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Resource Assessment Commission Coastal Zone Inquiry - Final Report November 1993

Resource Assessment Commission, November 1993
ISBN 0 64429457

Chapter 5 A National Approach to Coastal Zone Management

5.0.1 Australia's coastal zone contains most of the nation's population, much of its economic and social activity, and many of its prized natural assets. As a consequence, sound management of the zone is of profound importance to the socio-economic development of the nation as a whole and to the maintenance of many of Australia's unique species and ecological systems.

5.0.2 Any general curtailment of development in the zone is not an option: it would have very serious implications for the Australian economy and the welfare of Australians. On the other hand, further development will increase the risk that the impacts of some resource uses will have permanent effects on the quality of those resources. The challenge is to manage resource uses in such a way that such undesirable impacts are avoided.

5.0.3 Although some changes to existing management mechanisms are occurring and will probably produce better results, there remains an urgent need to develop a set of arrangements to ensure that development in the coastal zone is ecologically sustainable. The arrangements must be able to deal, in a holistic way, with complex and diverse issues. What is required is a national approach to coastal zone management, reflecting the responsibility shared by all spheres of government.

5.0.4 Management arrangements must be integrated, so that the efforts of all parties-government and non-government-are harnessed effectively. Management should also take a long-term perspective and at the same time be flexible enough to respond to changing circumstances. In short, a national approach that is both integrated and strategic is necessary.

5.0.5 This chapter describes the conceptual basis for a national approach to resolving the problems of the coastal zone. Section 5.1 explains why a national approach is necessary, Section 5.2 outlines the nature of such an approach, Section 5.3 examines the relevance of ecologically sustainable development, Section 5.4 discusses a strategic approach to the management of natural resources, and Section 5.5 discusses integrated management.

5.1 The Need for a National Approach

5.1.1 There is widespread support for a national approach to coastal zone management. In consultation with the Inquiry many state agencies with responsibilities for coastal zone management supported the development of a national approach. Many local governments also called for a national approach (for example, City of Wanneroo, Submission 473; Sydney Coastal Councils, Submission 259; Western Australian Municipal Association, Submission 606; Brisbane City Council, Submission 511; Newcastle City Council, Submission 20; Rosedale Association, Submission 611). There was also interest from industry and conservation groups (for example, Australian Paper Manufacturers, Submission 213; Environment Management Industry Association of Australia, Submission 515; BHP, Submission 665; Australian Mining Industry Council, Submission 674; Australian Petroleum Exploration Association, Submission 709; World Wide Fund for Nature, Submission 500; Australian Conservation Foundation, Submission 301) and research organisations (for example, CSIRO Institute of Natural Resources and Environment, Submission 13).

5.1.2 A national approach to managing Australia's coastal zone resources is based on the need to:

5.1.3 Many coastal zone issues are of national significance. Analysis of the issues arising from the activities specifically mentioned in the Inquiry's terms of reference-building, tourism, mariculture and associated development-shows that there are seven major resource management problems of national ecological, social and economic significance in the coastal zone:

5.1.4 The coastal zone plays an overwhelmingly important role in the economic, social and cultural framework of Australia. Sustainable development of its resources is critical to the well-being of Australians and to the maintenance of the nation's diverse and unique ecology and species. The socio-economic development of the coastal zone is of profound importance to the nation. These are issues of national significance and of great public concern. No single sphere of government can manage the coastal zone entirely on its own.

5.1.5 Governments could, and should, respond to these issues in their own jurisdictions. If that is all that is done, though, the result would fall well short of what can be done if all governments participate in a national effort. The three spheres of government have significant and legitimate responsibilities and interests in the zone. At times, these responsibilities and interests are shared. But there are problems that are not being confronted or are being poorly handled. There are many cases when a cooperative, Australia-wide approach is necessary to find effective solutions to these problems. Intergovernmental cooperation within a national framework is necessary if these problems are to receive the attention they deserve; it will minimise duplication and overlap and ensure that public funds are used effectively and efficiently.

5.1.6 Australia has international obligations in the zone that necessitate coordination between the spheres of government. The Commonwealth Government is party to international treaties that require coordinated action from all three spheres of government. Examples are the Climate Change Convention 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity 1992, the Convention on the Continental Shelf 1958, the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural Heritage 1972, the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (the Ramsar Convention) 1971, the International Convention on Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (the London Dumping Convention) 1972, the International Convention for Prevention of Marine Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) 1973, the Torres Strait Treaty 1978, and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982.

5.1.7 A national approach is needed if the financial resources that are available to improve coastal zone management are to be channelled to places where they are needed and spent wisely. State governments are primarily responsible for managing most coastal zone resources, but they face restrictions on their capacity to devote additional resources to improve management of the coastal zone. The Commonwealth's central role in the Australian fiscal system means that it is uniquely placed to facilitate development of a nationally coordinated program involving the other spheres of government.

5.1.8 This Inquiry's call for a national approach is not new-a number of previous investigations of coastal zone management have also identified and recommended a national approach to coastal zone management (see RAC 1993k).

5.2 Nature of a National Approach

5.2.1 Many different views were expressed to the Inquiry about the nature of a national approach to coastal zone management. The coexisting yet differing responsibilities of the three spheres of government make it undesirable for the Commonwealth Government to attempt to impose a national approach. Within state governments, a number of agencies have responsibilities for management of resources in the coastal zone and in other parts of their jurisdictions, efficient and effective outcomes would not be achieved by combining these responsibilities in single agencies in each state because the agencies would be very large and cumbersome. Neither can local government's important and growing responsibilities for coastal zone management be combined in a single agency. It would therefore not be productive to try to reorganise responsibilities within the government sector in an attempt to achieve integrated management by giving all responsibilities to a few agencies.

5.2.2 In general, the national approach needs to incorporate:

5.2.3 The Inquiry has directed its attention to the nature of a national approach and ways in which such an approach can be established and implemented. It has taken into account many diverse management issues (such as those arising from oil spills from shipping); it has not focused on any specific issue, nor has it tried to devise specific solutions to the many difficulties confronting coastal zone managers. It has taken a long-term perspective and concentrated on changes required to existing management mechanisms, to ensure that current and future issues can be dealt with as part of a national, integrated and strategic management framework.

5.3 Achieving Ecologically Sustainable Development

5.3.1 Ecologically sustainable development has been adopted by Australian governments as the overall goal for the management of Australia's resources. A national approach to coastal zone management must therefore be consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development. The term 'ecologically sustainable development' is defined in such a way as to encompass the sustainability of economic development by recognising that continued economic development and improvement of the quality of life are dependent on effective management of natural resources, including the maintenance of ecosystems (see Box 5.1).

5.3.2 Because of the overwhelmingly important role of coastal zone resources in the economic, social and cultural framework of Australia, sustainable development of these resources is critical to the ell-being of Australians and to the maintenance of the nation's diverse and unique ecology and species. In the long run, failure to achieve ecologically sustainable development in the coastal zone will lead to a degraded natural environment, diminished quality of life for the majority of Australians, and constrained economic activity.

Box 5.1 Ecologically sustainable development: goal, objectives and guiding principles

The goal is:

Development that improves the total quality of life, both now and in the future, in a way that maintains the ecological processes on which life depends.

The core objectives are:

The guiding principles are:

These guiding principles and core objectives need to be considered as a package. No objective or principle should predominate over the others. A balanced approach is required that takes into account all these objectives and principles to pursue the goal of ESD.

Source: National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (1992, pp. 8-9).


5.4 A Strategic Approach

5.4.1 A strategic approach to management is a critical element of the ecologically sustainable development of Australia's coastal zone resources. Such an approach establishes clear objectives, identifies the means to achieve these objectives, and provides a means of dealing with the dynamic physical characteristics of the coastal zone as well as the many management issues arising from human activities.

5.4.2 Box 5.2 summarises the main characteristics of a strategic approach to management. Of particular importance is the need to maintain flexibility within the overall approach:

A viable strategic approach ... does not set [a] series of tightly prescribed and uniform national targets, with a single list of performance indicators. Rather the process of strategic management required for the coastal zone must be committed to a continuing exercise of negotiation and participation, and acceptance of regional variation. Its principal objective is to ensure the continued movement of the process in acceptable directions, even if not towards a predetermined end. (Davis & Weller 1993, p. 23)

Box 5.2 Main characteristics of a strategic approach to management

Strategic approaches to resource management have four main characteristics: they are action oriented; they are focused, and focused early; they are flexible and adaptive; and they are capacity building.

Action oriented

Strategic approaches to resource management are fundamentally directed towards action. Their aim is to bridge the traditional gap between planning and implementation by taking account of the needs of implementation at each stage of the process and by involving implementers fully in the process.

Focused, and focused early

Although strategic management examines the area being considered in a systematic way, it focuses keenly on key issues. Identifying these issues involves introducing the views, values and preferences not just of resource managers and other experts but also of stakeholders. This focus on key issues and involvement of stakeholders facilitates identification of a limited number of management options that appear most acceptable and most likely to achieve the stated management objectives.

Flexible and adaptive

When ends and means are ambiguous and the external environment is highly uncertain, as is the case with coastal resource management, management cannot be conducted in a rigid, predetermined sequence. It has to be an iterative, periodically adapting process that is capable of meeting emerging needs. It must also be flexible, keeping options open and being adaptive to unforeseen change.

Capacity building

Involving those responsible for successful implementation (such as line managers and decision makers) in the strategic process enables them to acquire new management skills, develop commitment to the overall management strategy, incorporate broad strategic objectives in daytoday work programs, and learn from the experiences of others.

Source: Adapted from Lang (1990).

5.4.3 Implementing a strategic approach to management of coastal zone resources requires that agreement be reached on a set of overall objectives that are shared by all parties with interests in the zone. Uniformity of the means of achieving agreed objectives is not critical. Successes and failures experienced in implementation are used to enlighten the process and enable management practices to be reviewed. Objectives and strategies are also reviewed on a continuing basis, to ensure that changing circumstances are taken into account in the revision of strategies and policies to implement them.

5.5 Integrated Resource Management

5.5.1 The management problems discussed in Chapter 4 demonstrate that attempts to deal with coastal zone issues on a sectoral basis, without regard to the consequences for other sectors, are frequently ineffective and inefficient. A holistic, long-term approach to national coastal zone issues requires that decisions about resource use be made within an integrated framework. Integration of resource management processes is thus a critical element of the ecologically sustainable development of Australia's coastal zone resources.

5.5.2 Integration of coastal zone management has four elements:

5.5.3 Integrated management does not mean abandoning management by activity or sector, nor does it mean forsaking specialised skills. It is principally about operating in a framework that, while retaining the benefits and efficiencies of sectoral management and associated expertise, brings together management of different parts of the coastal zone by ensuring that common objectives are being pursued.

5.5.4 There are many examples of the way in which integrated management can be applied. Take the reduction of water pollution. Water management agencies cannot achieve water quality objectives by themselves, even though they control sewage treatment, the pricing of water, and some catchments. Other matters outside their jurisdiction must also be addressed-such as industrial effluent, the use of fertiliser on agricultural land, discharges from boats and ships, and rubbish disposal. Reduction of water pollution frequently requires elimination or control of the source of the problem, which often lies outside the jurisdiction of the water authority; this involves making industries and individuals aware of the consequences of their actions and their responsibilities for such actions.

5.6 Conclusions

5.6.1 A national approach to the problems of Australia's coastal zone is essential for four main reasons: no single sphere of government can manage the zone alone; issues of national significance and of great public concern are involved; the socio-economic development of the coastal zone is of profound importance to the nation; and Australia has international obligations in the zone that necessitate coordination between the spheres of government.

5.6.2 Although the states may be able to manage the zone's resources independently, they cannot do this effectively and efficiently because they might pursue conflicting objectives and they might forgo the cost-reduction opportunities that will be afforded by participation in a national approach. A national approach will allow the Commonwealth to play an important role in facilitating and coordinating management while maintaining the primary role of state and local governments in managing resources within their jurisdictions.

5.6.3 A national approach will ensure that government agencies have common objectives for coastal zone management, thus minimising duplication and conflict. It will ensure more effective use of financial and human resources, by pooling experience, resources and knowledge. It will also provide a framework for national leadership and financial support and for the mobilisation of community and industry involvement throughout the coastal zone.

5.6.4 A successful national approach to the ecologically sustainable development of the coastal zone calls for wider use of strategic and integrated management approaches.

5.6.5 Rivalries between the spheres of government make achievement of a national approach to any issue a difficult task in a federated nation such as Australia. But it is a necessary task if Australia is to avoid the coastal management problems that beset other parts of the world such as the Mediterranean, the North Sea and parts of the United States.

5.6.6 Australia is one nation; it is not a loose configuration of states. It is bound by a national constitution that has as its joint aims the preservation of the rights of the states and the forging of one nation with common goals and aspirations. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and it is in the interests of the states, local government and the Commonwealth to act cooperatively to protect what is probably Australia's greatest asset-its coastal zone.