Coastal Management Bill 2016

31st May 2016

Mr GREG PIPER ( Lake Macquarie ) ( 17:40 :06 ): I wish to contribute to the debate on the Coastal Management Bill 2016. I say at the outset that I will be supporting the bill. This legislation, which will replace the Coastal Protection Act 1979, is arguably quite overdue. Australians love the coast. We love the climate it provides and the recreational opportunities such as swimming, surfing, skiing, fishing and just generally mucking about in boats and on the foreshore. We love to be able to watch the water and are frequently moved by its beauty and in awe of its power. We love the coast so much that we are one of the most heavily coastal dwelling people in the world. But we must be careful, respectful and smart enough that we do not love the coast to death.

Most significantly, I applaud the Government's efforts to re-establish a new statutory Coastal Council, which will replace the existing NSW Coastal Panel and have the power to conduct performance audits on the implementation of coastal management plans by councils. As a former mayor of Lake Macquarie, which is home to the State's best stretch of coastline—I know members are parochial in this regard but they can take my comment as a given—from Dudley, Glenrock Lagoon and the headland at Leggy Point through to Catherine Hill Bay, I am very familiar with the issues associated with the old Coastal Protection Act. That Act has been amended and fiddled with for some 37 years to create a mishmash of confused and complex legislation based on outdated science and knowledge. That is not to detract from the intentions of those early legislators; it is just that we now know much more about the science and the mechanics affecting the coast.

Indeed, while our understanding of local climate and coastal processes is improving, so is our knowledge of the likelihood of impacts from climate change, which will lead to more frequent and more violent weather events. I am pleased that the member for Maroubra so stridently brought that to the House's attention because I think that this Government has not been strong on tackling the issue of climate change. I believe this new bill sets out a broad, sustainable vision for our coastline. It is not perfect but it is a very good start. It will manage and protect it and provide a clear set of rules on how it is managed into the future. I applaud the fact that it recognises Indigenous heritage along with the character and specific requirements of regional areas and will guide councils on how to deal with the immediate and future impacts of climate change.

While I am aware of the role played by local councils and key agencies in forming the new bill, some of my constituents have complained that the bill was drafted without enough engagement with the broader community. I too received many of the representations that were referred to by the member for Maroubra. I note, however, that further public consultation will be held before draft zone mapping has been completed and a draft State environmental planning policy [SEPP] has been finalised. With the re-establishment of the NSW Coastal Council, this bill seems to me to be a good framework for that further work. I understand that following amendments in the Legislative Council, the new Coastal Council will be required to provide an annual report reflecting on the performance of councils and community engagement in the implementation of coastal management plans. That is also a good move.

I note that the Government has not included statewide sea level rise benchmarks in the stage two reform package. I acknowledge the member for Charlestown, the current mayor of Lake Macquarie City Council, who is in the Chamber. Lake Macquarie City Council has been strident in its planning for future sea level rises for more than a decade, often against a backdrop of resistance from some quarters. It should, of course, be applauded for the work it has done, and I back its calls for statewide benchmarks that would provide consistency in coastal planning and hazard mitigation. Lake Macquarie has been at the forefront of this fight and against the policies of its neighbouring councils, which has detracted from the good work that Lake Macquarie has achieved.

As I have said before, it is understandable that we love the coast. It is a complex environment, which we have intensively occupied and modified since European settlement. Frequently we learn that our understanding of the land or water is not correct, and homes, businesses or public infrastructure have been impacted and often destroyed as a result of exposure to the elements, with waves, wind, currents and even tides taking their toll. We must take this into account in all future planning and adjust our thinking so that we work with the natural environment rather than take the view that we can control it. A control attitude is expensive and destined to fail.

I wish to reflect on my role as the chair of the Estuary Management Committee and then the Lake Macquarie Taskforce, which, in the 1990s and early 2000s, addressed the decline of Lake Macquarie. The estuary management study was done under the guidance of the Estuary Management Manual 1992, which I bring to the attention of the House. It was a progressive document produced by the then New South Wales Government through the Department of Public Works. It was a well-considered template for what we were going to do. The estuary management study looked at how the science of the lake worked, and how we used the catchment and the estuary. The areas I am referring to will now be covered in this bill. We looked at everything that needed to be done to produce a solid estuary management plan, which included comprehensive consultation with the community, whether they were members of the public or business owners.

We consulted with all stakeholders throughout the process. The study produced a great result. During that study I first met Professor Bruce Tom, and developed a great relationship with him and many other academics and highly qualified people in New South Wales. Lake Macquarie City Council had an excellent relationship with Professor Thom, as I am sure other councils now have with Mr Angus Gordon. The estuary management plan used the best science available that was developed to work the natural systems, looking at how reinstating natural beaches would dissipate wave energy and reduce its deflection, which frequently caused neighbouring land to bear the burden of erosion. We looked to nature to address the movement of fine colloidal pollutants and nutrients into the lake and we moved away from the earlier well-intended but failed attempts to control these things with concrete, gross pollutant traps and the like. [Extension of time]

Lake Macquarie City Council, in conjunction with the State, worked largely in accordance with the estuary management plan to develop expertise in recreating wetland systems as well as working to protect and improve existing natural wetland systems. It is good science, but it is also common sense. I refer to my time when we looked at producing a coastal management plan that was to be similar, but under the former Act. It was a much poorer process than that which we had developed with the estuary management plan. For a number of reasons, the framework and guidance were not present and there was no commitment from the State government at the time. I note that the council has moved on with the coastal management plan and it has done some extraordinary work. The coast is an extraordinarily complex area and is rather expensive to fix when it goes wrong. We have been getting it wrong since European settlement. We have modified the coastline and have tried to train the water to do what we wanted it to do. We have tried to tame the tides and manipulate the currents. It does not work. We must be smarter and work with nature.

This bill establishes common-sense pathways and principles for the sustainable management of our coastal environment. No doubt, as has been alluded to by the member for Maroubra and other members who have made speeches in debate on this bill, there will be some emerging problems. That likelihood should not stop the Government from proceeding. It means the Government must be prepared to address such issues. I note the Minister for Planning is in the Chamber. As a result of my discussions with the Minister for Planning and his staff, I have confidence that he is aware of the sensitivities around this issue. This bill is about changing how we do things. It should not be about disadvantaging property owners who, understandably, want to protect their rights. I understand those concerns.

I mention the doctrine of erosion and accretion, which is in clause 28 of the bill. I am sure it will feature in members' contributions. I am disappointed that some of the explanatory notes did not go back to Roman law and talk about the rights that were taken to England and became part of our system of law, as they include the rights of the shoreline and the doctrine of erosion and accretion. Until recently, in Lake Macquarie the doctrine of erosion and accretion allowed a waterfront property owner whose land had eroded because their boundary was on the mean high water mark—not the deed high water mark as people believe—to go to the Department of Lands and say, "Here is the mean high water mark. My land is gone. Can I build a seawall and reinstate it?" There was no problem and the land owner could build it.

The doctrine of erosion and accretion says it happens naturally so there is give and take. If it erodes through natural causes, bad luck, the land is lost. If the land builds up, a little is gained. It works out. For many years, what was happening in Lake Macquarie was happening around New South Wales and we have lost a lot of our waterways through this process. Over the years Professor Bruce Thom and I have spent some time talking about these issues. It comes down to public access to lands and the ecological zone; the intertidal zone is impacted by people's views about their rights to do what they like on their parcels of land. I am pleased about the change in the doctrine of erosion and accretion and how it will be interpreted by the Minister or a court. While it is a minor point, it is a very interesting one and one that has been abused by many people over the years.

I understand that some people will have concerns about this legislation. There are few pieces of legislation that go through this House where people do not have concerns. Is it legislation that the Opposition should oppose? I do not think so. The Opposition should get on board and work with the Government to make sensible amendments as problems emerge. This bill improves greatly on the legislation. I commend the bill to the House.

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