Australian Coastal Councils Conference 2011
The 2011 Australian Coastal Councils Conference, organised by the National Sea Change Taskforce and hosted by the Surf Coast Shire Council, was held in Torquay from 28 to 30 March 2011. The major topics of the conference were:
- the Federal Government response to the House of Representatives Coastal Inquiry
- the implications of population growth for Australia’s coastal regions
- coastal risk management, including legal and insurance risks
- quality of life in coastal communities, including the impact of growth and other demographic changes on community wellbeing.
AIDA representatives were invited to a community breakfast on 29 March hosted by the Victorian Coastal Council, the National Sea Change Taskforce and the Surf Coast Shire Council. Following the welcome to country by Bonnie Fagan of the Wadawurrung people, attendees were also welcomed to the Surf Coast by four grade 6 students from the Lorne–Aireys Inlet School, who gave a marvellous joint presentation about their roles as Sea Care ambassadors.
Barry Sammels, Chair of the National Sea Change Taskforce and Mayor of Rockingham (WA) then outlined the role of the taskforce, which has more than 68 member councils from around the Australian coast, more than 40 of which were represented at the conference. He listed their shared problems as including rapid population growth, major shortfalls in resources for infrastructure, impacts of tourism and visitor peaks, the sea-change phenomenon (particularly involving retiring baby boomers), being at the forefront of dealing with an ageing population, lack of access to services, and finally, the difficulties and dilemmas of planning for climate change, which will uniquely challenge coastal communities with sea level rise and more severe extreme weather events, and put at risk the high biodiversity and scenic values of the coastal zone. Mayor Sammels reported that progress made since the taskforce was established in 2004 as an advocacy body has included placement of the impact of coastal growth on the national agenda, the release in 2007 of the ALP’s Caring for Our Coasts Plan, implementation of the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program (announced by Prime Minister Rudd in 2008 as part of the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan), and most recently, the Labor Government’s largely positive response to the parliamentary coastal inquiry.
Alan Stokes, executive director of the taskforce, then gave a presentation on ‘The Challenge of Coastal Growth’. He presented a number of alarming statistics about the rate of current and predicted population growth in Australia, and particularly along our coastline. He highlighted the need for a national growth manage- ment policy that would prevent urban settlement in areas endangered by climate change and loss of productive rural land in the coastal hinterlands. He noted that the taskforce has prepared a 10-point plan as a policy framework for coastal Australia and is calling upon the Federal Government to adopt this plan in the national interest. AIDA has a few copies of a booklet outlining the plan if any members are interested in further details.
The breakfast concluded with a panel discussion entitled, ‘If growth is the challenge, what is the answer?’ involving AIDA committee member Ian Godfrey alongside Libby Mears (with dual roles as a local councillor and Chair of the Victorian Coastal Council), Darren Cheeseman (Federal MP for the local electorate of Corangamite), Laura O’Connor (Torquay Community House) and Alan Stokes. Some of the comments made are paraphrased as follows:
Alan Stokes – ‘Many people are attracted to the coast in search of the character of the coastal community they grew up in. But they find that character is lost as the relentless growth continues.’
Darren Cheeseman – ‘With rapid growth, a major challenge is provision of services, and the question must be asked whether some communities have reached a point where growth must stop.’
Ian Godfrey – ‘A key element for the coastal hamlet of Aireys Inlet, which has finite boundaries defined by the sea and the national forest, is retention of character. A problem for us is that the planning scheme in Victoria assumes that our planning issues are the same as those in urban cities.’
Libby Mears – ‘Our council has worked hard on neighbourhood studies and planning overlays, but the problem of “one size fits all” in the planning scheme is a continued challenge.’
Laura O’Connor – ‘In Torquay our challenge is to work hard to build and nurture a sense of community as the population grows.’
Question to Ian Godfrey – ‘Is it possible to increase density and still retain character?’
Ian Godfrey – ‘A very good question! Why could we not be like a Greek village that retains its beauty despite high population density? But after ten years in Aireys Inlet I know that our neighbourhood character is highly dependent on the natural environment, which would be heavily impacted by high-density development.’
Question from audience – ‘Following on from the AIDA representative’s comments about the challenges of increased population density – isn’t this problem made worse by the increased size and bulk of most new houses?’
Libby Mears – ‘We need incentives in the planning scheme for variety in housing stock.’
Mary-Jane Gething AIDA Newsletter April 2011