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Reviews and recommendations

A report commissioned by Environment Australia October 1997
Leon P. Zann and Owen Earley Centre for Coastal Management Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW

Commonwealth of Australia

Introduction

The Commonwealth Government is committed to developing a comprehensive and integrated Oceans Policy for Australia under Coasts and Clean Seas. The Oceans Policy will provide the strategic framework for the planning, management and ecologically sustainable development of our fisheries, shipping, petroleum, gas and seabed resources, while ensuring the conservation and protection of our marine environment. The Policy will be designed to complement existing and planned programs and policies, for example, the Commonwealth Coastal Policy; the National Strategy on Ecologically Sustainable Development; the National Biodiversity Strategy; and the Marine Science and Technology Plan (currently under preparation). Environment Australia has the lead for development of the Oceans Policy.

Australia's coastal and marine resources are vast. The coastline of the mainland and major islands is almost 70 000 km in length. Its 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is around 11 million square km in area (much larger than the land area) & is one of the largest EEZs in the world. Australia's ocean domain contains a unique biodiversity. It has the largest area of coral reefs and tropical and temperate seagrass of any nation, and has the last secure populations of many globally endangered species. The ocean also provides the basis for many important industries and is the focus for the recreation and enjoyment of many Australians. Over 85% of the population live in the coastal zone and 26% reside within three kilometres of the sea. However, despite the large size of Australia's coastline and its EEZ, there have been intense pressures on much of its coastal and marine environments.

1.1 Past inquiries and reports on the coastal and marine environment

Growing concerns over the past decade about unsustainable use of Australia's coastal and marine resources have resulted in many inquiries and reports by governments and the private sector. The Resource Assessment Commission (RAC) in 1993 found that there had been around 30 previous government inquiries or reports on coastal and marine environmental issues and that many of these were duplicatory in nature. Since then there have been another 25 comprehensive reports on coastal and marine management issues by Commonwealth agencies and national non-government organisations (NGOs), and innumerable other reports by other spheres of government and NGOs on specific issues and areas. Although there is considerable duplication in these reports, they do provide many findings and recommendations relevant to the development of an Oceans Policy.

1.2 A review of reviews

To provide background information for the Oceans Policy Forum, this review summarises the major findings of recent inquiries and reports that may be relevant to the development of the Oceans Policy. A total of 34 reports undertaken on national coastal and marine issues since 1989 were consulted. Of these 10 were considered very relevant; 16 were generally relevant; and eight were relevant to specific areas or issues. These reports discuss many thousands of issues and contain over 800 recommendations. As it is not possible to examine these individually in this review, recommendations were classified into different categories relevant to Oceans Policy. Only the higher priority and nationally focused recommendations are presented in detail.

As the recommendations from the inquiries and reports cover a very broad range of subjects, Section 2. summarises the findings and key recommendations in broad categories that may be relevant to Oceans Policy. Section 3. examines the recommendations more systematically and links key recommendations to the eight general themes identified by Environment Australia as relevant to Oceans Policy development. Section 4. summarises the contents of the 26 main reports consulted; identifies the recommendations that may be relevant to the development of Oceans Policy; and gives the formal response by government to the commissioned reports. The full texts of all recommendations and the status of reports are presented in an electronic database available from Environment Australia on the ERIN (Environmental Resources Information Network).

2. Overview of recommendations relevant to oceans policy

The 34 reports reviewed in this survey contained 809 recommendations relating to the marine environment. The recommendations were entered into an electronic database and searches were made by topics (using key words) that may be relevant to an Oceans Policy. The number of recommendations relating to each topic provide an indication of its possible importance.

2.1 Main categories addressed in reports

The main categories of recommendations (and the number of individual recommendations in each category) related to:

2.2 Topics relevant to oceans policy

The recommendations covered a very wide range of topics or themes, many of which are relevant to the Oceans Policy. The following themes were mentioned most frequently in the recommendations:

2.3 Oceans policy: content and institutional arrangements

Development of a national oceans policy was recommended in four of the inquiries and its lack was noted as a major issue in the two state of the environment reports. However, the need for a strategic, coordinated approach to planning, the most frequent recommendation in planning and management, relies on an underpinning, national policy.

While few reports explicitly addressed the content of an oceans policy, it is apparent that the recurrent themes contained in the recommendations (above) should be considered in the development of Australia's Oceans Policy:

Many inquiries recommended improvement of the current institutional arrangements for coastal and marine environmental management to overcome jurisdictional problems (e.g. through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) . The recent ‘Inquiry on Marine Pollution' by the Senate Environment, Recreation, Communications and the Arts References Committee (October 1997) specifically considered institutional arrangements for the implementation of the Oceans Policy. The paramount recommendation (of 29) was that ‘... the Government consider the establishment of a central authority to coordinate coastal and marine affairs. Such an authority would consult with all spheres of government to facilitate the development of coherent policies across different jurisdictions for the management of Australia's coasts and oceans and of activities that affect Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone, including consideration of land-based issues' (p xi).

2.4 Conclusions

While many inquiries and reports have been undertaken on management of Australia's coastal and marine environments, this review indicates that many of these were undertaken independently of previous inquiries and in an ad hoc manner; they were often overlapping in terms-of-reference, content and findings; and the findings are scattered and often difficult to access. Many of the recommendations were also very general or vague in nature and provided little guidance for their implementation, and many were not addressed to a particular agency for specific actions. When responsible agencies were approached to determine if the reports' findings had been implemented, it was found that often there had been no formal record of the response to specific recommendations.

The large number of reports and inquiries undertaken on Australia's coastal and marine environments indicates the severity of the problems, their interconnectedness and the number of different agencies involved in management. It is also symptomatic of the overlap of administrative boundaries, lack of coordination and lack of resources for ocean management, and particularly the need for a coherent national oceans policy. Community opinion has become cynical about the continuing inquiries and reports, and lack of positive action in coastal and marine environmental management.

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