Victoria’s Coastal Reforms – ‘fit for purpose’ or an opportunity lost?

On 20 June 2018 the Marine and Coastal Act 2018 was passed by the Victorian Parliament completing a review that commenced in mid-2015, based on a promise from the Labor Government elected in November 2014. The Act and its new processes and bodies will come into force on 1 August 2018 and include the appointment of a Marine and Coastal Council (MACC) as the successor to the Victorian Coastal Council, in name at least, established under the Coastal Management Act 1995 which is replaced by the new Act.

The major changes that will occur are a very obvious and strong enhancement of coverage of the marine environment, strong reference to traditional owners and climate change in the objectives of the Act and emphasis on the integration of catchment, coastal and marine planning and management.

As well there will now be a Marine and Coastal Policy (for long term objectives and processes) as well as an action oriented Marine and Coastal Strategy e.g. the first Policy, due by the end of 2019, will include a framework for marine spatial planning in Victoria. Both will have to be signed off by all relevant Ministers (not just the environment Minister as presently) – again an attempt at enhanced integration.

Alongside the legislation there is an implementation plan that has already started which includes referrals already made to the Victorian Environment Assessment Council on the assessment of marine values and a review of the critically important public coastal reserves.

OK so that is the dry bits.

There was also some controversy across the marine and coastal community in Victoria about the reforms, led by the Victorian National Parks Association and backed by the Greens. They argue that this was an opportunity for major reform and greater marine conservation (e.g. reform of fisheries and increased marine protected areas) and that the MACC is only advisory (it will not prepare the Strategy as in the past, the Department will) and, curiously, have criticised the Regional and Strategic Partnerships (RASPs) a prime regional delivery framework, although this appears to be through a misreading of the legislation. There were also a small but vocal lobby wanting to see the Regional Coastal Boards continue (their role is replaced by the coastal Catchment Management Authorities which is argued will enhance catchment – coastal – marine management). But public submissions showed virtually no support for their continuation after a decade of being starved of funds and hence delivering few tangible outcomes. Which cuts to the view taken by the Expert Panel, and overall supported by the submissions, that the new Act needed to reflect current and future realities of government and not allocate roles and actions to bodies which will never have the capacity to carry them out (‘fit for purpose’). Of course, nobody got everything they wanted out of this review – including the author!

Only time will tell which view is closer to reality but certainly the increased role of the departments, and hence across the cabinet, which they fought strongly for, means that they will never again be able to blame the bodies established under legislation for any shortcomings.  

The ‘buck’ now lies at the Government and their departments’ door – will they rise to the challenge?

Geoff Wescott

Words by Geoff Wescott. Please note the author was the Chair of the Expert Panel appointed by the Victorian State Government to run the public consultation process and make final recommendations to the government, assisted by a departmental team. Please respect the author’s thoughts and reference appropriately: (c) ACS, 2018, posted 26 June 2018, for correspondence about this blog post please email austcoastsoc@gmail.com