The role of the community
While the coast has not been a persistent peak national concern in Australia, many community-based organisations have focused on particular coastal places and issues. There is, moreover, a long tradition of community care and action at the coast, mainly linked to issues of clean and safe recreation beaches, foreshore facilities, beach access, and dune conservation. Voluntary groups have traditionally contributed directly to the management of beaches and coastal reserves up and down the country. The work of surf lifesaving clubs in beach safety is almost taken for granted in Australia, where the bronzed lifesaver is long-established as a national icon, a part of the nation's identity. The Surfrider Foundation extended this role to focus public attention on nearshore pollution, particularly from land-based discharges (see the results of The 1995 Save our Surf Survey; Wilkinson 1996). The work by service clubs in setting up basic facilities in coastal reserves is evident around the developed coast.
The varied role of community groups
Today, all around Australia, community groups play a great variety of roles in managing the coast: a surf lifesaving club concerned with beach safety; a conservation group involved with ecosystem protection; a dive club monitoring reef health; a coastal park friends group engaged in weed removal; a service group managing a foreshore reserve; or a professional fishers association managing a regional fishing zone.
Hale L. (1996) has pointed out a number of factors that lead to a varied role for community groups in coastal management; these include:
• geographic scale
• the nature of the issues involved
• the governance context
• the motivation of the community
• the relevant expertise within the community
• the style of coastal management systems currently in place.
In the past, state agencies, and sometimes local government agencies, have tended to keep community groups at arm's length and engage in closed planning and management processes, which tended not to involve the community. During the last 20 years there has been an increase in community willingness to participate and a greater readiness by governments to encourage such involvement. This has often been at the implementation stage, involving minor works, rather than in direction-setting. Many governments are extremely cautious about public involvement where it is perceived that sensitive economic or political issues are involved, or there are contingent links outside a local area. As a result, Hale L. (1996) points out that community management approaches are more likely to be successful at the local scale, where:
• they are confined to a small geographic area
• they deal with issues that do not have strong contingent links to systems outside the control of the community
• ownership or management responsibility is located close by
• motivation is high, such as management involving the economic interests of the community
• communities have access to, or can acquire, appropriate expertise.