In all previous State of the Environment reports, the overriding concern expressed about Australia’s coasts has been that development has proceeded in a piecemeal, uncoordinated way. Along with cumulative impacts, this presents a risk that coastal assets may be degraded before they are fully assessed and before the objectives for their management and conservation have been set.
The 2001 national report made the following observations:29
There is clearly still a need for a nationally applicable Coastal Zone Policy to be developed to further assist in reducing the fragmentation of effort to manage the coastal zone and associated coastal waters. This issue was highlighted by a House of Representatives report in 1991, which said: ‘The absence of a national perspective towards the entire Australian coastline could lead to national interests being undervalued or even lost for future generations, as the existing ad hoc, hodge-podge pattern of development slowly nibbles away at a precious and beautiful resource, the natural coastline.’
The 2006 report concluded:30
The most all-pervading systemic problem that underpins almost all the issues of managing Australia’s coasts and oceans is the lack of any systematic and strategic policy or operational framework that provides for the national-level monitoring and assessment of the condition of the ocean features, biodiversity or key resources.
In Chapter 6: Marine environment, we conclude:
‘Creeping degradation’ can be effectively prevented by the establishment of absolute standards for the environment. Important calls have been made for environmental benchmarks to be set for use in environmental accounts,31 but a set of standards based on equivalent metrics is equally important. The lack of a set of standards for the Australian marine environment that are based on measurable and ecologically sound metrics means that acceptability on social and economic grounds can, and often does, result in greater pressures being applied to the Australian environment.
In marine systems, there are very few defendable metrics that can be used within management frameworks for this purpose.