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Minister for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts 2001-2004

The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP



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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

Opening address at Coast to Coast '04, Hobart
Monday, 19 April 2004

The imperatives for National Coastal Policy

Thank you to the children of Bruny Island for that colorful welcome - and thank you all for the opportunity to open your 2004 Coast to Coast Conference - with its theme of integrated coastal zone management, and with its particular focus on the place of coastal management in the emerging, national, Natural Resource Management processes.

Our coastline is, of course, a crucial element of our natural resources.

It is by virtually any measure, one of our most significant, and important, natural, national, assets.

That's certainly true in terms of simple linear measurement: at just short of 36,000 kilometres it is in the top ten by length - globally. If you add the shorelines of coastal islands – including beautiful Bruny Island - that becomes almost 60,000 kilometres.

And if you reasonably add the area of coastal waters for which we have national responsibility - which is to the 200 nautical mile - 370 kilometre - limit of our Exclusive Economic Zone - then the area of our coastal oceans covers over ten and a quarter million square kilometers, which is an area considerably greater than our landmass.

Add the area of the continental shelf that is not within the EEZ and the total area of ocean over which there is some degree of Australian jurisdiction becomes around 14 million square kilometers - which is almost twice the size of our landmass.

That latter figure is a particularly interesting one: it represents a change from the previous estimate for the area covered by the EEZ and the shelf that was really only unearthed in researching this address. Inquiries through Geoscience Australia, seeking to delineate the areas of the component parts of our ocean jurisdiction, produced that new 14 million square kilometer estimate.

The conventional estimate, that we have been using for some years, had been some 16 million square kilometres and that was a number based on some extrapolations – some guesswork - from data, but our growing knowledge – based on our increasing ability to measure sub-surface landscapes accurately – has produced that new estimate.

But it is, of course, not only the scale of our coastline that makes it such a great national responsibility and asset, and the source of the interest that you in this large audience show in it.

Our coastline is also extremely significant, in global terms, by the measure of biodiversity - because just as with our mega-diverse land based flora and fauna - Australia's mega-diverse marine environment reflects our long isolation in the continent's slow drift northward.

Our southern waters have been isolated for considerably longer than our northern waters - by about 40 million years - and a result of that is that somewhere between 80% and 90% of marine species in our southern waters are endemic, and that scale of endemism puts the uniqueness of our marine life on a par with our extraordinary land based biodiversity.

The only basis on which our northern waters are less rich in endemic species - at only around 10% - is that they form a part of a region– that takes in Indonesia and the Philippines especially– that is the absolute epicenter of tropical marine biodiversity on the planet – so that our megadiverse marine life in the north is certainly there – but it is a regionally shared megadiversity.

Some of the specific aspects of this diversity of life around our coasts are, necessarily extraordinary.

More than half of the world's seagrasses are represented in Australian waters and the seagrass meadows of Western Australia are the most diverse on the planet.

Forty of the 55 mangrove species are represented in Australian waters.

Our waters support the largest variety of bony fish species on the planet: over 4000 species.

Three quarters of all known corals are represented on the Great Barrier Reef - which is the largest and one of the most biodiverse reef systems on the planet - and the biodiversity of Ningaloo reef, in Western Australia, is even richer than the GBR.

These are just some of the purely marine based indicators that our coastline is an extraordinary, and extraordinarily rich and varied, natural asset.

And in terms of that very rich coastline, we are otherwise fortunate, and advantaged.

A major aspect of that advantage is that while we inhabit the smallest of the continents – we inhabit the entire continent: because we are an island we are the masters of our entire national circumference.

This is, quite literally, a unique circumstance that carries with it a unique opportunity, and a unique responsibility.

Another advantage that we enjoy is that while 85% of our population lives within 50 kilometres of the coast, the population of this country, at 20 million, gives us great relief from the scale of pressures that flow from population and that present such a massive challenge in maintaining healthy coastlines for so much of the rest of the world.

We are about the same size as the contiguous U.S. but the U.S. has a population of around 290 million – over 14 times greater than ours.

Northern Australia is one of the least populated areas on the planet and, for the most part, our long northern coastline has been judged by the Land and Water Resources Audit as pristine.

Yet another, and crucial advantage, is that we are a strongly unified democracy that is increasingly well informed, and motivated, in terms of protecting our coastline.

That very deliberately, and accurately, positive introduction is not to say, of course, that we don't have major issues to deal with.

None of us would be here if we didn't.

A lot of us would be sailing, or fishing, or walking on the beach.

The concentration of our population, as relatively small as it is, in a relative handful of locations, principally on the east coast, creates hot-spots in terms of degradation, and developing threats that pose very real dangers to major aspects of our economy, our lifestyle, and to biodiversity.

And it is a highly relevant truism, in terms of your interest in the appropriate integration of coastal issues with the emerging natural resource management framework nationwide, that many of these impacts and threats have their origins far from the coast.

The massive scale of land use change across vast areas of the country, especially in the more temperate regions adjacent to our coastline, are having major impacts on the quality of coastal, as well as hinterland environments.

A classic example of these more diffuse coastal impacts is the Great Barrier Reef, where the impacts of land use change on nutrient and sediment loads entering the lagoon has recently led to the development of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan by the Australian Government with the government of Queensland to halt, and then reverse, the decline in the quality of water entering the lagoon within a decade.

Human induced impacts on the reef are also being addressed through the Representative Areas Program under which we are increasing the proportion of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park encompassed by zones where all extractive activity will be banned from less than 5 per cent of the Park to 33.3 per cent– from July 1 this year – in order to give the reef the resilience to cope with these pressures that we now know to include the insidious impact of climate change.

It is our communal preparedness, and willingness, to deal with these sorts of issues with strong policy, and actions that underpin the sense of optimism that I believe we can have about our ability to meet the challenges we confront: to achieve the sorts of goals that you seek, and seek to advance here in Hobart over the next five days.

I think that what is happening on and for the reef epitomizes that we do have the sense, and the ability, to use the natural advantages that we have, and the advantages that flow from the sort of society that we have so consciously developed, to correct many of the mistakes of the past and ensure ourselves the sort of future that we once took for granted.

A second great and equally positive example of the moment, in terms of our recognition of the very clear synergies that exist between our behaviour on land sometimes far distant from the coast and the impact upon the coast, is the current effort to develop a National Water Initiative - and the Living Murray process.

The fact that our one great river system now needs dredges at its mouth to keep it open to the sea has become a symbol of much of our past attitudes towards water exploitation in this country and the challenges that these behaviours confront us with in terms of our coastal as well as inland management of natural resources, and our need to integrate them.

While it has to be said that there would have been many times, when the Murray was in a pristine state, that it would not have flowed to the ocean, the symbolism of a Murray estuarine environment kept alive by dredging has, nonetheless, become a potent symbol of those issues.

Water, and water quality – so relevant to coasts – is an issue we are dealing with as a nation through the National Water Initiative and the Living Murray processes – in an integrated format.

The National Water Initiative is, significantly, a cooperative effort through the Council of Australian Governments. It has a number of component parts that distil to a plan to give the economic, and environmental values of water, a degree of balance that can underpin economic and environmental and social sustainability.

An important aspect of that is to restore the River Murray to a healthy working river. The fact that the States of the Murray Darling Basin are now engaging that task, with leadership from the Australian Government, is another positive indicator that we are addressing the challenges with the level of cooperation and mutual effort that is needed: it is a demonstration that we are rising to the occasion – to the need.

And those two examples I think take us readily to the key theme of this conference, which is the place of integrated coastal management in the developing national, natural resource management framework.

The two examples I have quoted both involve a high degree of integration of effort, and management and they are, to many, the visible aspects and symbols of what is a massive effort at integrating natural resource management now underway in this country.

Simply, there is not another country on the planet where there is such a concerted, nationwide effort, at improved, coordinated, cooperative natural resource management.

No other country has divided itself into catchment scale regions, covering its entire landmass, and then sought to empower communities with the resources and the authority to establish community based natural resource management.

Community based regional groups have now been established, through the Natural Heritage Trust. These cover every square kilometre of the Australian landmass and the investment in that process, by the conclusion of the second phase of the Trust in 2007, will be some $2.7 billion.

Where it's a priority, those organizations are also accessing some $1.4 billion in Commonwealth and State funds that have been dedicated through the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality.

Singly, let alone together, these are the largest environmental programs ever undertaken in this country.

I met with the Chairs of all of these groups in Adelaide just last week when a Community Forum was associated with a meeting of the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council which has been, since 1997, another symbol of the developing strategic, cooperative, national approach: another part of this very important developing matrix in integrated natural resource management,

The meeting of the Chairs, with Ministers, and senior officials, was very instructive, and very heartening.

The Chairs had met the previous day to consolidate and refine their view of the way in which this unique system was developing -and the purpose of the meeting with Ministers was for them to communicate their views.

And what emerged was essentially a great enthusiasm.

They sought greater autonomy. They sought certainty. They sought greater access to knowledge to better inform their regional decisions. They sought an enhanced ability to communicate with their communities to better inform them and engage them over the tasks underway and ahead.

Overall, what shone through was their determination to grab the reins in this process and to be the cutting edge of this national, integrated effort -- and I found that immensely encouraging because there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that this is exactly the sort of community based enthusiasm, built on commitment, that must be there if we are going to be successful in achieving the sustainability that we seek – for the Australian landscape as a whole, including for the coastal zone.

It is precisely the response that I have been seeking to engender since coming to this portfolio and it is the cornerstone of the philosophy that underpins both the Trust and the NAP.

And I believe your involvement in this genuinely historic process can be very considerable.

You have that same enthusiasm. You wouldn't be here if you didn't.

And in-so-far-as key aspects of your discussions over the next few days go to the issue of interfacing with this effort – integrating this effort - I would say to you that the opportunities to achieve that integration have never been so rich.

A key point of interface for you, without a doubt, is the regional bodies themselves.

They are, highly deliberately, the vehicle for much of this effort.

Other obvious points of interface are via the many efforts that are underway, sometimes by Commonwealth and State agencies, often by independent groups, that seek to better inform governments, as well as those regional bodies, on priority setting and investment decisions – where they relate to your areas of interest.

Tony Slatyer, of the Environment and Heritage Department, will be speaking to you later today about a Discussion Paper that has been developed to progress discussions between Government, and stakeholders, about, quite specifically, an integrated, national, coastal policy

It aims to achieve precisely what you seek to achieve, and is an obvious point of interface.

This is a process that is being championed through the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council - and it flows from the development of a Framework for a National Cooperative Approach to Integrated Coastal Zone Management by that Council last October.

I think that the significance of that framework - for this gathering - can hardly be overstated because it does provide a clear pathway for your involvement in a process that is not going to be easy in its development.

The Prime Minister likened the development of an integrated national policy on water to achieving a uniformly gauged rail system: in the case of rail, each State went its own way, favoured its own way, and had a State limited view of community of interest.

Water policy is equally diverse - as are the environmental policies, and policies concerning development, that attach to coastal issues.

We need some benchmark protection for coastal values and to achieve those benchmarks cooperatively for the benefit of the great percentage of Australians who live near the coast, and form our coastal environments.

And I believe that there is sufficient goodwill, and sufficient recognition of the importance of the task, that we will achieve a degree of integration in terms of development parameters and the like that will provide great benefits.

There will be great opportunities to engage through the discussion on these issues that will flow from the Discussion Paper that Tony will go into some detail on for you today, and I'm sure that contribution can start at this conference.

The steady development of a National Oceans Policy is another area of interface.

Again, this is a development that is unique to Australia, and therefore a great opportunity for a committed and informed group of interests such as are represented in this audience to make a contribution.

And again it is a unique opportunity: no other country is seeking to develop a comprehensive, an holistic approach, to management of its ocean resources and the relationship between many aspects of the sustainable management of our ocean resources and the health of our coastal assets will be obvious to this audience.

The development of Marine Protected Areas is an important aspect of this interface, and does deserve separate mention - even though it is an explicit and logical element of the wider endeavours in developing integrated oceans and coastal policy.

It is yet another area in which Australia is at the cutting edge internationally.

Sylvia Earle, who will be speaking to you shortly, has acknowledged the international significance of the development of the Marine Protected Area within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and we are extending this approach to other areas of significance around our extraordinary coastline.

The South-East Regional Marine Plan, covering nearly two million square kilometres of ocean waters off south-eastern Australia, is near completion after good cooperation that has involved the Tasmanian, Victorian, South Australian and New South Wales governments as well as industry, communities, and the conservation movement.

Queensland and the Northern Territory are now formally engaged in development in scoping the Northern Australian Marine Plan and initial discussions have begun with South Australia and Western Australia about regional marine planning in the south-west region.

Other areas of activity also need informed input to help the development of integration that is a foundation for success.

The issue of marine pests is one: their emergence as an issue was an inevitable outcome of international sea traffic and while none has yet achieved the national notoriety of land based pests like the rabbit or cane toad or fire ant - they do have the potential to be environmental disasters on a similar scale in our coastal and ocean environments.

It has happened elsewhere in the world.

Urban water reform – an element of the National Water Initiative - is yet another area. Major water recycling and water saving projects are developing into a crucial issue for our cities, not only in terms of improving the quality of water entering bays and estuaries, but in overcoming the threat to water quantities as more dams are needed.

Our growing cities are fast running out of possible catchment or groundwater based options to add to supplies - and the quality of our relatively high density coastal economies and lifestyles will face very major constraints if we don't effectively address urban water issues.

So I would say to this gathering that there are many ways in which it can contribute towards the development of integrated natural resource management as it impacts on the coast and I look forward to studying the ways in which you believe that might best be achieved.

We are all – and I emphasise that includes governments - on a very steep learning curve in this very brave process on which we have all embarked

No other country, as I have emphasised, has tried to do what we are doing.

We are, therefore, treading new ground. There are bound to be many challenges before we get it right, and get it bedded down, and humming.

But I do believe we are on the right track - which is towards a community based, knowledge led, cooperative, national approach to integrated natural resource management.

We have a real opportunity in this country -- to show the world that sustainability is achievable, and how to go about achieving it.

Before I close, I would like to highlight another area of interface – and it is a very important one: it is the private sector.

While Governments, and the community, hold key responsibilities in these processes, commercial and industrial organisations can be – and are being – major contributors.

Yesterday I attended the celebration of the 10 th anniversary of a Landcare group in Victoria, which has long enjoyed major support, as has the overall Landcare movement, from Alcoa.

That is one of many examples of the way in which commerce and industry are contributing to the goals of an integrated natural resource management system.

The massive reduction in the use of plastic bags is coming through the cooperation and efforts of retailers – especially the major supermarket retailers.

Major savings in greenhouse gas emissions are flowing from voluntary efforts by industry.

Today I am pleased to indicate that the Marina Association of Australia has developed a Clean Marinas Australia Program.

This is a national, voluntary, accreditation system that will encourage over 1000 marinas, yacht clubs, boat clubs, slips, boatyards and associated industry entities across Australia to reduce pollution and enhance the coastal environment.

It's a bid by industry to develop best environmental practice and it has had the support in development of State Environment Protection Authorities, my department, local government and environmental consultants as well as from industry itself.

I congratulate the Marina Association for undertaking this effort and I commend that example from industry to you as another element of the interface you might seek to engage, because these sorts of developments can be powerful prompts for improved

environmental behaviour by many thousands of people.

It is the sort of commendable behaviour that we are increasingly seeing being adopted voluntarily by industry and it ought not be overlooked by those who seek to promote an holistic approach to integration of effort.

And finally, I would draw to your attention the release during the conference of the National Marine Atlas – which is much more than intriguing maps: it is a compilation of the increasingly significant amount of data that is held by government and non-government agencies on the way in which we use our ocean resources.

I congratulate the National Oceans Office for compiling it, and all contributors, and I would use its publication to underscore one of the most important aspects of any effort to effectively integrate natural resource management in this country – and that is knowledge.

The task of using science to guide decision making in natural resource management is often fraught.

When people are being asked to change behaviour patterns that have a long history, and sometimes to accept that less is more when it comes to achieving the imperative of sustainability, there can often be a major task in the convincing.

Only knowledge, and knowledge that is accessible to those who need it, will be capable of fulfilling that job of convincing people to change.

I would commend that thought to this audience as well, in terms of your bid to help develop integrated natural resource management in this country.

Thank you for your attention, thank you for the opportunity to open your conference, and I wish you well in your welcome involvement and commitment to a sustainable Australia.

Commonwealth of Australia