Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11436

Ms MARINO (5:32 PM) —I rise to speak on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts report Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now. Members may be aware that I became part of this committee in November 2008, partway through this inquiry. Even though this has been done previously, I would like to recognise the work of the chair, deputy chair and other members of the committee. I see that we also have present members of the secretariat, and I thank them as well. They were very important to the committee, and I know the chair has acknowledged the work of the secretariat. The continuity of the support and advice that was offered was very valuable to the committee and I thank them for that.

The terms of reference for this inquiry were basically the existing policies and programs related to coastal zone management, taking in the catchment-coast-ocean continuum; the environmental impacts of coastal population growth and mechanisms to promote sustainable use of coastal resources; the impact of climate change on coastal areas and strategies to deal with climate change adaptation, particularly in response to project sea level rise; mechanisms to promote sustainable coastal communities; and governance and institutional arrangements for the coastal zone.

Given that the Busselton foreshore area is featured on the front page of the report, showing the very serious-sized sandbags, I strongly support the committee’s recommendation that funding continues for research to establish the wave climate around the coast so that we identify those locations most at risk from wave erosion and to examine how the wave climate nationally interacts with varying land form types. This further supports the methodology for vulnerability assessments and the importance of encouraging regional applications from local councils like Busselton in my electorate.

For a shire like Busselton, with considerable pressures on the council from its very rapidly growing population and land use intensification, as well as the associated continuous demands for additional services and local infrastructure, the committee’s recommendation that the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government should undertake a study into the human and resourcing needs of local governments is particularly relevant. We constantly heard in public hearings and during site visits all around Australia about the limited resources available to many local coastal councils and the challenges of shared natural boundaries such as the Peel-Harvey Inlet, which is shared by the Mandurah City Council and the Murray Shire Council.

There is a need to coordinate resources to enhance Australia’s disaster mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery arrangements in the event of possible major coastal disasters through a grants program, taking into account the need for improved data on coastal disaster risk assessment and vulnerable coastal sites. There is a need for improved access and evacuation routes for coastal communities, improved coastal community awareness of and resilience to natural disasters, and improved coordination of coastal disaster mitigation arrangements with reviews of the Australian building code and land use planning policies. Very importantly, there is a need for improved early warning systems for coastal areas in the event of storm surge, erosion, flooding, extreme sea level events, and the recognition of one of the greatest resources we have, the surf lifesaving group network, is an integral part of emergency planning and responses.

This is extremely relevant for coastal communities in my electorate. As I said, Busselton is one of those, one with beach erosion issues for local property owners and for the council itself, with low-lying populated areas, a Ramsar wetland backing onto a canal development, as well as serious challenges in relation to existing and future planning and further coastal developments. This was referred to in the report following the committee’s visit to my electorate and taking into account the issues raised on site by Busselton shire representatives. I quote from point 5.117 in the report:

In terms of housing developments encroaching on coastal Ramsar sites, the committee was particularly concerned about a canal development in the Port Geographe area in south-west Western Australia located within close proximity to the Vasse-Wonnerup Ramsar site. As Professor Short commented, some of the big issues at Mandurah are those canal estates, and at Port Geographe, which are not only very low-lying but also cutting into acid sulphate soils and with all sorts of other issues.

This merely begins to explain the key emerging issues of insurance, planning and legal issues relating to the coastal zone, matters frequently raised by those participating in the inquiry. The key issues are who is liable, who knew what and who knew it when. Coastal councils controlling public property and local private property owners are very concerned about planning and building codes and the issues of liability and responsibility as well as the insurance and risk issues, the availability and the affordability, the need for very clear definitions of how and when an insurance claim is payable due to storm surge and inundation, due to landslip, to erosion and combined effects of sea inundation and riverine flooding. The possible withdrawal of insurance for certain risks or regions, as noted in the report, will place increased burdens on governments and taxpayers, which in part supports the need for a nationally consistent COAG action plan on the coastal zone.

Given the consistently expressed concerns of local governments and individual landholders with regard to liability, I strongly encourage the minister and the government to address recommendation 23 in the report that the Australian government request that the Australian Law Reform Commission undertake an urgent inquiry particularly focusing on clarification of liability issues with regard to public authorities acting or not acting on a legal basis to deal with protection, redesign, rebuild, elevate, relocate and retreat regarding possible coastal hazards; clarification of liability issues for private property holders who act to protect their properties from the impacts of climate change—something the committee witnessed in my electorate; legal issues for existing development; mechanisms to ensure harmonised local and state government mandatory risk disclosure to the public; and one very serious issue for all local governments, whether there should be broader indemnification of local government authorities.

I cannot stress enough the importance of this issue to the minister and government. We came across several areas, of which Cottesloe was an example, where there was just a road between existing housing and the beach itself that may be subject to storm surge and weather events. In that particular area we had a range of government services underneath the road such as water and sewerage. In the event of those particular services being removed by way of erosion to do with a storm surge or weather event, the houses would be unable to be inhabited as a result of not having access to those services.

Who is liable, who is responsible and who pays? They are the issues that came up on a regular basis and will continue to come up. The report noted the need for ongoing ABS data, particularly for regional areas like my electorate, and the need for very accurate and consistent information. This is partly what those coastal areas need, particularly local councils. They need consistent information on long-term demographic trends to assist in coastal zone planning and management. The Busselton Shire Council is front and centre in this issue, as it is experiencing continued growth. Planning and design of new infrastructure will also require additional capacity building in coastal local governments. Coastal communities of all sizes, whether they are a small community or a large one, will benefit from awareness campaigns enlisting the continuing membership and support of the extensive network of volunteers. Nominating 2012 as the year of the coast is an ideal mechanism to increase coastal zone management issues and awareness.

Individuals and their genuinely interested and engaged communities are often the key to practical and simple on-the-ground work that is so critical in natural resource management strategies. This would include coastal stakeholders, volunteer groups and the broader general community. Ongoing information provided by the national coastal zone database should include environmental data management and coastal zone planning information.

A key recommendation of the report is to develop an intergovernmental agreement to be endorsed by COAG which would define the roles and responsibilities of local, state and federal governments involved in coastal zone management and establish a national coastal advisory council that would have a key role in providing independent advice to government and, most importantly, ensure that there is very direct community input into national coastal zone policy, planning and management.

Much in this report reflects the statement made by Professor Woodroffe but shared by so many Australians whom I met and continue to meet. The Australian coastline represents one of our most iconic treasures, but there is no collective long-term vision for our coast. This report and the government’s response to it will determine whether this is perhaps part of a first step in changing this perception. I will be very interested to see which of the recommendations the minister and the government respond to and when.