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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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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.

The Commonwealth Coastal Policy

Commonwealth of Australia, May 1995


Management of the coastal zone is a complex task shared by many. The Commonwealth, State, Northern Territory and Local Governments all have a role to play, as does the community and industry. Significant changes in coastal management practice will require action by all governments, individually and collectively.

The Commonwealth Coastal Policy presents the Commonwealth's vision for a co-operative, integrated approach to coastal management. It provides both the means for the Commonwealth to manage its own coastal activities, and a range of initiatives whereby all Australian governments can work together to ensure best management of the coast.

This Coastal Policy is the Government's response to the Final Report of the Resource Assessment Commission (RAC) Coastal Zone Inquiry. It is a blueprint to change the way coastal areas are managed and used. In developing the policy, the Commonwealth consulted extensively with groups and individuals who have an interest in the coast.

Policies are in themselves not enough to improve the management of the coastal zone. The Commonwealth Coastal Policy also contains a package of initiatives targeted at bringing about specific improvements to the way the coast is managed and used. All of these initiatives will be cooperative efforts, involving the active participation of affected parties.

Community Participation In Coastal Management

The Government is establishing a Coastcare Program to link the widespread community interest in the coastal zone to appropriate skills, expertise and resources, thereby promoting an alliance for changing the way the coast is managed.

Coastcare will focus primarily on publicly owned or managed terrestrial and marine environments. Coastcare will complement Landcare and will come under the Landcare one-stop-shop arrangement for the lodging of project applications.

Community facilitators will be employed to support the development and implementation of projects which could, for example, protect or rehabilitate sensitive areas including dunes, estuaries and wetlands, manage or monitor coastal environments, control feral plants and animals, identify natural and cultural resources, enhance tourist and recreational opportunities, educate, and promote information exchange.

Coastcare will facilitate consultation at the local level by promoting projects which involve partnerships between the local community and the local manager, in most cases the local council. Consultation at the national level will be achieved through establishment of the National Coastal Advisory Committee. This Committee will have representation from peak national community, conservation, industry and research bodies, indigenous peoples, the National Landcare Advisory Committee and State and Local Governments.

Nearly half of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population live near the coast and have a particular association with the land and sea based on ownership, common law rights and interests, cultural and historic associations and traditional use of its resources. The Commonwealth will support a number of initiatives to promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander involvement in coastal management.

An indigenous component of Coastcare will be established to accommodate the special needs and interests of indigenous communities. Support will be provided to indigenous communities to undertake projects to record and protect cultural heritage sites, develop management strategies for land and sea areas under their control and to participate in development of management strategies in areas in which they have an interest.

The Commonwealth will also seek the preparation of an Indigenous Fisheries Strategy to improve the involvement and recognition of indigenous interests in the management of fisheries.

The Government will also establish an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Reference Group to provide advice on the development and implementation of initiatives to involve indigenous peoples in coastal resource management.

Integrated solutions to coastal management problems

The two major problems inhibiting sustainable use of the coastal zone are:

These problems are often most evident in areas experiencing rapid population growth and associated development.

Integrated strategic planning (that is, planning that takes a long term view of economic, social and environmental issues as a coherent whole) is required to overcome these problems.

The Commonwealth Coastal Policy contains a number of initiatives to assist integrated decision making and the development of long term strategic responses to coastal problems.

The centre piece of these initiatives is a program to develop integrated coastal area management strategies based on partnerships between the three spheres of government, the community and industry. The program will fund the development of strategic plans for areas of the coast experiencing pressure from competing uses. The strategies will provide a means of resolving resource and environmental conflicts and will provide a base for co-ordinating the activities of all agencies with responsibilities in the area. Key issues will be identified and a shared vision developed jointly by government, the private sector and the community.

Significant heritage areas will be identified as part of these strategic planning exercises, reflecting the Commonwealth's particular responsibility for identifying and preserving Australia's cultural heritage.

Another facet of these strategic plans will be the development of local water quality management plans. Protection of the coastal environment from water pollution is one of the major issues of concern to community and industry groups such as the fishing and tourism industries. These water quality planning projects will address pollution problems caused by sewage and stormwater run-off.

As an island nation, shipping plays a critical role in Australia's economic life. The Government is constantly working to reduce the impact of maritime activities on the environment. Examples include:

Increasing The Capacity And Knowledge Of Coastal Managers

Coastal zone managers, planners, professionals and local communities must have the skills and knowledge to deal with the dynamic and cross-sectoral nature of coastal zone problems. The capacity building initiatives aim to provide coastal managers with enhanced professional development opportunities and increased access to management information. Activities will focus on:


Conservation of the coast's rich diversity of significant areas and features, including important ecosystems, cultural and indigenous heritage sites, and spectacular landscapes, must be an integral part of any management regime. The Commonwealth Coastal Policy contains a number of conservation initiatives.

Recent technological advances have led to destaffing or decommissioning of many of Australia's lighthouses. By their very nature, lighthouses are often found in spectacular settings of high conservation value. The Commonwealth has offered surplus lighthouses to the States on condition that their heritage and environmental values are protected. This transfer will make a significant contribution to expansion of the coastal conservation estate.

In the marine environment, the national representative system of marine protected areas is being developed through the Marine Program. The Commonwealth has worked cooperatively with States and the Northern Territory conservation and fisheries agencies to identify and classify regions within their coastal waters, and enhance the development of marine protected areas in waters under their respective jurisdictions. Marine protected areas are a valuable tool for marine conservation and management, particularly for protecting biological diversity and achieving sustainable use of marine resources. Marine protected areas also support industry, recreation, tourism, education and research. The Commonwealth has established a number of marine protected areas, including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the largest marine protected area in the world and complementary Commonwealth and State Marine Protected Areas at Solitary Islands (NSW) and Ningaloo (WA).

The health of our oceans and the diversity of biological marine resources they sustain is particularly important for Australia's ecological and economic well being. In 1994, the Commonwealth established a 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), one of the largest in the world. In order to protect and promote sustainable use of our vast marine areas, the Government will develop and implement an Australian Marine Conservation Plan to insure that this area is properly managed.

The aim of the Commonwealth Coastal Policy is to promote ecologically sustainable use of Australia's coastal zone.

Specific objectives provide the focus for Commonwealth activities in the coastal zone. These objectives are:

Sustainable resource use

Resource conservation

Public participation

Knowledge and understanding

Principles guide decision making that effects the coastal zone.

These principles will help integrate Commonwealth coastal management activities and ensure more open, consistent and systematic decision making. While these are Commonwealth Objectives and Principles, the Commonwealth will encourage other coastal decision makers to use them, resulting in a much improved common understanding and purpose in coastal planning.

Improved Coordination

Effective communication is essential to improved coastal management. This will be achieved through establishment of:

The success of the Commonwealth Coastal Policy and the Coastal Action Program will depend on all Australians - government, industry, academia, community groups and individuals - acknowledging their responsibilities for the coast and working together to make the most of the opportunities the Commonwealth Coastal Policy provides.

Copies of The Commonwealth Coastal Policy and the Annexe are available through the Environmental Resources Network on their World Wide Web Server (contact: hhp://, or by calling the Community Information Unit, the Department of the Environment on toll free 1 800 803 772.