National Sea Change Taskforce executive director Alan Stokes at the Australian Coastal Councils Conference held in Byron Bay. david nielsen
National Sea Change Taskforce executive director Alan Stokes at the Australian Coastal Councils Conference held in Byron Bay. david nielsen

Turning the tide on having a say

THE talking is done, now the lobbying begins.

The Coastal Councils Conference wrapped up yesterday with a war cry as councils from all along the Australian coast began a push to give them a bigger say in the national policy debate and a greater share of government funding.

The councils, through the Nat-ional Sea Change Taskforce, which organised this week’s conference at Byron Bay, have three powerful tools to help get theirdemands met: A draft national policy for coastal communities, prepared by the taskforce and finalised at yesterday’s meeting; a bipartisan parliamentary report recommending action on many of the environmental and social issues worrying coastal councils; and, perhaps most importantly, a Federal election.

Speaking outside the conference yesterday, Sea Change Taskforce executive director Alan Stokes said the first step would be to forward a communiqué representing the conference participants – who came from as far away as Western Australia and Tasmania – to Climate Change Minister Penny Wong and Environment Minister Peter Garrett.

That communiqué would endorse the 47 recommendations of a Federal parliamentary inquiry headed by Labor MP JennieGeorge and Liberal MP MalWasher. Both MPs attended this week’s conference.

The ‘George Report’ ended up the subject of a fair amount of discussion over the course of the two-day conference, partly becausesimilar reports done over thepreceding decades ended up, in the words of lawyer Andrew Beatty who addressed the conference on Monday, forgotten about ‘insomebody’s bookshelf’.

The consensus this time around appeared to be the new report would get serious attention – not least because Ms Wong and Mr Garrett had specifically asked for it to be prepared.

Ms George also said the twoMinisters were, even now, having the report analysed by their dep-artments ahead of a response at some unknown point in the future.

Byron Shire mayor Jan Barham said the other factor helping the report was that many of the environmental issues, which had been also addressed in previous reports – such as global warming and coastal erosion – were much more visible now and the need for action much more urgent.

Mr Stokes said the next step would be the launch of the finalised policy – something the taskforce wanted to launch during or close to the election campaign in the hope of making it an election issue. The policy raises issues such as giving local government an active voice on Council of Australian Governments meetings.

The policy would be available to both sides of politics, with the hope being that one or both would adopt it.

Sea Change Taskforce policy:

 - A new funding formula for coastal councils to respond effectively to the social and economic needs of local communities (direct funding from the Federal and/or state governments).

 - A national urban settlement strategy to manage expected population growth and to ensure those populations have adequate infrastructure.

 - Adopt a co-ordinated approach involving Federal, state and local governments to identify, prioritise and fund economic, social, environmental and sporting infrastructure needed to cope with rapid population growth in coastal communities.

 - The Federal Government, through the Australian Bureau of Statistics, ensures the collection of accurate non-resident data from coastal communities so the impact of tourists in local infrastructure can be properly accounted for in funding allocations.

 - Address the needs of aging populations in coastal communities.

 - Have a consistent national response to the legal risks associated with coastal planning, the impact of climate change, and rising sea levels.

 - The Federal Government should declare 2012 the Year of the Coast.

 - A collaborative national approach to address the shortage of affordable housing in coastal communities

 - Review current governance and institutional arrangements for the coastal zone.

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