In a press release dated 3 June 2015, Lisa Neville MP Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water announced that the Labour Government would fulfil their election commitment to integrate the coastal and marine environments. That announcement also included the appointment of an expert panel to progress the legislation, with Associate Professor Geoff Wescott of Deakin University chair of the panel.

During a recent interview with 3RRR’s Radio Marinara show, Assoc. Prof. Wescott provided some insight into the proposed legislation; a Victorian Marine & Coastal Act.

Prior to 1995 there wasn’t much in the way of coastal management legislation until the adoption of the Coastal Management Act 1995. This legislation has worked pretty well according to Assoc. Prof. Wescott, but it was adopted 20 years ago and would benefit from a fresh approach. The main criticism has been the focus of the Act on the immediate coastal area whereas Victorian jurisdiction extends for 3 nautical miles out to sea.

Despite calls from two Victorian Coastal Strategies, prepared in accordance with the 1995 Act, very little policy was implemented for the marine area of Victoria, Assoc. Prof. Wescott comically said it needs marinising. 

The expert panel appointed by The Minister has met 2 – 3 times since June with attention given to scoping the main issues to tackle. Assoc. Prof. Wescott suggested they are hoping to produce a full public consultation paper just before Easter (2016) for everybody to comment on.

Assoc. Prof. Wescott confirmed that he would expect the best bits of the Coastal Management Act 1995 would remain. A key possible aspect of the proposed legislation is that marine planning may be on the cards, as over 80% of the marine waters is not planned in any way.

It was highlighted that resourcing is always an issue on the coast. However, there are two substantial agencies who already have responsibility over the coastal and marine area; Parks Victoria and the EPA. While they don’t have a particularly marine and coastal focus, being primarily responsible for terrestrial matters, they are vitally important.

According to Assoc. Prof. Wescott there is a huge communication role to be addressed; it would be highly desirable if the public knew who was going to be in control of this piece of coast and marine area.

In this author’s view it’s evident that marine planning is key in this new Act, which will require significant stakeholder involvement from the beginning. This approach follows Europe and America in their recent attempts to implement the planned and coordinated governance of marine and coastal areas. Further information on marine spatial planning in general can be accessed here.

According to Assoc. Prof. Wescott it’s the Minister’s intent to have a Bill (called an exposure draft) ready in Autumn 2017, with the Act hopefully finalised in Spring 2017.