Australia's Oceans Policy 1998:



The following policy statements are intended to help apply the principles for ecologically sustainable ocean use when developing and implementing planning and management arrangements for Australia’s oceans. They are also intended, in association with more specific national and regional objectives, to provide the basis for reporting and performance assessment in the implementation of Australia’s Oceans Policy.

Maintenance of ecosystem integrity

• The ecological links between the land and oceans, as well as within and between ocean ecosystems, must be taken into account in ocean planning and management.

• Maintenance of natural ecosystem structure and function should be used to develop agreed objectives and indicators for ecosystems and resource uses, on the basis of the best available information available on assessment of:

– natural levels of temporal and spatial variability and the sensitivity or resilience of the ecosystems likely to be affected by proposed uses;

– the extent and levels of change in ecosystem components or impacts on ecosystem integrity likely to arise from proposed uses and other impacts, singly and in unison;

– levels of induced change considered acceptable; 

– levels of change in ecosystem characteristics considered incompatible with maintenance of ecosystem health or recovery within a reasonable period; and

– gaps or uncertainty in information on resources, uses or ecosystem processes and the capacity to monitor, detect and assess change in indicators of ecosystem health.

Integrated oceans planning and management for multiple ocean use

• The economic, environmental, social and cultural values of ocean resources should be assessed, as should the impacts of proposed uses on those values, before resource allocation decisions are made.

• Ocean resources should be allocated to the mix of uses within a planning area that offers the greatest long-term community benefits (taking economic, environmental, social and cultural values into account) compatible with maintaining ecosystem health.

• Direct, indirect and cumulative adverse impacts of resource use should be minimised:

– uses that may diminish the value of an area or resource for subsequent uses require careful assessment of long-term costs and benefits and of alternative uses.

• Multiple uses of the same ocean resource should be considered jointly so that their overall impacts on the oceans, and the impacts they have on each other, can be understood.

• Resource use activities should be assessed within a planning framework which considers impacts on ecosystems, against management goals, and t h rough an objective, transparent and open analysis of risk, costs and benefits.

• W h e re good management suggests that uses of particular areas should be restricted, primarily for a single purpose or for a specific set of purposes, access for resource users with different interests may be managed through zoning on the basis of area and/or time.

• Multiple use planning and management of the oceans should incorporate, as a central component, a comprehensive , adequate and representative national system of marine protected areas .

Promotion of ecologically sustainable marine-based industries

• Healthy marine ecosystems are essential for the long term productivity of marine industries.

• Planning and management for ocean use should explicitly include the development of sustainable, internationally competitive marine industries that contribute to national economic growth, employment and regional development.

• Allocation of ocean resources under existing sectoral management regimes should provide for integrated ocean use and should:

– support industry efforts to generate wealth through growth, innovation and value enhancement;

– encourage industry in promoting its international competitiveness and international trade and investment opportunities; and 

– encourage continuous improve m e n t s in environmental management and cleaner production strategies.

• Governments and industry should cooperate to ensure cost-effective access to high-quality information about resources, environmental baseline and monitoring information required for managing existing industries, and for identification of new opportunities.

• Unnecessary regulatory impediments to the development of ecologically sustainable marine industries should be removed. This can be achieved by:

– simplifying and streamlining regulatory framework s , including removing unnecessary regulations;

– improving valuation and pricing of resource access and government services; and

– managing uncertainties in resource access, use and allocation processes, for example, by creating tradeable rights, where compatible with maintaining the productivity and health of marine ecosystems and other community equity considerations.


• The distribution of roles and responsibilities between the Commonwealth, States, Territories and local government should be consistent with the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment and the outcome of the Council of Australian Governments’ review of roles and responsibilities for the environment.

• Partnerships between governments, industry and the community should be a major component of institutional arrangements for assessing, planning and managing ocean resources:

– recognising coastal and marine policies and strategies in place or being developed by Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments; and

– recognising the responsibilities carried by governments to develop and implement policies for community benefit and in the national intere s t

• Planning and management arrangements should incorporate a duty of care towards the health of our oceans on the part of individuals and corporate and government bodies.

• To the extent possible, the regulatory framework for ocean use should:

– be outcome or objective based, and provide incentives for improved performance;

– not impose unnecessary costs or re g ul a t o ry burdens on users and managers;

– be consistent across jurisdictional boundaries where they impact on the same oceans resource;

– be developed cooperatively with community and industry;

– use market based approaches where they are able to address adequately the full range of economic, environmental and community values; and

– be consistent with internationally agreed measures.

• Institutional arrangements and decision making processes for the oceans should enable conciliation and dispute re s o l ution. Howe ve r, such arrangements will not fetter governments from carry i n g out their responsibilities to the Australian people.

• The Commonwealth Government will continue to involve State and Territory Governments in considering existing and new international treaties relating to the marine environment, particularly where they may affect State or Territory interests.

Managing for uncertainty

• Planning and management for use of ocean resources, particularly the living marine resources, must be able to accommodate considerable uncertainty.

Regimes should be adaptive and:

– be able to accommodate uncertainty in the accuracy of assessments of resources and of risks and the variability and unpredictability of the marine environment;

– allow for changes in resource values and improvements in technology and information that may alter risk assessments and provide new opportunities for resource use; and

– be capable of rapid responses to assessment of adverse impacts; this includes reducing or ceasing re s o u rce use to a s s u re an acceptable rate of re c ove ry or remediation of ecosystem health.

Application of the precautionary principle

• If the potential impact of an action is uncertain, priority should be given to maintaining ecosystem health and productivity.

• Incomplete information on possible impacts should not be used as a reason for postponing precautionary measures intended to reduce or avoid unacceptable levels of change or to prevent serious or irreversible environmental degradation of the oceans.

• In the application of the precautionary approach, public and private decisions should be guided by:

– careful evaluation to ensure that changes arising from a use or uses remain within limits considered acceptable, to avoid, wherever practicable, serious or irreversible damage to the environment; and

– assessment of the risk-weighted consequences of various options.

• If there is a risk of serious and irreversible environmental damage resulting from an ocean use, that use should be permitted only if the damage can be mitigated, or it is limited in its extent, and there is an overriding net community benefit from the use:

– the higher the risk of unacceptable levels of change or of serious or irreversible environmental damage, the more conservative should be the measures required to reduce that risk.

• Ocean users carry a responsibility to a s s u re the ecological sustainability of their operations and an obligation toidentify and implement pre c a u t i o n a ry  m e a s u re s .

User-pays and other economic instruments

• Charges for access to ocean resources should reflect the community interest and short- and long-term economic, environmental, social, and cultural costs and benefits.

• Where it is not possible to quantify these costs and benefits, their existence and relative importance should be taken into account in setting charges.

• Risk of losing ecosystem health and productivity should be presumed to have a high cost to the community.

• Access to common ocean resources for private profit should be priced to give a reasonable rate of return to the community, where consistent with government resources policies.

• Public-funding principles should apply for services provided for the public good.

• Unless there is an overriding public interest, the costs of commercial development potentially impacting on the oceans — including infrastructure, environmental management, monitoring and remediation, and the costs of managing natural hazards — should be borne by development proponents.

• Those who generate and release wastes into the ocean should bear the costs of containment, avoidance, abatement, or remediation to the level of best practice.

• Approvals for resource use proposals should be contingent on the proponents having in place credible arrangements for bearing these costs.

• Pollution which results in loss of amenity or diminished value of the oceans resource to other users is a form of resource use and, while it continues, should be costed accordingly.

Reporting, monitoring and assessment

• Ocean planning and management should include the development of outcome-based performance indicators and performance assessment pro c e d u re s .

• Use of ocean resources should be monitored to ensure that estimates of impacts are accurate. If assessments of impacts differ significantly from forecasts, management procedures should allow for the initiation of remedial action, including reviews of resource allocation.

• Monitoring and assessment pro g r a m m e s should be structured so that they provide sufficient statistical power for detection of potential impacts, including design for replication and appropriate control or reference areas.

Such programmes should be subject to public and independent peer review.

• Ocean conditions should be monitore d to underpin improved understanding and decision making and to detect va r iability and long-term change. Ef f e c t i ve linkages with national and international ocean monitoring pro g r a m m e s should be maintained.

• Ocean managers should have access to data which are essential for good oceans m a n a g e m e n t .

• Access to and use of ocean resources carry with them a responsibility for users to provide information in the form and at the level of detail required for good management.

• Ocean managers have complementary responsibilities:

– to communicate clearly what information is required and the form in which it is to be provided;

– to recognise and minimise the transaction costs of requiring information from resource users; and

– to provide feedback on the use made of the information and its management value.

• Monitoring of the performance of management agencies should be open and transparent, with the results made publicly available.

Duty of care and stewardship

• Australian governments, marine industries, communities and individuals should acknowledge and apply a duty of care in use of Australia’s ocean resources. A collective sense of stewardship is a critical element in sharing the responsibility for these assets across all sectors.

Interests and responsibilities of indigenous peoples

• The cultural interests and traditional  k n owledge and management practices of Aboriginal and To r res Strait Is l a n d e r peoples should be recognised and incorporated in ocean planning and management and related policy deve l o p m e n t .

• Local communities should be encouraged to participate in local industries and in management strategies and to continue to share responsibility for the management of ocean resources.

Broader community participation

• Effective public participation in ocean planning and management requires that:

– the public should have access to sufficient information about current ocean resource uses, proposals and alternative uses and their impacts;

– the public should have sufficient opportunities for informed community contributions to decisions and management; and

– t h e re is a clear understanding of the responsibilities of governments for  planning and management in meeting community and national i n t e re s t s .

• Ocean management decisions and how they are made should be open for public scrutiny.

• Local communities and local industries should be encouraged to participate in planning and management strategies and share responsibility for the management of ocean resources.

Regional and global responsibilities

• Australia’s obligations in relation to the oceans under conventions, agreements and arrangements to which it is party must be acquitted in the assessment, allocation and management of ocean resources:

– including commitments relating to peaceful use of the oceans and cooperation in access for national and international scientific research and monitoring programmes.

• Government and industry should cooperate internationally to incorporate the full environmental costs associated with ocean related production.

– multilateral development and implementation of market-based measures  to protect the health of our oceans is an important strategy for maintaining the international competitiveness of our marine industries while p romoting global enviro n m e n t a l p ro t e c t i o n .

• International trans-boundary resources should be allocated and conserved in a fair and equitable way, placing a premium on the peaceful settlement of any differences regarding their use.

• Australia should provide leadership regionally and internationally in the management of our oceans, re c o g n i s i n g the possibility that national activities may have effects on the marine jurisdictions of neighbouring countries.


The full text of Australia' Ocean Policy is available from: