Australia's National Coastal Zone Inquiry, 1993
The national RAC Coastal Zone Inquiry (Resource Assessment Commission 1993) was significant because it came at a time when there was a need for greater national cooperation in the early 1990s across a number of environmental areas, and it was also underpinned by the concept of ecologically sustainable development, or ESD (Harvey 1999). The inquiry, conducted by three commissioners, covered aspects such as:
• the resources, values and uses of the coastal zone
• a national approach
• a national coastal action program
• institutional arrangements
• the role of community and industry
• the role of indigenous people
• ways of improving management at the local and regional level
• approval systems and impact assessment
• economic and financial instruments
• funding and implementation.
It should be noted that one of the three commissioners disagreed so significantly with the other two, that the final report had a special section on this dissenting view, more than a hundred pages long.
The key recommendations of the report included:
1 National Approach
2 Coastal Resource Management Act
3 National Coastal Action Program (including Coastcare)
4 National Coastal Management Agency
5 National Coastal Consultative Council.
It is significant that the RAC report stressed the need for a more integrated approach in which the environment is treated in a holistic sense rather than treating different elements of the environment separately. The RAC recommended a national approach because of increasing population and development pressure on the coast. It also proposed a Commonwealth Coastal Resource Management Act to incorporate the objectives and principles for coastal management agreed by the states and the Commonwealth. This Act was intended to link funding of activities in the coastal zone to nationally agreed objectives and principles. However, recommendations such as the Coastal Resource Management Act and the National Coastal Management Authority did not proceed, largely because of opposition from state governments.
Of the five recommendations above, one of the most important was the national Coastal Action Program, which had the following main elements:
• adoption by the Council of Australian Governments of a set of common objectives
• establishment of arrangements for implementing and managing the program
• greater community and industry consultation (such as the proposed Coast- care program)
• wider and better use of modem management and economic tools.
This Coastal Action Plan was instrumental in making sure that the RAC report was not just another inquiry that ended up sitting on a shelf along with all the others. Thus the RAC report was able to set the groundwork for the development of a national coastal policy, and together with the Coastal Action Plan provided the impetus for getting basic agreement on coastal issues from
the chief ministers in all three tiers of government. The inquiry emphasised the role played by local government in state-based coastal strategies, and also provided a mechanism for integration between different levels of government and the community through the proposed Coastcare Program.