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The state of coastal management in Australia

As noted in chapters 1 and 4 of this book, the 1990s produced major changes in Australian coastal management both at the Commonwealth and the State government level. Although there had been previous calls for coastal management reform at a national level, the timing had never been right. More than 20 years ago the national coastal zone inquiry (HORSCEC 1980) concluded that there was a need for national coastal policies and objectives. However, nothing was done. By the time that the 1993 national Coastal Zone Inquiry was conducted (RAC 1993 a) there had been so many previous coastal inquiries that the Resource Assessment Commission had to produce a separate report on the findings of all the former inquiries.

It is significant that the 1990s was a period of renewed global environmental awareness which involved Australian scientists and politicians. In particular, die 'Earth Summit' triggered Australian responses to the predictions for climate change through the National Greenhouse Strategy and the need for a more environmentally sustainable approach to development through the National Ecologically Sustainable Development Strategy. These national strategics were immediately followed by the RAC Inquiry in 1993 and then the Commonwealth Coastal Policy in 1995.

The RAC Inquiry summarised some of the major coastal management problems that needed attention, including:

• the fragmented nature of decision making within and between the three spheres of government

• inadequate management mechanisms for the coastal zone, such as the scope for greater use of prices and market mechanism

• inadequate public involvement

• lack of a national (and in some cases state) approach to management

• failure to implement procedures to ensure that decisions about the use of resources take account of the real value of resources to society as a whole. The RAC was aware of the need for action rather than further analysis of these problems. In response to a complex situation the RAC made the following recommendations:

• national cooperation and action – a national coastal action plan (NCAP)

• agreement over the NCAP be endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments ('the importance of the coastal zone and the shared nature of management responsibilities between governments requires a separate agreement')

• the Commonwealth should take the lead in initiating and implementing national coastal zone objectives and principles, and pass legislation to guide funding allocations (A Coastal Resource Management Act)

• a national coastal zone management agency to facilitate the implementation of the NCAP

• the creation of a national professional coastal advisory group

• assistance by the Commonwealth to states to increase the resourcing to states' coastal coordinating committees.

Since the RAC Inquiry, the Commonwealth, states and local governments have moved on, taking on board some of the RAC recommendations and responding to continuing community demand for improved coastal management.

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