Australian Environmental Lawyers call for Sea Country Reforms

CEESP News - by Hanna Jaireth, member of IUCN CEESP, WCEL, WCPA

One of the technical papers in a broad blueprint for the next generation of environmental laws in Australia calls for a more strategic national approach to marine and coastal governance, including nationally consistent laws for the better recognition of Indigenous Australians’ sea country.

The Australian Panel of Experts on Environmental Law (APEEL) developed the blueprint with the aim of ensuring a healthy, functioning and resilient environment for future generations.

Technical Paper 4 – Marine and Coastal Issues (2017) concludes that despite a range of policy commitments to integrated planning and management of marine resources and the coastal zone in Australia, current approaches are fragmented across various levels of government and sectoral regimes, including for conservation, fishing, pollution control, biosecurity, and oil and gas and seabed mining.

"Plastic Paradise” by Kathy Allam Photo: Hanna Jaireth

Photo:  “Plastic Paradise” by Kathy Allam. Artwork was entered in the 2017 'Sculptures by the Sea', at Bondi, Sydney. Photo: Hanna Jaireth

A broad blueprint for the next generation of Australian environmental laws calls for a more strategic national approach to marine and coastal governance in Australia, including nationally consistent laws for the better recognition of Indigenous Australians’ sea country.

Australia’s coastal and marine environments are vital to its economic, recreational, and cultural wellbeing. So protecting coastal and marine biodiversity and resources against the stressors of coastal development, fishing, oil and gas development, pollution, invasive species and climate change is critically important.

The volunteer Australian Panel of Experts on Environmental Law (APEEL), many of whom are active in IUCN Commissions, developed the blueprint with the aim of ensuring a healthy, functioning and resilient environment for future generations. The Places You Love Alliance, the largest alliance of Australian NGOs in Australia’s history, convened APEEL as an independent source of expert technical advice.

APEEL’s Technical Paper 4 – Marine and Coastal Issues (2017) concludes that despite a range of policy commitments to better integrated planning and management of marine resources and the coastal zone in Australia, current approaches are fragmented across various levels of government and sectoral regimes, including for conservation, fishing, pollution control, biosecurity, and oil and gas and seabed mining.

Specific recommendations in TP4 include:

• Marine management needs to recognise the interconnectedness of people, culture and place. This includes a consistent statutory framework for the inclusion of sea country in the policy framework for Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs), mechanisms for resolving conflicts between zoning designations and uses of sea country IPA areas, and a wider range of mechanisms for recognising sea country in such arrangements.

• For both the marine spatial planning (MSP) process and the completion of the National Reserve System for Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA), better engagement with indigenous groups and recognition of sea country is essential, including recognition of the potential for multiple legal and non-legal modalities for sea country governance.

• The Australian Government should

o   pursue agreement on a nationally-agreed vision for managing Australia’s marine and coastal environment, with clearly-defined objectives and priorities, and measurable outcomes capable of supporting economic sectors reliant on the marine and coastal environment, ecosystem integrity and resilience, and ongoing enjoyment by the public (including anticipatory measures with respect to the impacts of climate change);

o   lead and implement a comprehensive system of marine spatial planning (MSP) that is ecosystem and place-based, participatory, adaptive, and which integrates the needs of different sectors and agencies, and different levels of government. MSP undertaken by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority provides a world-recognised example of how this may be achieved;

o   lead a national effort to ensure the completion of planning, establishment and management for the National Reserve System for Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA), with the identification and zoning of new areas to be based on scientifically robust criteria, sound application of the CAR principles (comprehensive, adequate and representative) to establish a national network incorporating state and territory marine protected areas (MPAs), and national guidelines for MPA management;

o   lead a national effort to develop stronger measures for the prevention and control of marine pollution including damage to ecosystems from coastal development, particularly land-based sources of pollution affecting the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and marine plastic pollution (MPP); and

o   adopt more robust approaches to marine biosecurity, including nationally consistent ballast water protocols, and an enhanced capacity for rapid responses to manage new invasions or outbreaks

APEEL consultant Dr Sarah Waddell and Panel member Professor Jan McDonald co-authored TP4 <apeel.org.au/s/APEEL_marine_coastal_issues.pdf>.

The Australia State of the Environment Report 2016 (ASoE) also found that some pressures on the marine environment are increasing, with uncertain impacts, and that management frameworks continue to be poorly coordinated across sectors and jurisdictions. Increasing pressures include vessel activity, and high but variable concentrations of land-sourced and ocean-sourced marine debris. ASoE found that there is a clear gap between the identification of pressures and issues associated with threats in national recovery plans. It found, for example, that the objectives of the threat abatement plan for the entanglement and ingestion of marine debris should be revised or extended to improve the plan’s effectiveness.

Other papers in APEEL’s blueprint accessible at <apeel.org.au> focus on the following themes:

1. The foundations of environmental law

2. Environmental governance

3. Terrestrial biodiversity conservation and natural resources management

5. Climate law

6. Energy regulation

7. The private sector, business law and environmental performance

8. Democracy and the environment

The Australian Panel of Experts on Environmental Law (APEEL)APEEL is comprised of experts with extensive knowledge of, and experience in, environmental law. Its co-convenors are longstanding volunteers with IUCN: Assoc Prof Rob Fowler (IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL)) and Dr Hanna Jaireth (CEESP, WCPA, WCEL). Members include a former judge of the Federal Court of Australia, environmental law practitioners, consultants and ENGO supporters, and academics of international standing.

Main photo: 

  • Front row L-R: Dr Bruce Lindsay, Em. Prof David Farrier, Assoc Prof Cameron Holley, Prof Bob Percival
  • 2nd row L-R: Prof Neil Gunningham, Ms Rachel Walmsley, Prof Lee Godden, Dr Hanna Jaireth, Prof Paul Martin
  • Back row L-R: Prof Ben Richardson, Prof Rob Fowler, Bob Debus AM, Murray Wilcox AO QC, Dr Sarah Waddell
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