National leadership needed on coastal climate change

21 May 2009

It's time for national leadership on coastal planning for climate change. That was the message environmental policy expert Associate Professor Geoff Wescott from Deakin University had for the House of Representatives Environment Committee hearings on the impact of climate change on coastal communities held in Melbourne on Wednesday 20 May 2009.

"That a federal government role in coastal planning and management is still lacking over a century after federation is a national oversight and a grave disappointment.

"It's time for the federal government to get deeply involved in leading the community's response to the coastal impacts of climate change. This includes providing the financial support for infrastructure that is crucial if Australia is going to be able to cope and adapt to coastal climate change impacts such as increased storm surges and rising sea levels," Associate Professor Wescott said, pointing out that 85 per cent of Australians live in coastal cities and towns.

He said coastal areas faced a 'pincer movement' of challenges– the impact of ever increasing coastal development on the landward side combined with the rise in sea level and increase in storm surges from the sea.

Associate Professor Wescott believes the federal government has to take a leadership and financing role in coastal planning and management in Australia for a number of reasons.

"These are national issues that need a national, standardised approach. Also, as the prime taxing government in the country, the federal government is the only level of government with the resources to meet the challenges ahead," he said.

While the federal government's role should concern the provision of infrastructure and assistance in coordinating coastal planning principles, Associate Professor Wescott emphasised there should not be a 'federal takeover' of the delivery of coastal planning and management. This, he said, should occur at the lowest possible level of government which still protects the wider public interest.

Associate Professor Wescott's research interests are in the area of environmental policy and its implementation. Marine and coastal policy, planning and management have been a focus for over 25 years, along with national parks and marine protected areas.

His views on the need for federal government involvement in coastal planning and management are detailed in a chapter of his forthcoming book, Back to Basics: Breakthrough Proposals for the Australian Environment. Associate Professor Wescott provided a copy of this chapter to members of the Committee at the hearing.


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