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Resource Assessment Commission Coastal Zone Inquiry - Final Report November 1993

Resource Assessment Commission, November 1993
ISBN 0 64429457

Chapter 6 The National Coastal Action Program

6.0.1 A national approach is essential to solve the problems of the coastal zone. The Inquiry proposes adoption by all spheres of government of a National Coastal Action Program to improve the management of the resources of Australia's coastal zone. The Program has four elements:

6.0.2 The Program aims to create a new system of management of Australia's coastal resources. Primary responsibility for directing the Program will rest with the Council of Australian Governments. A small management agency, the National Coastal Management Agency, will be created. It will initially be responsible for securing agreement on national coastal zone management arrangements and subsequently coordinate the Program for the Council of Australian Governments (as set out in Chapter 8).

6.0.3 Once agreement is reached about the Program, it will be each government's responsibility to implement the elements of the Program.

6.0.4 Sections 6.1 to 6.4 summarise the elements of the National Coastal Action Program; details of the Inquiry's conclusions and recommendations in relation to each element are provided in subsequent chapters. Section 6.5 outlines the operation of the National Coastal Action Program. Section 6.6 summarises the benefits offered by the Program. Section 6.7 briefly examines government actions that lie outside the immediate scope of the Program but that are also necessary to improve management of coastal zone resources. Conclusions are reached and the Inquiry's recommendation is made in Section 6.8.

6.1 Nationally Agreed Objectives

6.1.0 A national program to integrate management of coastal zone resources requires a set of common objectives for the guidance of all those involved in using and managing those resources. Common objectives provide direction and understanding. Common management principles for coastal zone management are also required if resource managers are to uniformly achieve integrated management. These principles then need to be translated into management criteria for resource managers.

6.1.2 The objectives and principles proposed by the Inquiry should be adopted by the Council of Australian Governments; they are contained in Chapter 7.

6.2 Implementing and Managing the Program

6.2.1 Administrative arrangements are required to commit governments to the Program and to manage it efficiently. An agreement between governments is necessary to establish the framework for developing common objectives and to guide the way in which strategies can be developed to achieve these objectives.

6.2.2 There is no need for a new 'mega-agency', but new national institutional arrangements and coordinating machinery are needed. This will ensure more effective integration of management activities within each sphere of government, between governments, and between government and non-government bodies.

6.2.3 The Commonwealth should take the lead in initiating and implementing the components of the National Coastal Action Program. A Commonwealth-imposed national regulatory scheme is not required. An incentive-based program, with a legislative basis, is required to ensure that coastal zone expenditures and programs are consistent with national objectives.

6.2.4 Chapter 8 presents the Inquiry's conclusions and recommendations relating to the agreement and institutional arrangements necessary to implement the Program.

6.3 Community and Industry Involvement

6.3.1 Action by governments alone will not be sufficient to implement the Program: all stakeholders, particularly local communities, industries and peak bodies representing conservation, union, industry and indigenous interests, must be involved in coastal zone management. A successful national approach must include arrangements that encourage such involvement and harness the willingness of these groups to improve coastal zone management. Chapter 9 presents the Inquiry's recommendations for more effective community and industry involvement. Effective community participation must include the involvement of indigenous communities. Chapter 10 addresses the specific interests of Australia's indigenous people.

6.4 Innovative Management Mechanisms

6.4.1 There is considerable scope for innovation in coastal zone management. The National Coastal Action Program requires the use of a number of management mechanisms:

6.4.2 It is also important that implementation of the Program be carried out in an efficient manner. This is discussed in Chapter 18.

6.5 Operation of the National Coastal Action Program

6.5.1 The principal aims of the Program are to redress current problems in coastal zone management and to obviate future problems. The Program is designed to achieve the following results:

6.5.2 A number of important changes will need to be effected to achieve these results, among them the following:

6.5.3 The Program will gather existing activities throughout the coastal zone into a single national program. It will provide a focus for existing programs and it will provide additional resources to improve management skills and harness community interest.

6.5.4 A minimal amount of new, national machinery is needed to operate the Program. A small coordinating agency-the National Coastal Management Agency-will be jointly established by the Commonwealth and state and local governments. It will have a full-time national director and its staff will be drawn from all spheres of government. It will not be a Commonwealth government agency; rather, it will be a national agency responsible to all governments through the mechanisms of the Council of Australian Governments. It will not take over resource management in the coastal zone. This will continue to be the province of bodies in the Commonwealth, state and local government systems. Key purposes of the Agency will be to secure coordination of the activities of government bodies and to ensure that common objectives are pursued.

6.5.5 The Agency will use the national objectives and principles proposed by the Inquiry to guide the development of programs to improve coastal zone management. Governments will incorporate these objectives and principles in their own programs. Government agencies will use these common objectives and principles, together with criteria established by ministerial councils and other strategies, to derive principles and criteria for use at local and regional levels.

6.5.6 The Agency will encourage governments to review existing programs relevant to the coastal zone, to ensure that they support the objectives and principles of the National Coastal Action Program.

6.5.7 With assistance from the Agency, governments will develop and use more innovative approaches to management of resources in the coastal zone. This will include the greater use of economic instruments, such as ensuring that those who use facilities in the coastal zone contribute to the cost of providing them.

6.5.8 The Agency will also encourage the development of programs to improve the expertise and management skills of government agencies in the coastal zone, particularly within local government. Agencies responsible for on-ground management will be encouraged to develop policies that manage resource uses on a regional basis. They will also be encouraged to adopt strategic approaches to management.

6.5.9 The Agency will assist in devising and managing a national Coastcare initiative, designed to encourage 'grass roots' community involvement in management of the coastal zone Australia wide.

6.5.10 To give a solid institutional basis to the National Coastal Action Program and to encourage government agencies to adopt common objectives and policies, Commonwealth legislation should be enacted to authorise the Agency to disburse special program funds to government agencies that participate in elements of the National Coastal Action Program.

6.5.11 The operations of the Agency should be funded by all governments, in keeping with its national character. The Commonwealth Government has, however, a special role in providing the Agency with the funds to encourage state and local government participation in elements of the National Coastal Action Program.

6.6 Benefits of the National Coastal Action Program

6.6.1 Adoption of the National Coastal Action Program will not only overcome the deficiencies of current management arrangements but also provide the basis and opportunity for advancing the capabilities and capacity of management. The Program allows consideration of all uses and activities in the zone and the full range of community aspirations. It provides a framework for integrated and strategic decision making that can accommodate specific issues. It fosters the achievement of long-term rather than short-sighted, expedient results. In acknowledging that circumstances change, the Program is sufficiently flexible to cater for today's issues and requirements and to adapt to those that will emerge in the future.

6.6.2 The Program establishes a process whereby those involved in and affected by coastal zone management are brought together to pursue commonly agreed objectives. It provides the basis for a partnership between local communities, industry and governments, enabling each group to participate in and contribute to coastal zone management within its own capacities and responsibilities. By bringing together stakeholders, it presents an opportunity for reducing and resolving conflict. Involvement of local communities will ensure that development in the zone is more attuned to the community's social, cultural and environmental needs. The Program will also help to reduce opposition to and delays experienced by developments that follow agreed procedures and show that they are in accordance with community objectives.

6.6.3 By coordinating arrangements within and between governments, the National Coastal Action Program provides the means for reducing overlap and duplication in government activities, thus ensuring more efficient and effective delivery of services. It also offers the means for achieving harmony between government programs and reducing the possibility of programs pursuing conflicting objectives or of one program having adverse effects on another. Further, the Program will reduce the likelihood of management mistakes and mitigate the adverse impacts of one resource use on other uses. It will concentrate on achieving positive outcomes rather than perpetuate the current situation in which resources are required to repair the consequences of poor management.

6.6.4 The National Coastal Action Program recognises the special attachment Australia's indigenous people have to many parts of the coastal zone, and it provides the opportunity for local communities to participate in the achievement of sustainable development. It takes account of the research and information needs of coastal zone managers and proposes ways for governments, communities and industry to gain better access to the knowledge and expertise necessary for effective and efficient management. It also identifies better mechanisms and procedures for managing coastal resources and takes account of the importance of ensuring that activities in the zone are adequately monitored.

6.6.5 Above all, the National Coastal Action Program provides the framework within which citizens, community groups, indigenous organisations, industry and governments can tackle some of the apparently intractable problems that confront this very important part of Australia.

6.7 Government Responsibilities Outside the National Coastal Action Program

6.7.1 The 'whole of government' nature of managing activities in the coastal zone made it difficult for the Inquiry to determine the scope of its investigations, particularly because of the many similarities between issues that are characteristic of the coastal zone and those that pervade Australia as a whole. Within the time frame of the Inquiry it has not been possible to examine all issues that may seem relevant to the Inquiry's terms of reference.

6.7.2 In seeking to mitigate the negative effects of day-to-day activity, the National Coastal Action Program will only go so far. It cannot provide the entire solution: some other profound aspects of life in Australia must be confronted. Since so much of Australia's population and economic activity is located in or adjacent to the coastal zone, the basic aspects of human activity in Australia have a powerful influence on use of coastal resources.

6.7.3 The two principal aspects identified by the Inquiry are the continuing sprawl of urban settlement in many parts of the coastal zone and the unintended degradation of the zone as the by-product of this urban sprawl, including the effects on freshwater systems, estuaries and coastal sabed vegetation of run-off from agricultural land. Very fundamental values that Australians hold must be examined if better results are to be achieved. This Inquiry has focused on one of Australia's most valuable assets-the coast. At the heart of the problem of maintaining this asset is urban sprawl, which is a consequence of the Australian predilection for the quarter-acre residential block. The coast is threatened by the marriage of two great Australian values: owning your own house and living near the coast.

6.7.4 These fundamental matters must be confronted if the question of management of human activity in the coastal zone is to be definitively considered. There are significant ecological consequences of the current patterns of urban settlement and these must be fully taken into account as part of a broader review of land settlement practices.

6.7.5 Each of these facets that cause concern for the coast is related to broader issues that are already of concern to communities and governments. There is increasing awareness that the pattern of human settlement is emerging as one of Australia's great problems. Major social dilemmas are developing. As the population spreads away from the traditional urban centres it compounds the difficulty of providing affordable infrastructure to support it. Community services, transport and commercial services either are not provided or are under-provided. There are many costly consequences. Pressure mounts, for example, to provide highway systems because residential accommodation is far from places of work. As part of this phenomenon, governments have been unable to provide enough resources to manage the effects of human settlement in parts of the coastal zone where the population is thinly spread.

6.7.6 The Inquiry learnt that the overall effects of this settlement pattern are not well known. Research into the social effects of urban sprawl is very limited, although the effects are at least recognised by governments. The Inquiry is fully aware that changing the course of the process of human settlement in Australia will be very difficult and very slow. Researchers contend that there is a lag of 10 to 15 years before decisions taken today would alter current patterns of residential development. But these matters are of such profound importance that they cannot be ignored.

6.7.7 The impact of national taxation laws on housing and property development is an emerging issue. Current tax arrangements encourage Australians to invest heavily in their family home rather than in other assets. The impact of income tax policy on investment in property and the contributing effect this has on the spread of human settlement in the coastal zone should be fully examined. Examination of this issue alone, even though it is part of a broader picture, would require a separate inquiry.

6.7.8 There is growing evidence that agricultural run-off into waterways is having a major, negative effect on water quality and ecosystems. Again, this is part of a broader issue that is being tackled: rural land management. A substantial national effort is under way to improve the management of Australia's arable lands.

6.7.9 There is much that governments can do through general policy settings to influence activities in Australia's coastal zone. Some attempts are being made to formulate strategies and programs that affect coastal zone resources. The relationship between these national strategies and the National Coastal Action Program is examined in Chapter 16.

6.8 Conclusions and Recommendation

6.8.1 A concerted national effort is essential if the management of Australia's coastal zone resources is to improve and if Australians are to continue to enjoy the economic, social and environmental benefits provided by the coastal zone. A National Coastal Action Program, involving all governments and community and industry groups with responsibility for and interests in the management of coastal zone resources, is proposed.

6.8.2 The Action Program should contain:

R.01 The Inquiry recommends that:

The National Coastal Action Program for management of the resources of Australia's coastal zone be adopted by the Council of Australian Governments and implemented by the three spheres of government in consultation with community and industry groups that have responsibility for and interests in coastal zone management.