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Coastal development boundary necessary, warns -

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ELEANOR HALL: To the warning to retreat from coast. It comes from a group of federal politicians
who've been looking at the problem of rising sea levels for more than a year.

They say that development should be banned along thousands of kilometres of Australia's coastline
and some suggest that the Commonwealth Government should mark out the development boundary.

Already some coastal dwellers have been refused insurance on their homes, as Alexandra Kirk
reports.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Most Australians, eight in 10, live on the coast. The coastline population is
growing and sea levels are rising.

The House of Representatives standing committee on climate change, water and the environment has
issued a warning - that thousands of kilometres of the Australian coastline are at risk from the
threat of rising sea levels and extreme weather events because of climate change. That means
hundreds of thousands of homes and buildings are likely to be vulnerable.

Liberal MP Mal Washer is the deputy chair of the committee which has just handed down its report
headed The Time to Act is Now.

MAL WASHER: It is already presenting major problems but in the future it's going to be a nightmare
for us.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So ideally, what do you think should happen? A line should be drawn around the
coast?

MAL WASHER: Yep. Yes, absolutely, and beyond that there should not be the development growth.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And how quickly do you think it should be done?

MAL WASHER: Well, yesterday would be good Alex, and we'll try and get it done tomorrow. But I think
as soon as possible.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mal Washer, who's from Western Australia, says the problem is there for all to see.

MAL WASHER: Literally in Busselton, which is a popular state area people go to, without the sand
bags and the groynes, there would be little in the way of beaches after the winter periods. And if
you go to Cottesloe, most of the beaches get washed away and if you go to Mandurah, the canal
estates are in real threat and their beaches are pumping sand.

They are doing this of course on the Gold Coast. There would be no beach on the Gold Coast unless
they pumped sand onto the beach artificially. Now, with storm surges and aggravations of sea change
levels like El Nino and other high tide events, a lot of our coastal areas are going to be in
jeopardy.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Greens leader Bob Brown is on side.

BOB BROWN: This is a massive problem which is unfolding right now.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Minister for Climate Change, Penny Wong, says the report confirms why Federal
Parliament has to act on climate change.

PENNY WONG: Well this report is another reminder of the impact climate change will have in
Australia if we don't act now. That's why we know we have to take action to reduce Australia's
contribution to climate change, to start to reduce our emissions.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But Greens Senator Christine Milne says there's a big warning in the report for the
two major parties because the emissions reduction targets they're pursuing are not tough enough to
deal with climate change.

CHRISTINE MILNE: In the UK for example they already, not only have mapped their coastline, but they
have indentified areas for managed retreat. So people have been told that over time those areas are
not going to be protected by government and they have to start thinking about what to do.

In the state of Tasmania, for example, you've still got local governments approving heavy
industrial zoning and development in areas totally vulnerable to sea level rise. It's as if local
governments don't get it.

But it's actually local government rate payers who are going to pay because if they get planning
permission to build a house in an area that is known to be vulnerable, insurance companies won't
pay the insurance when that house is damaged and those people will then sue the local council
because they were given planning permission to build in an area which was vulnerable to flooding.
And that means the rate payers will end up having to pay.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Liberal frontbencher Tony Abbott doesn't see what all the fuss is about. He says
the Dutch have been coping with the same problem for centuries and seem to manage.

TONY ABBOTT: When it comes to rising sea levels I'm alert but I can't say that I'm particularly
alarmed. The fact is that sea levels have risen along the NSW coast by more than 20 centimetres
over the last century. Has anyone noticed it? No they haven't. Obviously an 80 centimetre rise in
sea levels would be more serious but I'm confident that we have the resources to cope.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: West Australian Liberal, Dennis Jensen, who doubts humans are causing climate
change, accepts the premise of the report, that sea levels have risen round the globe by 160
millimetres in the past century, but not that the rate has escalated to three millimetres a year in
the past decade.

DENNIS JENSEN: During the '80s, '90s and the early 2000s, the rate rose a bit but then in fact
there hasn't been a sea level rise in the last two to three years. So you know, it's too early to
be talking about acceleration or lack thereof. I mean, the trends are way too short term.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: As for vetoing development in some coastal areas:

DENNIS JENSEN: You know, if it's very flat and very close to sea level that would be quite
reasonable. But to a certain extent as well, I mean, if you make people that want to build in those
areas aware of the potential dangers and they are also aware of the insurance liability issues that
are associated with that, I think we shouldn't be too prescriptive with people who may wish to
build near the sea.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: You think people should be allowed to take the risk?

DENNIS JENSEN: Correct.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mal Washer stands by his report. Dr Washer thinks in some cases, people will have
to retreat from the coast.

MAL WASHER: For example, if I can put this simply. If you have a powerful influence on the council,
Alex, and say, "Look, I think my house is going to get washed away," and you lobby me and, "Look
can you put a bit of a groyne out to protect my house," and I wash someone else's house away
quicker down the track a little bit, down the beach, then I have a liability and so do you. So
sometimes really we are looking at retreat.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the co-chairman of the committee investigating sea level rises, Liberal MP Dr
Mal Washer. He was speaking to Alexandra Kirk.