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Resource Assessment Commission Coastal Zone Inquiry - Final Report November 1993

Resource Assessment Commission, November 1993
ISBN 0 64429457


7.01 For the National Coastal Action Program to be effective there must be national agreement about the goals and objectives for the management of Australia's coastal zone resources and the principles which will guide decisions-makers. As explained in Chapter 5, the Inquiry proposes that ecologically sustainable development be the overall goal for the management of coastal zone resources; Sections 7.2, 7.3 and 7.4 propose objectives and principles for use in achieving this goal. Section 7.5 discusses criteria that are being developed for resource management. Conclusions are reached and recommendations made in Section 7.6. Section 7.1 introduces the terminology used to discuss these matters and develops the context in which integrated management takes place.


7.02 Terms such as 'goals', 'objectives', 'principles' and 'criteria' are often used without their meanings being clarified. The following definitions are used in this report:

7.03 The philosophy underlying the goal of ecologically sustainable development requires that decision-making processes integrate economic, environmental, social, cultural and equity considerations as well as long-term and short-term interests. When management responsibility is in the hands of a number of autonomous agencies development of common objectives is a necessary foundation for integration of policies and programs. Objectives that are clear, widely understood, and mutually agreed by those responsible for their implementation are needed.

7.04 Identification of common principles to guide decision making about the use of coastal zone resources is also necessary to facilitate integration. Application of such principles may also help to reduce the number of disputes about competing uses of resources. The use of agreed principles will help to move the emphasis in coastal zone resource use debates towards explicit recognition of competing values, rather than perpetuating the current situation in which debate about the matters to be considered in decision making often obscures the central issues. When the principles on which decisions are based are made public, the decision-making process is more transparent, consistent and systematic, and the scope for abuse of discretionary power by decision makers is limited.

7.05 Some principles for guiding decision making currently exist within the three spheres of government. Typically, they are contained in policy documents and are presented as policy guidelines rather than explicit statements of principle. Examples are the principles of ecologically sustainable development contained in the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (1992) and coastal management guidelines included in coastal policies developed by state governments (see RAC 1993e). These principles provide some assistance to management; often, however, they need to be more explicit, have a wider perspective, and be given greater status in the decision-making process.

7.06 The Inquiry has developed objectives and principles for the management of Australia's coastal zone based on existing documents and consultations with coastal zone managers. If these objectives and principles are to be effective it is essential that they be agreed upon by those involved in their implementation. To achieve this, the Inquiry discussed its proposed objectives and principles with a wide range of stakeholders-representatives of state, local and Commonwealth governments and the community, including the indigenous community and conservation and industry groups.

7.07 The concept of national objectives and principles for coastal zone management was endorsed by all major Inquiry stakeholders. The objectives and principles put forward in Sections 7.2, 7.3 and 7.4 constitute a synthesis of the views expressed and are largely agreed by major stakeholders; the Inquiry is therefore confident that its proposed objectives and principles have considerable support.

7.08 The objectives and principles that have been developed are intended to be comprehensive. When using them in a particular case, decision-makers will need to exercise judgment about which specific objectives and principles are relevant to the case under consideration and how competing principles should be applied. 'Trade-offs' among the objectives and principles will be necessary. Various frameworks have been developed to enable decision makers to make these judgments in a systematic manner (see RAC 1992c).

7.09 If a national approach to coastal zone management is to be achieved it will be necessary for all spheres of government to establish management objectives and principles that reflect their particular circumstances and responsibilities while remaining consistent with those agreed at a national level. It is recognised that detailed local and regional objectives will often be necessary to provide realistic operational targets for on-the-ground coastal managers, and that criteria consistent with the national principles will need to be developed for use in managing specific resources.


7.10 The Inquiry proposes that the nine objectives that follow be endorsed as the common objectives of the National Coastal Action Program. The objectives are consistent with those agreed to by Australian governments for achieving ecologically sustainable development (National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development 1992). It should be noted that terms such as 'use' and 'development' in this report include within their meaning the use of resources for conservation purposes.

Sustainable resource use

Objective 1

7.11 Coastal zone resources should be available for fair and equitable public and commercial use so that their use optimises the long-term benefits to be derived by the community.

Objective 2

7.12 Consequences arising from the highly dynamic nature of coastal environments should be recognised and acted upon; this includes taking into account fluctuations in sea level and climate, impacts associated with storm events, changes in shoreline position, and species mobility within coastal ecosystems.

Objective 3

7.13 Adequate and appropriate public access to the coast should be maintained, so that a range of recreation opportunities can be enjoyed, consistent with these objectives. In some cases management of public access will be required to protect coastal resources and public safety.

Resource conservation

Objective 4

7.14 Areas and features of significant ecological, physical, cultural, indigenous, historic, landscape and scientific importance should be conserved and managed so that their values are maintained.

Objective 5

7.15 The biological diversity of marine and terrestrial ecosystems and natural processes within coastal biophysical regions should be maintained for future generations. Where environmental qualities have been degraded remedial action should be taken to restore these qualities.

Objective 6

7.16 The quality of coastal waters should be maintained or restored, to the extent that there is no significant detrimental impact on the integrity of coastal ecosystems and their ability to support a range of beneficial uses.

Public participation

Objective 7

7.17 Informed, public participation in open, consultative processes dealing with management of coastal resources should be ensured. Arrangements for attempting to resolve competing demands or aspirations should be established.

Objective 8

7.18 Indigenous interests in the coastal zone should be recognised and incorporated into management arrangements.

Knowledge and understanding

Objective 9

7.19 Understanding of coastal zone ecosystems and natural processes and the effects on them of human activities should be enhanced and incorporated in decision making. This enhanced understanding should also be reflected in the skills of coastal zone managers.


7.20 The general principles proposed in this section are designed to assist decision making for natural resource use and management. They apply whenever the goal is to achieve ecologically sustainable development through an integrated approach to resource management; they are not confined to coastal zone resource management.

Integrated assessment and decision making

Principle 1

7.21 The economic, environmental, social and cultural values of resources should be identified and the effects of uses on those values should be determined as far as practicable before decisions about resource uses are made.

Principle 2

7.22 The impacts of resource uses at local, regional, national and global scales should be assessed and taken into consideration before decisions are made about the use of specific resources. Such assessment should take into account long-term impacts on the resource itself and on other resources and other users. As far as practicable, negative effects of resource use should be minimised.

Principle 3

7.23 Resource uses should be monitored to ensure that impact assessments are correct. If impacts differ significantly from those predicted then remedial actions, including reviewing the resource allocation, should be undertaken.

Principle 4

7.24 Cumulative impacts should be taken into consideration before decisions are made about the use of resources. As far as practicable, cumulative impacts that have net negative effects should be avoided. It is also necessary to guard against unintended negative impacts of numerous small decisions.

Principle 5

7.25 Alternative uses of resources and opportunities for multiple or sequential use should be considered before allocation decisions are made. Resources should be used sequentially only when one use will not significantly diminish a resource's value for subsequent uses. When this is not possible resources should be allocated to competing uses so that the greatest range of beneficial uses is satisfied while minimising conflict between uses. At times it may be necessary to use areas for a single purpose or a restricted number of purposes.

Implementing the precautionary approach

Principle 6

7.26 If there is a high risk of serious or irreversible adverse impacts resulting from the use of a resource, the use should be permitted only if those impacts can be mitigated or there are overwhelming grounds for proceeding in the national interest.

Principle 7

7.27 If a resource use is assessed as having a low risk of causing serious or irreversible adverse impacts, or if there is insufficient information with which to assess fully and with certainty the magnitude and nature of impacts, decision making should proceed in a conservative and cautious manner. The absence of scientific certainty should not be a reason for postponing measures to prevent or mitigate negative impacts.

Principle 8

7.28 Areas remaining in or near their natural state should be developed for uses that diminish their value only if development would provide considerable public benefit and no other viable alternative exists. This will assist in conserving natural ecosystems, biodiversity and the natural processes upon which life depends for future generations.

Allocation of costs and benefits

Principle 9

7.29 Resources should be allocated to the use with the greatest long-term community benefit, where benefit is determined by taking economic, environmental, social and cultural considerations into account.

Principle 10

7.30 Prices charged for access to public resources should reflect all short-term and long-term economic, environmental and social costs directly associated with use of those resources. If it is not possible to estimate these costs their existence and relative importance should be taken into account before decisions are made about resource uses. In addition, economic instruments should be applied equitably across all sectors of society.

Principle 11

7.31 Thecosts arising directly from use of a resource-such as costs of repair and rehabilitation of environmental damage, abatement of pollution, and the provision of infrastructure-should be borne by users, rather than by society as a whole.

Public participation

Principle 12

7.32 Effective and high-quality public consultation and participation should be encouraged before decisions are made. For the participation to be effective, the public requires sufficient information and opportunity to be informed about alternative resource uses and the benefits and losses associated with them. Processes for deciding about resource allocation and management should be open and publicly documented to allow for scrutiny.

Principle 13

7.33 The interests of Australia's indigenous people should be recognised and incorporated in resource use decision making. This requires, among other things, effective protection of cultural and intellectual property; participation in the management of resources in which people have traditional interests; recognition of traditional rights to hunt, gather and fish, consistent with conservation objectives; and conservation of the resources upon which these activities are based.

Principle 14

7.34 Resource management objectives, the principles guiding decision makers, and the criteria drawn from the principles should be publicly reviewed at regular intervals. In addition, all significant policy instruments and new management programs should be subject to analysis of their potential costs and benefits, and the analysis should be made public. Options that are shown initially or in practice to impose a net cost should be modified or abandoned.


7.35 The principles that follow have particular application in coastal zone management because of the characteristics of resources in the zone.

Conservation of resources

Principle 15

7.36 The interdependence of terrestrial and marine systems and the need to conserve their biological diversity and natural processes must be taken into consideration in the use and management of coastal zone resources. Steps should be taken to ensure that the diversity of coastal biophysical regions is maintained.

Principle 16

7.37 The desirability of maintaining natural habitats and sites of ecological, cultural, archaeological, historic and scientific significance should be taken into account. In particular, heritage and cultural resources should be assessed for significance within an agreed framework.

Principle 17

7.38 Natural physical and biological processes should be safeguarded. Development should take account of natural coastal processes and be located so as to disrupt or be affected by these processes as little as possible. When the disruption of natural processes is unavoidable-for example, if it is necessary to build a port-every attempt should be made to limit the disruption and the impact on adjoining coastal areas.

Principle 18

7.39 The landscape quality of coastal areas should be assessed. Resource uses in the coastal zone should not have significant adverse long-term effects on landscape or visual character unless the change induced is consistent with the management objectives for the region or local area.

Community involvement in management

Principle 19

7.40 Local communities should be encouraged to share responsibility for management of local coastal zone resources and to participate in forums to determine management strategies at local and regional levels.

Sustainable use

Principle 20

7.41 Access to coastal zone resources for development purposes should be facilitated when the development is consistent with agreed principles for coastal zone resource use. The degree to which an activity is dependent on being located in the coastal zone should be taken into account when resources are being allocated. Priority should be given to uses that are particularly dependent on coastal locations or coastal resources.

Principle 21

7.42 Public access to the coast, including beach, foreshore and marine areas, should be maintained for recreation and other public activities. The extent, location and type of access may, however, need to be controlled to mitigate adverse effects of this access, to resolve incompatible uses, or in the interest of public safety.

Principle 22

7.43 The disposal of waste, particularly into rivers, estuaries and the ocean, should be limited to the quantity and quality that the receiving environment can assimilate without suffering long-term degradation. If the assimilative capacity is unknown, pollution discharges should be progressively reduced to levels at which there is a low probability of adverse impacts on the receiving environment beyond the mixing zone.

Principle 23

7.44 Urban development should occur in accordance with predetermined urban and coastal zone management objectives for each area. Incremental linear sprawl of coastal towns should be discouraged.

Principle 24

7.45 As a general rule, the cost of development in coastal areas-including infrastructure costs, the costs of environmental management and monitoring, and the costs of managing natural hazards-should be borne by development proponents and ultimately by users. It should not be a burden to present or future communities. If a direct benefit accrues to the community as a result of a development it is reasonable that costs be apportioned between the developer and the community in accordance with the distribution of benefits.

Principle 25

7.46 When developments in the coastal zone will result in increased recreation use, it is necessary to assess the hazards that might affect the users and develop facilities required to manage the increased use. The costs of the assessment, and of providing facilities, should be borne by the development proponent. Comprehensive arrangements should be established to meet the continuing costs of management and maintenance.

Principle 26

7.47 Resource uses that meet national, regional and local coastal zone management objectives should be permitted. Relevant governments should ensure that coastal zone management objectives and decision-making criteria are consistent with agreed national objectives and principles. These objectives and criteria should be developed in consultation with community and industry groups and other spheres of government that have an interest in the resources of each coastal area.


7.48 The principles proposed in sections 7.3 and 7.4 can be used in making decisions related to the use of coastal zone resources. Efficient decision making requires the development of decision-making criteria that are consistent with these principles and that provide specific guidance to resource managers and agencies responsible for managing coastal zone resources. Criteria can provide more precise guidance for the use and management of particular classes of resources or commonly occurring situations.

7.49 Criteria can be used to clarify the meaning of concepts embodied in the principles. For example, criteria can be developed to help define the concept of 'a site of scientific significance' (see Principle 16) or they can be specified in ways that establish quantitative standards, such as acceptable levels of pollutants in water or the density of urban development.

7.50 Application of criteria is a critical component of efficient management; the criteria must be based upon sound knowledge of the physical, social, cultural and economic factors associated with particular resource uses. In some cases it may be necessary to establish national criteria; in others it is necessary to take account of conditions in the area in which the criteria are to have effect. When developing criteria, it is necessary that there be consultation with the communities and managers who will be required to implement the criteria and the resource users who will be required to comply with them. The fact that criteria are a critical element in making decisions about the use of coastal resources means that they must be relevant to the management of particular areas and be based on sound assessment of causal factors. Distortions can arise from the rigid application of inappropriate criteria.

7.51 Many criteria are already applied to the development and use of coastal zone resources in Australia. They have been specified for a range of activities particularly at state, regional and local scales. The types of criteria vary from general qualitative guidelines to very specific quantitative standards. Typically, these criteria have been established for particular purposes and have not been formulated in an integrated way.

7.52 In addition to criteria that have been explicitly stated in management or policy documents, many implicit criteria are applied by decision makers to decisions about coastal resource use. These may be either implied from more general policy statements or they are derived from 'professional judgments' made by the decision makers. These implicit criteria should be stated explicitly. Their identification and clarification will improve decision making by increasing certainty and clarity.

Current initiatives

7.53 A number of national programs are currently producing guidelines for the development of criteria to be applied to particular sectors of resource management. In 1992 Australian governments agreed under the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment to establish a ministerial council, the National Environment Protection Agency, to determine whether to adopt national standards, guidelines or goals for environment protection and to consider the most effective means to achieve national environmental outcomes. Standards, guidelines or goals adopted by the Agency are to be interpreted and applied in accordance with protocols agreed by the participating governments. The Commonwealth, states and territories will be responsible for the attainment and maintenance of and compliance with agreed national standards, goals and guidelines, through their respective environment protection agencies. Once established, the National Environmental Protection Agency will have the potential to play a significant role in the establishment of national environmental guidelines that will contribute to improved management of coastal zone resources.

7.54 The water quality guidelines being developed as part of the proposed National Water Quality Management Strategy will play an important role in the future management of coastal zone resources. The Strategy is being developed by the Australian Water Resources Council (to be incorporated in the Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand) and the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council. It is anticipated that this process will be completed in 1994. It has been agreed to pursue the sustainable use of the nation's water resources by protecting and enhancing water quality while maintaining economic and social development. The Strategy will provide broad national guidelines that can be translated into site-specific criteria based on local characteristics. These criteria can be incorporated in catchment management plans and policies. The draft strategy explicitly states that the guidelines are not intended to be applied uniformly across Australia and that they must be responsive to local circumstances. The guidelines are intended to form long-term goals for water quality management, which can be updated and revised as more information becomes available or as circumstances change (ANZECC 1992a).

7.55 National criteria have been established for some matters of relevance to coastal zone management. For example, the Australian Heritage Commission has established a number of criteria for identifying places of heritage significance for inclusion on the Register of the National Estate (see Box 7.1).

7.56 Another example is the Australian Model Code for Residential Development, which contains performance criteria that are mostly qualitative, although some quantitative criteria are included. The Code has been established to encourage 'best practice' in residential subdivisions and as such is a guideline document, requiring adoption by individual state and local governments before it can come into effect.

Box 7.1 Australian Heritage Commission criteria for the identification of places of heritage significance

The following are examples of the criteria used by the Australian Heritage Commission to identify places of heritage significance for inclusion on the Register of the National Estate. The significance or other special value of a place is established in relation to the following.

Criterion A: its importance in the course, or pattern, of Australia's natural or cultural history;
A.1 Importance in the evolution of Australian flora, fauna, landscapes or climate.
A.2 Importance in maintaining existing processes or natural systems at the regional or national scale.
A.3 Importance in exhibiting unusual richness or diversity of flora, fauna, landscapes or cultural features.
A.4 Importance for association with events, developments or cultural phases which have had a significant role in the human occupation and evolution of the nation, state, region or community.

Criterion C: its potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of Australia's natural or cultural history;
C.1 Importance for information contributing to a wider understanding of Australian natural history, by virtue of its use as a research site, teaching site, type locality, reference or benchmark site.
C.2 Importance for information contributing to a wider understanding of the history of human occupation of Australia.

Criterion G: its strong or special associations with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons;
G.1 Importance as a place highly valued by a community for reasons of religious, spiritual, symbolic, cultural, educational, or social associations.

Source: Australian Heritage Commission (Submission 340).

7.57 The final report of the Ecologically Sustainable Development Working Group on Tourism (1991b) identified the actions required to ensure that tourism development proceeds in a sustainable manner. The Working Group did not specify detailed criteria for application in particular cases, but it recommended that the tourism industry continue the process of developing, implementing and reviewing codes of environmental practice to ensure that the industry is ecologically sustainable. In this respect the Australian Tourism Industry Association has produced a booklet of environmental guidelines for tourist developments (ATIA 1990). Although the booklet does not present a set of criteria applicable to tourist development proposals, it does present a checklist of issues and factors that should be taken into account by proponents when designing and implementing projects; these could form the basis for the development of criteria at a regional or local level.

7.58 The Australian and New Zealand Fisheries and Aquaculture Council has developed a draft National Strategy on Aquaculture for the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture (ANZFAC 1992a). The draft has been prepared in response to the growing potential of the industry and agreement is expected in late 1994. Proposed strategies, goals and actions are described in the draft, but specific criteria to be applied to specific developments are not incorporated.

7.59 Criteria are also specified by state and local governments for various activities, such as the 'setback' for new developments along the coast. Box 7.2 details the criteria set for this purpose in each state. This example demonstrates the way in which local considerations affect the derivation of criteria associated with particular aspects of development.

Box 7.2 Coastal setback criteria developed by state governments

State governments have developed criteria to regulate how far development must be set back from the shoreline. These criteria may be summarised as follows.

New South Wales

There are no state building setback restrictions or criteria in New South Wales, although the Coastline Management Manual provides advice to local councils on determining setbacks. It suggests, as an absolute minimum, that between the current shoreline and the 50 year erosion line (based on continuation of existing erosion rates over 50 years) no development should occur, unless the structures may be moved inland when erosion advances to within 50 metres of the buildings. It is, however, stated that it is preferable to calculate the setback based on 100 years of projected erosion.


In Queensland the coastal setback is set at the level of anticipated long-term erosion over 50 years plus an allowance for potential cyclone erosion, erosion due to greenhouse-induced sea-level rise and an allowance for slumping of the erosion scarp. An additional allowance is added to ensure that development is located landward of the area of potential flooding caused by a 'one in 20 year' wave. This total is multiplied by a safety factor of 1.4 to ensure a nominal foredune exists should these events occur.

South Australia

South Australian government policy on setbacks is that no development is allowed on sand dunes or soft erodable coastal cliffs. Additionally, the setback must take account of 100 years of erosion and sea-level rise of 0.3 metres by the year 2050. Developers must show coastal protection works that would be undertaken if the level of erosion or sea-level rise was greater than anticipated. Major developments must be based on 200-year projections.


Development on land below 4 metres AHD (Australian height datum) in the Tamar Estuary and below 3 metres elsewhere in Tasmania should either be deferred or take account of erosion in view of storm surge and greenhouse-induced sea-level rise.


Victorian government policy is that development in fragile or unstable areas will generally be prohibited.

Western Australia

The Western Australian Government does not permit development along the coast within 100 metres of the shore. Additionally, areas susceptible to erosion are subject to a further setback based on the annual net erosion rate multiplied by 100 years. The total setback is measured from the line of permanent vegetation at the foot of the foredune. In estuarine areas the setback is set at a level higher than the expected peak level of water during a flood with the probability of 1:100.

Source: New South Wales Government (1990), South Australian Coast Protection Board (1991),
Western Australian State Planning Commission (1987), Victorian Ministry for Planning and
Environment (1991), Institution of Engineers Australia (1992).

7.60 It is clear from this assessment that there is a considerable number of government programs that have the potential to identify criteria for application to aspects of coastal zone management. It is essential that existing criteria be reviewed, and that new criteria developed for the management of coastal zone resources are consistent with the principles of the National Coastal Action Program.


7.61 Common objectives and principles are key tools of the National Coastal Action Program and will help achieve integration of the management of coastal zone resources.

7.62 The objectives and principles proposed by the Inquiry have been negotiated with all major stakeholders and represent a consensus in the community. They provide a strong basis for developing national coastal zone objectives and principles to which all spheres of government can agree.

R.02 The Inquiry recommends that

the Council of Australian Governments agree to and adopt the national objectives and principles for coastal zone management proposed by the Inquiry.

7.63 If common objectives are to be achieved it will be necessary for all spheres of government to establish more detailed local and regional objectives that are consistent with the national objectives and that reflect each sphere's responsibilities in the coastal zone.

R.03 The Inquiry recommends that

all governments with coastal zone responsibilities develop local and regional coastal zone management objectives that are consistent with the agreed national objectives and that provide firm guidelines for integrated management of resources within each government's jurisdiction.

7.64 Criteria to be used in the management of particular resources in the coastal zone at a national level are being developed by a number of ministerial councils and government agencies. It is essential that these criteria be consistent with the objectives for resource use and management incorporated in the National Coastal Action Program.

R.04 The Inquiry recommends that

ministerial councils and government agencies preparing national criteria for management of resources in the coastal zone ensure that those criteria are consistent with the principles of the National Coastal Action Program.

7.65 Criteria should be developed by state and local governments to apply to the management of specific coastal zone resources.

R.05 The Inquiry recommends that

all spheres of government review existing criteria to ensure that they are consistent with the principles put forward in the National Coastal Action Program;

state, regional and local criteria consistent with the national principles be developed for specific uses of the resources of the coastal zone.