Queensland Coastal Conference 2017 - Ten years in the making

A speech given by Peta Leahy at the 2017 Queensland Coastal Conference....it's ten years of coastal conferencing in Queensland! 

Cast you mind back ten years to the year 2007. I was a young Master’s student doing my research on the carrying capacity and usage of Gold Coast beaches. A newbie at the Griffith Centre for Coastal Management, I was given the opportunity to attend and present at the inaugural Queensland Coastal Conference in Bundaberg. Excited, myself and a few colleagues decided to road trip it up to the home of Queensland rum.

At that time there was significant coastal policy changes in Queensland. We had seen the demise of the Beach Protection Authority and Act, which removed the legislative responsibility and to a large extent the capacity of the state government to provide direct advice to Councils on how to deal with beach erosion.

The Coastal Protection and Management Act had broadened the view of the state to include not just the beach but the surrounding catchments and waterways, and also environmental and social concerns beyond the standard beach protection issues. A state coastal management plan and regional coastal plans were either in place or being worked on.

This newer system had not been in long before more changes were made that brought coastal planning into the broader development planning and legislation. There was quite a lot of confusion about how to do coastal planning, how to get works approvals, what was self-assessable or code assessable etc. This is highlighted by the high proportion of abstracts submitted to the first few conferences that focused on coastal planning.

In order to address some of these issues, local governments were pooling their efforts with the Queensland Coastal Forum that was held twice a year in different local government areas to show knowledge and experience. It wasn't long before people beyond councils started to attend (eg state government, NRM groups). Following the creation of the conference and my departure from GCCC the Queensland Coastal Forum folded.

At the same time there were significant changes in NRM planning with revamping of the Natural Heritage Trust which had the effect of putting more emphasis and resources into catchment management and little on beaches or recreational assets. The NRM regional bodies were also establishing roles within both the state and federal planning, investment and environmental realms.

In 2006 or so we started to bring the two groups together and decided to create a Queensland Coastal Forum targeting a wider audience in the hope of delivering something like the NSW Coastal Conference (although without anything like a NSW Coastal Council). With very strong support from both the state government environment department and the Burnett Mary Group we held out first conference in 2007 at Bundaberg. This was received so well that we agreed to run future conferences on a two yearly interval (so as not to discourage attendance at Coast to Coast).

The Bundy conference was followed in 2009 by the Gold Coast which has been our most successful conference in terms of attendance thus far. In 2011, we went north to Cairns. Originally set for Cardwell, the venue was shifted last minutes after they were smashed by TC Yasi.

2013 saw us stay in the north, in Townsville. After some unfortunate financial issues following the Cairns conference, the event management was left to the conference organising committee. Heavily pregnant at the time, I took on the main role of organiser only missing one teleconference meeting because I had just given birth. With the help of Greg Stuart and John Gunn we ended up delivering an extremely successful event.

In 2015, we decided to switch things up a bit and combined the coastal conference with QWaLC and the Regional Groups Collective in Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast. Politically, the event was highly successful with the attendance of the Environment Minister, federal Senators and the Queensland Premier, however the conference lacked a coastal focus.

All the conferences have been quite different but we have maintained a collaborative atmosphere for the events that encourages a very broad view of what it means to be a "coastal" person from hands on community groups to Brisbane Bureaucrats, from nerdy boffins to calculating consultants, etc.

So please all join me in raising a toast to ten years of coastal conferencing in Queensland!

Happy Birthday!

Peta Leahy

Chair, Australian Coastal Society

Words by Peta Leahy. (c) ACS, 2017, posted September 2017, for correspondence about this blog post please email admin@australiancoastalsociety.org