In addition to the many and diverse industries already operating in both urban and rural areas of the coastal zone, many further commercial developments will probably occur in response to the demands created by increasing numbers of residents and visitors and by emerging markets for goods and services produced in the zone. Much of the growth in manufacturing employment and associated factory construction in the coastal zone in the last 15 years has been to support building and land development activities. Although there will be other reasons for development (for example, further development of natural resources, including minerals) a large part of private investment is likely to be in service and small-scale manufacturing industries that are closely associated with land and building development and tourism growth. The infrastructure required to service growing regional economies will also provide many opportunities for further investment.


3.2.8 The coastal zone will probably remain the principal focus of tourism and recreation in Australia. Current projections are that international tourism will grow more rapidly than domestic tourism in the 1990s and that the number of international visitors to Australia may exceed 5 million by the year 2001 (Chohan 1992). One projection suggests that international tourism will grow at an annual rate of about 7 per cent during the 1990s and that annual growth in domestic tourism will be around 2 to 4 per cent in the same period (Department of Tourism 1992). As pointed out in Section 3.1, the numbers of both domestic and international tourists will be heavily dependent on economic growth in Australia and abroad.

3.2.9 It is expected that the bulk of visitors to Australia will continue to visit specific major destinations in the coastal zone, including Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, the Gold Coast, the Great Barrier Reef region and other parts of north Queensland. A number of other locations will attract more affluent groups of tourists.

3.2.10 Domestic tourists will continue to make up the majority of visitors to most other coastal areas. The preferred locations for coastal tourism developments will continue to be those with desirable features (such as views and proximity to beaches and relatively unspoilt areas), those where there has already been substantial investment in facilities, and those that can offer a different 'lifestyle experience' (for example, holidays centred on 'eco-tourism' and particular activities such as golfing or fishing). Tourism developers are likely to continue to seek desirable locations in the non-metropolitan coastal zone, such as those in far north Queensland, in the Whitsunday region, in south-east Queensland, and in selected parts of the north and central coast of New South Wales. Eco-tourism opportunities will probably also lead to developments at isolated locations such as remote sites (for example, north-west Western Australia, Cape York, south-west Tasmania and parts of the Northern Territory) and islands off the Queensland coast. Many indigenous groups are showing increasing interest in providing facilities for tourists and there will probably be a substantial increase in the number of facilities provided by them.

3.2.11 Although a considerable amount of new investment in tourism is likely to occur in the coastal zone in the next decade and beyond, new investment in high-quality and expensive tourist accommodation and resort facilities is expected to be limited in the short term, mainly because of the current oversupply of these facilities and the failure of demand to grow at rates previously anticipated.

3.2.12 The decentralised nature of many tourist activities in the coastal zone means that there will be increasing demands for infrastructure to satisfy the needs of the increased number of tourists. Local governments already provide a wide range of tourism infrastructure-roads, parking, landscaping, signs, rest rooms, camp grounds, barbecue and picnic facilities, lookouts and water, sewerage and waste disposal services, and so on. Many local government authorities in rapidly growing areas are, however, having great difficulty in meeting the demand to provide these facilities:

While many local government authorities have been successful in developing the tourism potential of their areas, many do not have the resources to either plan or provide for tourism growth or take account of the broad regional impacts of development proposals. In this context, the coordination of tourism policies at the regional level is arguably one of the most important challenges facing the tourism industry. (Department of Tourism 1992, p. 5)


3.2.13 Prospects for mariculture depend on further expansion of domestic and international demand for various types of fish products. Recent reviews show that world demand for such products continues to increase and that traditional wild fisheries will not be able to satisfy the demand. Increasing demand for mariculture products is projected, but Australian producers may face growing competition from Asia and there is some doubt whether the majority of Australia's mariculture products will be price-competitive on the world market in the medium term (Treadwell et al. 1992). The best opportunities for additional production of mariculture products may lie in an expanding domestic market, particularly for off-season and high-quality products, the supply of which from wild fisheries will probably decline. Further expansion of mariculture is dependent on keeping costs at competitive levels.

3.2.14 If the mariculture industry is to grow further it will need additional areas for production. Locations for such expansion will need to provide clean water and disease-free environments that offer sufficient food sources and are not threatened by predators. In many cases locations suitable for mariculture will also be suitable for a variety of activities, such as recreational fishing and boating, other recreational water activities, commercial shipping,and traditional uses by indigenous people. Mariculture also requires foreshore land for a variety of associated facilities such as etties, sheds, pumps, waste disposal equipment and processing plants. Developments in some locations may restrict access to waterways for other users and thus result in further competition for the use of some coastal resources.

3.3 Conclusions

3.3.1 Although it is not possible to predict the rate at which development will occur in the coastal zone, a continuation of recent trends will place increasing pressure on resources in many parts of the zone, particularly those that are attractive for residential living, for meeting the growing demand for tourism opportunities, and for the further development of other industries,including mariculture.

3.3.2 Pressures will arise from further development of resources required for the expansion of agriculture, fisheries, minerals and manufacturing and from the provision of infrastructure, including transport, energy, telecommunications and other services. Coastal areas that will probably face the greatest pressure are those that have experienced the greatest growth in recent decades-south-east Queensland, coastal New South Wales, south-east Melbourne, and areas north and south of Perth.

3.3.3 The high percentage of the newly settled population in many coastal areas that is elderly or dependent on social security pensions suggests that demand for services to support their needs will increase.

3.3.4 Tourism and associated activities will probably continue to grow faster than most other activities in Australia and will probably grow faster in many coastal locations than elsewhere, specifically in the major international visitor destinations of Sydney, Brisbane, the Gold Coast, the Great Barrier Reef and north Queensland. This poses risks of environmental damage and consequent losses to the tourism industry if this growth is not managed properly.

3.3.5 Overall, building, construction and associated activities seem likely to continue to grow rapidly in many coastal areas, particularly to provide housing for further increases in population. Despite the possibility of some increase in residential densities, urban sprawl will continue in many areas unless policies are pursued to discourage or limit this type of development.

3.3.6 Further development of the mariculture industry will be largely dependent on domestic demand and will be accompanied by competition with other coastal zone users for some of the resources required for the industry's expansion.

3.3.7 The coastal zone faces a crisis that is slowly escalating-the steady spread of population into metropolitan fringes and new metropolitan settlements. The cost of providing services and infrastructure is high where the population is thinly spread. Ecologically sustainable development of the zone will require active management. The expected future patterns of population expansion mean that governments will experience increasing difficulty in managing the areas to which people are moving. There is an urgent need to rationalise the policies that determine settlement patterns.

3.3.8 Future growth and development will undoubtedly place serious pressure on coastal zone resources. Coastal zone managers need to develop the capacity to manage strategically if they are to achieve the long-term results they want, rather than be saddled with unintentional effects such as those that result from current systems of management. Growth and development require the application of carefully formulated strategic approaches.

3.3.9 Strategic approaches are essential because of the number of uncertainties that arise from natural processes, social changes, and the effects of growth in the population and in economic activity in the zone. Approaches to resource management must be sufficiently flexible to allow many possible outcomes to be taken into account when formulating management strategies. Techniques for formulating and developing strategic approaches that have been developed in the public and private sectors must be fully used.