What is valued? A critique of Australian coastal legislation, policies and plans

Dr Carmen Elrick-Barr1,2, Professor Tim Smith1, Associate Professor Dana Thomsen1

1University Of The Sunshine Coast, Maroochydoore, Australia, 2Australian Coastal Society, , Australia


The way we define our problems determines our solutions. In Australia, coastal management is guided by legislation, policies, strategies and plans, that are modified in accordance with changes in what is valued (e.g. management goals), perceived threats to those values (i.e. perceived vulnerability) and knowledge regarding the most appropriate approach to managing those threats. Australia’s federated system of governance means values, threats and the ‘best approach’ can vary across State/Territory. Depending on the level of devolution of responsibility this can further vary by locale (e.g. local government area). This is not necessarily negative because variability is appropriate given Australia’s diverse coastline and communities. However, how the coast is viewed – perceptions of what it is valued and what threatens those values – determines management responses and thus the social and environmental outcomes for coastal communities. Through a critique of how coastal management is conceptualised (the goals, threats and approaches), as detailed in State and local level legislation, policies and plans, we reflect on similarities and differences, and consider the implications for coastal communities.


Carmen is a human geographer with over 15 years experience working in the academic and private sectors. In the private sector, Carmen delivered climate change adaptation support to local and national governments (for example, mainstreaming climate change into ICZM; providing climate change adaptation policy advice; designing monitoring and evaluation frameworks; and training representatives from national and local governments in risk assessment, adaptation planning and climate financing). In the University sector, Carmen has worked on social and environmental research projects, with a coastal and/or climate change adaptation focus (across the themes of coastal management; migration; water equity and climate risk; and the social, economic and institutional dimensions of climate change). Carmen’s research explores human-environment interactions in the coastal zone, adopting mixed-methods approaches. She is also Director the WA State Branch of the Australian Coastal Society.