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Resource Assessment Commission Coastal Zone Inquiry - Final Report November 1993

Resource Assessment Commission, November 1993
ISBN 0 64429457

Chapter 2 Resources, Values and Uses of the Coastal Zone - continued

2.3 Resource uses and development

2.3.0 The resources of Australia's coastal zone are subject to an enormous range of uses; the principal uses are discussed in detail in Information Paper No. 3 (RAC 1993m). Among these uses are the following:

2.3.1 Many resources are contained in national parks, reserves and other protected areas in such a way that they remain available for use by present and future generations. These uses are described in Section 2.4.

2.3.2 Particular areas of the coastal zone may be subject to one or more uses at any time, and the range of uses can change over time. The suitability of an area for particular uses and activities depends on a number of biophysical, socio-economic and regulatory factors.

2.3.3 The socio-economic factors that influence the suitability of an area for particular uses and activities are specific locational characteristics such as proximity to high-quality living environments, access by business to markets, and the availability of infrastructure (such as roads, water, ports, airports and telecommunications). Technological and economic factors such as access to labour and materials are important, as are opportunities for investment. In addition, there is a range of attitudes and values in the community about how the resources of the coastal zone should be used.

2.3.4 Finally, the suitability of an area for a particular use can be influenced by regulations and laws, which impose restrictions on what may be done. They include rights of use and access to property, and planning and development controls.

Population growth

2.3.5 In the last two decades, the populations of non-metropolitan coastal cities and towns have grown at a faster rate than those of capital cities and major industrial centres. This is producing a new pattern of urban settlement in Australia that has two particular characteristics: expansion of outer-fringe metropolitan areas of the major capital cities or urban growth in regions that are developing as satellites of major cities. In some places the two phenomena merge.

2.3.6 Very rapid population growth occurred between 1971 and 1991, especially in parts of the coastal zone in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia (see Figure 2.3). Between 1983 and 1991, 401 000 dwelling units were constructed in the non-metropolitan coastal zone; this represents approximately 50 000 dwelling units per year, or approximately 35 per cent of dwelling construction in Australia in that period. If dwelling construction in the metropolitan coastal area is included, approximately 90 per cent of all building activity in Australia between 1983 and 1991 took place in the coastal zone.

Figure 2.3

Figure 2.3 State and non-metropolitan coastal zone population growth, 1971-91

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

2.3.7 Most of the population growth and associated human settlement in nonmetropolitan areas has been concentrated in relatively few regions. Figure 2.4 shows the location of the top 10 non-metropolitan regions in terms of combined population growth and building development from 1971 to 1991. Seven of the top 10 regions are in southeast Queensland and in New South Wales between the Illawarra region and the Queensland border.

Building development

2.3.8 The coastal zone is the focus for much of Australia's building activity. This activity takes many forms: residential subdivision development; commercial development; construction of roads and other infrastructure (such as water and sewerage services); development of recreation facilities and public amenities; tourist developments such as marinas and hotels; coastal protection works; and so on.

Figure 2.4

Figure 2.4 Coastal growth regions, 1971-91
Note: Capital city growth is excluded. Source: RAC (1993b).

2.3.9 The building industry contributes significantly to the Australian economy. In 1991-92 it accounted for 14 per cent of Australia's gross domestic product and employed 8 per cent of the workforce. It consists of a variety of types of businesses from individual operators and small owner-operated enterprises to large national companies. It is a volatile industry and its activity fluctuates widely as part of the cyclical variations in the Australian economy. In Australia an extremely high proportion of building and supporting industrial activity occurs in the coastal zone.

Urban development

2.3.10 As a consequence of rapid population growth in many coastal cities and towns there has been a significant expansion of urban development into areas that were formally dominated by rural activities. This urban expansion can be classified into two main categories. One consists of the spread of new residential and associated commercial developments around the perimeter of established towns and cities. These developments are typically suburban in character and frequently made up of 'standard' residential buildings. In many cases such developments are occupied by people wishing to live permanently in the area. In some cases, these developments serve mainly as holiday centres. The other category of urban expansion is the development of larger lots for semi-rural uses, mainly in the hinterlands of coastal cities and towns. This type of development is associated with a wide range of uses, from predominantly residential activities on larger-than-normal lots to 'hobby farm' activities on lots of up to 20 or more hectares.

2.3.11 Urbanisation has profound effects on many important coastal zone resources. It can result in the pollution of coastal waters by stormwater run-off and effluent disposal, degradation of beaches and other natural environments from improper or excessive use, a reduction in the area of bushland, wetlands and agricultural land, and habitat depletion.

2.3.12 Many of these impacts arise from urban lifestyles. When many urban settlements were originally established, very little consideration was given to the impact that urban living would have on the surrounding environment. Consequently, many urban stormwater and sewage systems discharge directly into coastal rivers and coastal waters, little thought having been given to the effects of such discharges on receiving waters. In addition, many areas surrounding large population centres have become over-exploited as people pursue their personal recreation activities.

2.3.13 Nationally the pattern of movement appears to be that 15-24-year-olds and people arriving from overseas are moving to central cities while all other groups are moving outwards. Small numbers of employed people are moving to central cities, but there is a much larger movement of unemployed people to coastal regions (Flood 1992). The details of the patterns of movement vary. In some areas those who relocate are predominantly elderly retirees, as on the Mornington Peninsula of Victoria. In other areas, such as the South and East Moreton region in Queensland, there is more a mix of employed, unemployed and those defined as not in the labour force (retirees and pensioners). A number of factors appear to be influencing this movement of people - see Box 2.3. Research suggests that the patterns of population movement in Australia do not confirm the standard model of population movement being determined by location of employment (Flood 1992). An active choice by those not in the workforce to live in a particular area seems now to be at least as important, as employment opportunities.

Box 2.3 Factors contributing to the development of the coastal zone

Cost factors
The outer fringes of Australia's metropolitan areas often provide the cheapest option for people wishing to buy a house. Many of these fringe areas are in the coastal zone; examples are south-east Melbourne, the Gosford-Wyong area in New South Wales, south-east Queensland, and the areas north and south of Perth.

Changes in social values and increasing mobility
In the past few decades society has begun to place greater emphasis on access to healthy environments and opportunities for recreation and leisure.

Planned decentralisation
All state governments have attempted to achieve some relocation of jobs and economic activity away from major cities. This has resulted in the planned relocation of some public sector activities, in many cases to other parts of the coastal zone.

Structural changes in the Australian economy
Moves away from investment in labour-intensive manufacturing and the declining viability of some agricultural activities have led to investment in real estate and other economic activities such as tourism. Non-metropolitan coastal zone locations provide significant opportunities for much of this investment, and the potential for high rates of return from both land and building development.

Structural changes in the labour force
These include the growth in service employment at the expense of manufacturing employment and increasing disposable income at the family level. Such changes often favour coastal zone locations and provide opportunities for migration to coastal centres.

An ageing population
There is a trend for people to retire earlier and to relocate after retirement, and many choose to move from older metropolitan areas to growing coastal regions. For example, Hervey Bay in Queensland and Coffs Harbour in New South Wales both have relatively high proportions of their population in the age group over 55 years.

Other economic factors
The provision of infrastructure, particularly roads, railways and airports, and development associated with the growth in tourism have been major factors influencing the development of many areas.

2.3.14 The trend towards increasing settlement in non-metropolitan coastal areas has substantial economic, social and environmental effects. A large group of people on fixed incomes (retirement incomes or social welfare support) are moving to cheaper areas of high amenity (Flood 1992). This will have major implications for social policy and the demand for service provision in the coastal zone.

Land tenures in the coastal zone

2.3.15 Land tenure is an important consideration in managing the coastal zone. To a large extent the use of coastal lands is determined by the tenures in which those lands are held. Figure 2.5 shows the distribution of tenures in Australia's coastal zone: about 57 per cent of the zone is private land, 16 per cent is held under indigenous tenure, and less than 5 per cent is occupied under each of forestry, defence, reserves, and other tenures; mining activities occupy less than 1 per cent of the area.

Figure 2.5

Figure 2.5 Distribution of land tenures in the coastal zone
Notes: Estimates are based on the administrative area definition of the zone (see RAC 1993k).
'Indigenous' refers to freehold or leasehold land held by the Aboriginal Development Commission or incorporated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Groups and Crown land reserved for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.
Source: AUSLIG (1992)

Tourism and recreation

2.3.16 The tourism industry is a significant contributor to the Australian economy, contributing about 5.5 per cent of gross domestic product in recent years; it accounted for 6 per cent of employment in Australia in 1991-92. Domestic tourism accounted for 69 per cent of gross tourism expenditure, the balance being attributed to tourists from abroad. A high proportion of tourism activity in Australia is centred on the coastal zone. Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and other capital cities are very important tourist centres; in addition, both international and domestic tourism contribute to the decentralisation of economic activity and employment to non-metropolitan holiday destinations (BTR 1991).

2.3.17 Growth in the number of international visitors to Australia has been significant in recent years. The annual number exceeded 2 million for the first time in 1988 and has continued to increase, the average annual growth rate from 1986 to 1991 being 11 per cent (BTR 1991). Table 2.1 shows the market share of international visitors in each state and territory in 1986 and 1991. The growth rate for domestic tourism has been lower than that for international tourism in recent years. The number of domestic trips made each year increased by 10 per cent between 1984-85 and 1989-90 but recent recessionary conditions have led to a downturn in growth.

Table 2.1 Market share of international visitors, by state and territory, 1986 and 1991
Percentage of total visitor-nights
State/territory 1986 1991
New South Wales 32 36
Victoria 19 17
Queensland 23 24
South Australia 7 5
Western Australia 10 11
Tasmania 3 2
Northern Territory 2 3
Australian Capital Territory 3 2
Source: Chohan (1992).
Note: Figures do not add up to 100 per cent due to rounding.

2.3.18 The non-metropolitan coastal zone contains nearly half of Australia's 9000 commercial tourism establishments. It is the site of 38 per cent of all hotels and motels, 48 per cent of caravan parks, and 75 per cent of 'holiday establishments', which includes self-contained flats, units and houses (RAC 1993m).

2.3.19 Although building associated with tourism, in particular hotel and resort construction, is often thought to represent a major component of coastal zone development, only 30 per cent of all hotel and resort approvals occur in the nonmetropolitan coastal zone, accounting for only about 7 per cent of the total value of approvals for all buildings in the zone between 1983 and 1991. Often, however, they constitute single, large-scale, 'one off' developments taking advantage of appealing views, waterfront locations, access to areas of high amenity, and large areas of land with facilities such as golf courses.

2.3.20 The coastal zone is used extensively for recreation by both residents and visitors. Visitors include 'day trippers' as well as domestic and international tourists on longer visits. Tourism and recreation are therefore closely associated, and the coastal zone supports a wide range of terrestrial and marine-based recreational activities (RAC 1993m).


2.3.21 Aquaculture is the farming of organisms in freshwater, marine and estuarine environments. Mariculture is the farming of such organisms in marine and estuarine environments. In 1990-91 the gross value of mariculture production was about $172 million. This represents a significant proportion of the gross value of production of the entire fishing industry, which amounted to $1.2 billion in 1990-91 and $1.4 billion in 1992-93 (ABARE 1993b). There are approximately 4400 mariculture farms in Australia and almost 90 per cent of them are in New South Wales. About 93 per cent of all mariculture enterprises are engaged in farming edible oysters; other long-established enterprises are those producing pearls and pearl shells in Western Australia.

2.3.22 The mariculture industry grew rapidly after the mid-1980s, but there has been a slowing in growth since then (Treadwell et al. 1992). The slowdown is largely the result of a decline in the production of edible oysters and relatively slow growth in the pearl industry. Most of the recent growth in mariculture has been in salmon and prawn production; ocean trout production has declined, partly in response to low yields caused by less-than-ideal conditions (see RAC 1993m, sect. 6.4).

Other commercial uses of coastal resources

2.3.23 Coastal resources support a wide range of other commercial uses, many of which are significant contributors to both the national economy and regional economies. These uses include mineral and petroleum exploration and development, fisheries, agriculture, forestry and manufacturing activities (see RAC 1993m, sect. 6.6).

2.3.24 Most of Australia's petroleum resources are located in offshore basins. There are 38 offshore petroleum production installations: three in the Timor Sea, 15 on the North West Shelf adjacent to Western Australia, and 20 in Bass Strait adjacent to Victoria. About 78 per cent of domestic oil production occurs in the Bass Strait fields. Liquefied natural gas exports from the NorthWest Shelf make a large contribution to Australia's export income.

2.3.25 The Australian Fishing Zone extends 200 nautical miles offshore. Covering an area of 8.94 million square kilometres, it is larger than the continental land mass of Australia (DPIE 1991). Although they are diverse and occupy a very large area, Australia's fish resources are not as abundant or productive as those in many other parts of the world. Few prospective areas of the Australian Fishing Zone are still to be explored and Australia's catch of wild (non-farmed) fish is not expected to expand significantly. Despite its small total production, however, Australia's fishing industry is economically valuable (Kailola et al. 1993a, p. 17). The gross value of fishing production in 1991 was about $1000 million (ABARE 1993b).

2.3.26 The coastal zone supports diversified agricultural and forestry industries that are significant contributors to many regional economies. The sugar cane industry, which is situated in coastal areas of Queensland and northern New South Wales, is one of Australia's most important agricultural industries. Plantings of sugar cane have increased since the early 1980s and currently total around 341 000 hectares (RAC 1993m, sect. 6.6).

2.3.27 Most of Australia's manufacturing industries are located in the coastal zone. Manufacturing output in 1992-93 represented about 13 per cent of gross domestic product.