Commonwealth of Australia (1995) Commonwealth Coastal Policy


2.4 Guiding Principles for the Management of Coastal Resources

The Resource Assessment Commission recommended that clear principles be established to guide any decision making that affects the coastal zone. After very extensive consultations with conservation, industry and community groups and the various spheres of government it put forward a set of such principles in its final report.

The establishment of guiding principles for use by Commonwealth agencies will help to integrate government coastal management activities and to achieve the Commonwealth's coastal zone management objectives. It will also help to ensure that Commonwealth decisions affecting the use of the coastal zone are more open, consistent and systematic.

The principles listed in this section are comprehensive and it is intended that they will be used by Commonwealth policy and decision makers. They reflect the complexity of the issues that compete for attention in the coastal zone. They are not mutually exclusive; rather, they reflect the need to balance competing values in order to achieve ecologically sustainable development. No single principle is considered predominant.

Decision makers will be expected to exercise judgement in the application of competing principles. The basis for such judgement must be made explicit and, wherever appropriate, public.

The principles that follow are based on the recommendations of the Resource Assessment Commission and they are consistent with the principles of the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development. Terms such as 'use' and 'development' include within their meaning the use and management of resources for conservation purposes.

  • The ecological and physical links between terrestrial and marine systems must be taken into consideration in the use and management of coastal zone resources.
  • The economic, environmental, social and cultural values of coastal zone resources should be identified and the impacts of uses on those values should be determined as far as practicable before decisions are made.
  • As far as practicable, assessments should be made on local, regional, national and global scales. They should take into account long-term impacts on the resource itself and on other resources and other users. As far as practicable, negative effects of resource use should be minimised.
  • Cumulative impacts should be taken into consideration before decisions are made about the use of coastal resources. As far as practicable, cumulative impacts that have net negative effects should be avoided. It is also necessary to guard against the unintended negative effects of numerous small decisions.
  • Resource uses in the coastal zone should have significant adverse long-term effects on landscape or visual character only if the change induced is consistent with the management objectives for the area.
  • Coastal zone resource uses should be monitored to ensure that impact assessments are accurate. If impacts differ significantly from those predicted, remedial actions, including reviewing the resource allocation, should be undertaken.
  • The precautionary approach
  • If there is a high risk of serious or irreversible adverse impacts resulting from the use of a coastal resource, that use should be permitted only if those impacts can be mitigated or there are overwhelming grounds for proceeding in the national interest.
  • If a use is assessed as having a low risk of causing serious or irreversible adverse impacts, or if there is insufficient information with which to assess fully and with certainty the magnitude and nature of impacts, decision making should proceed in a conservative and cautious manner. The absence of scientific certainty should not be a reason for postponing measures to prevent or mitigate negative impacts.
  • Resource allocation
  • Coastal resources should be allocated to the use with the greatest long-term community benefit, where benefit is determined by taking economic, environmental, social and cultural considerations into account.
  • The degree to which an activity is dependent on being located in the coastal zone should be taken into account when resources are being allocated. Priority should be given to uses that are particularly dependent on coastal locations or coastal resources.
  • Alternative uses of coastal resources and opportunities for multiple or sequential use should be identified before allocation decisions are made. Multiple or sequential use of the coast should occur only when one use will not significantly diminish a resource's value for subsequent uses. When this is not possible resources in an area should be allocated to competing uses, so that the greatest range of beneficial uses is satisfied while minimising conflict between uses. At times it may be necessary to use areas for a single purpose or a restricted number of purposes.
  • Coastal areas in or near their natural state should be developed for uses that diminish their value only if development would provide considerable benefit and no other viable alternative exists.
  • Development in the coastal zone should occur in accordance with predetermined strategic coastal management plans. Incremental linear development around coastal towns should be discouraged.
  • Public access to the coast, including beach, foreshore and marine areas, should be maintained for recreation, tourism and other public activities. The extent, location and type of access may, however, need to be controlled to mitigate adverse effects of this access, to resolve incompatible uses, or in the interest of public safety.
  • The user-pays principle
  • Prices charged for access to coastal resources should reflect all short-term and long-term economic, environmental and social costs associated with use of those resources.
  • If it is not possible to measure these costs their existence and relative importance should be taken into account before decisions are made.
  • Economic instruments should be applied equitably across all sectors of society, although the circumstances of disadvantaged groups should be taken into account.
  • The costs of development in coastal areas, including infrastructure costs, the costs of environmental management and monitoring, and the costs of managing natural hazards, should be borne by development proponents.
  • If a direct benefit accrues to the community as a result of a development it is reasonable that costs be apportioned between the developer and the community in accordance with the distribution of benefits.
  • When developments in the coastal zone will result in increased tourism and recreational use, it is necessary to assess the hazards that might affect users and to develop facilities for managing the increased use. Comprehensive arrangements should be established to meet the continuing costs of management and maintenance.
  • Resource conservation
  • Natural physical processes should be safeguarded. Development should take account of natural processes and be located so as to disrupt or be affected by these processes as little as possible. When the disruption of natural processes is unavoidable every attempt should be made to limit that disruption and its impact on adjoining coastal areas.
  • Biological diversity and the biological processes on which it relies should be maintained. As far as practicable, use of the coastal zone should have minimal adverse impacts on regional biological diversity and biological processes.
  • Sites of ecological, cultural, archaeological, historic and scientific significance should be identified and maintained.
  • The disposal of waste, particularly into rivers, estuaries and the ocean, should be limited to the quantity and quality that the receiving environment can assimilate without suffering long-term degradation.
  • Waste disposal into coastal waters should be a last resort after all avenues for re-use and recycling have been exhausted.
  • If the assimilative capacity is unknown, existing pollution discharges should be progressively reduced to levels where there is a low probability of adverse impacts on the receiving environment beyond the discharge mixing zone. New discharges should be avoided.
  • Public participation
  • Effective public consultation and participation are essential to the planning process and should be encouraged before decisions are made. For participation to be effective, the public requires sufficient information and opportunity to be informed about alternative uses. Processes for deciding about coastal zone management should be open and publicly documented to allow for scrutiny.
  • Local communities, including local industries, should be encouraged to share direct responsibility for management of local coastal areas and to participate in the development and implementation of management strategies.
  • The interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be recognised and incorporated in resource use decision making. This requires, among other things, effective protection of cultural and intellectual property, including storylines; participation in the management of resources in which people have traditional or cultural interests; recognition of indigenous rights to hunt, gather and fish, consistent with conservation objectives; and conservation of the resources upon which these activities are based.