A number of Commonwealth and New South Wales Government policies and strategies are particularly relevant to this proposal.

The 1992 Inter-Governmental Agreement on the Environment (IGAE), which includes the Precautionary Principle and Inter-Generational Equity, was endorsed by the Commonwealth and State Governments. Details of this policy are examined on pages 59-63 below.

The 1995 Commonwealth Coastal Policy, Living on the Coast stated that "the coastal zone has a special place in the lives of Australians. Most Australians want to live or take their holidays there." Apart from protecting the recreational and spiritual values of the coastal zone, the Policy’s also aimed "to maintain the biological diversity and productivity of marine and terrestrial ecosystems and natural processes within the coastal zone for present and future generations." Principles to ensure the long term integrity of the coastal zone included:

  • coastal areas in or near their natural state should be developed for uses that diminish their value only if developments would provide considerable benefit and no other viable alternative exists.
  • sites of ecological, cultural, archaeological, historic and scientific significance should be identified and maintained.
  • the use of the coastal zone should have minimal adverse impacts on regional biological diversity and biological processes.
  • multiple or sequential use of the coast should occur only when one use will not significantly diminish a resource’s value for subsequent uses.

The Policy recognised that Australia’s tourism industry, both international and domestic, is to a very large extent founded on the natural attractions of the coastal zone. It warned therefore, that "failure to conserve the quality of the zone could have significant effects on the growth of the domestic and international tourism sectors."

The NSW Coastal Policy 1997 expanded on the objectives of the 1995 Commonwealth Coastal Policy; "to protect and conserve the coast for future generations." It identified the coastal zone as "a one kilometre strip along the coastline, three nautical miles seaward and all coastal rivers, lakes, lagoons, estuaries and islands (including) land within one kilometre of coastal rivers, lakes, lagoons, estuaries and islands." Within the coastal zone it intended "to establish a comprehensive system of protected areas and reserves." Much of the "Greater" Murramarang National Park lies within the designated coastal zone.

The Policy recognised that the coast is the focus of intense pressures from human activity and that a large range of competing interests vie for its resources. Its Key Actions were designed to protect "the natural assets which make the coastal zone a desirable as a place to live, and the ecosystems necessary for the survival of a variety of life forms." The Key Actions of specific relevance to this proposal included:

  • "water quality in coastal waters, estuaries and rivers will be maintained
  • protection of important fisheries habitats, such as seagrasses and mangroves, will continue to be undertaken
  • coastal lands and aquatic environments with conservation values will be assessed and appropriate tenures, reservations, zonings and/or regulations will be put in place to protect them, conserve biodiversity and to protect and ensure the recovery of threatened species
  • all efforts will be made to avoid disturbance of potential acid sulfate soils and appropriate management strategies and monitoring protocols developed where such soils are disturbed
  • the aesthetic qualities of both the natural and built environments will be identified, protected and promoted
  • State Government agencies, when preparing policies, programs and procedures for coastal zone planning and management, will be required to ensure they are consistent with the Coastal Policy and have regard for national and international strategies, policies and agreements."

The last Key Action obligated all State agencies and local councils involved in coastal zone management to include the implementation of the Coastal Policy in their corporate plans.

The Commonwealth Government’s National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia’s Biological Diversity was formulated in response to the international Convention on Biological Diversity ratified by Australia on 18 June 1993. The Strategy was prepared in consultation with business, conservation movement and industry representatives, including the Australian Forestry Council. The Honorable Bob Carr MP signed the Strategy on behalf of the people of New South Wales committing his government to implement the Strategy as a matter of urgency. The goal of the Strategy was to protect biological diversity and maintain ecological processes and systems. The conservation of biological diversity provides significant cultural, economic, cultural, educational, environmental, scientific and social benefits for all Australians. It saw that there was a need for more knowledge and better understanding of Australia’s biological diversity and considered as urgent, the need to strengthen current activities and improve policies, practices and attitudes to achieve conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. Part of the implementation process of the Strategy was to obligate State and Territory governments to develop supplementary biological diversity strategies and review their existing framework for implementing biological diversity conservation programs and any legislation that results directly or indirectly in loss of biological diversity.

The New South Wales Threatened Species Act (1996) places specific responsibilities on proponents, consent and determining authorities and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service in the fields of environmental planning, development control, recovery planning and threat abatement planning. The objects of the Act are to:

  • conserve biological diversity and promote ecologically sustainable development
  • prevent extinction and promote the recovery of threatened species, populations and ecological communities
  • protect the critical habitat (that is the whole or any part or parts of an area or areas of land comprising the habitat of an endangered species...that is critical to the survival of the species) of those threatened species, populations and ecological communities that are threatened
  • eliminate or manage certain processes that threaten the survival or evolutionary development of threatened species, populations and ecological communities
  • ensure that the impact of any action affecting threatened species, populations and ecological communities is properly assessed; and
  • encourage the conservation of threatened species, populations and ecological communities by the adoption of measures involving co-operative management.

The New South Wales Government’s 1986 Total Catchment Management Policy (which included the State Soils and State Trees Policies) involved the coordinated use and management of land, water and vegetation and other natural resources on a catchment basis. It believed that natural resource managers currently proceed with only a limited and loosely coordinated approach. Natural resources, it stated, "cannot be properly managed in isolation and without recognising the impacts land uses have on one another and the broader environment."

While the 1997 Commonwealth Government’s Wetland Policy aimed at directly influencing "ecologically sustainable use on all Commonwealth lands and waters" it also committed the Commonwealth to "working cooperatively, and in partnership with all spheres of government to achieve sound wetland management outcomes." The Policy actively encouraged the participation of the community and non-government organisations in achieving its goal of wetland conservation.

New South Wales State Environmental Planning Policy No. 14 Coastal Wetlands was introduced by the then, Minister for Planning and Environment Bob Carr. Its goal was to preserve and protect the coastal wetlands of New South Wales. It was primarily aimed at private landholders but accepted that all owners and managers have a responsibility to manage wetlands carefully. Ten identified wetlands, numbers 215b, 215c, 215d, 251a, 252, 253, 254, 255, 256 and 257 lie within the "Greater" Murramarang National Park. All ten and the majority of their catchment are currently managed by State Forests. SEPP 14 attempted to ensure that developments in wetlands occurred only if there was no feasible alternative locations and had little impact on wetland values.

New South Wales State Environmental Planning Policy No.26 Littoral Rainforests recognised that this valuable ecosystem had been severely reduced and degraded. Remaining littoral rainforests needed full protection. The "Greater" Murramarang National Park has some of the most diverse and well developed stands of rainforest south of the Shoalhaven River. Much of this is found in wet gullies on State Forest land

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The major outcome of the 1992 National Forest Policy Statement, signed by the Commonwealth and all State and Territory Governments, was the establishment of the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) process. These agreements, between the Commonwealth and relevant State Governments, would decide almost everything to do with managing Crown forests in each RFA region. Comprehensive Regional Assessments (CRAs) would be undertaken to assess all forest values, including ecological, economic and social, from which a regional land-use decision for the entire forest estate would be determined. As these CRAs would take some time to complete, an interim assessment process (IAP) was developed to quickly assess forests with the available data and determine areas ‘likely to be required for a Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative’ (CAR) forest reserve system, which were subsequently deferred from logging and roading awaiting the outcome of the CRAs. These Interim Deferred Forest Areas (IDFAs) were determined by their contributions to ‘scientific’ targets as set by the JANIS criteria. These criteria are set around achieving a real percentage targets for reservation of forest types, old-growth forest types, and wilderness areas.

The forests of Greater Murramarang contained a number of eucalypt forest and rainforest types which required increased protection; however, other areas in the region contained the same forest types which were unprotected, and a choice was available as to which forests were chosen for IDFA to meet the targets. Invariably those areas with the lowest wood volumes were chosen, leaving some of the best developed and most productive forests open to logging. In the case of Greater Murramarang, the requirement to select forest types in Kioloa State Forest were so overwhelming that most of Kioloa was selected for deferral. These compartments were largely selected for their contributions to forest types containing Black Butt (Eucalyptus pilularis), which complemented those Black Butt forests already protected in the (Commonwealth) Jervis Bay National Park.

When the IAP negotiations examined the Benandarah section of Greater Murramarang, it was recognised that similar values existed there. However, the deferral of Kioloa had already increased the level of target achievement for many of these values, and a debate ensued as to just how far these targets should be pursued. Even though the process agreed to by both State and Commonwealth intended that targets would be fully met, it was argued that fully meeting the targets for scattered forest types (most forests) was too difficult to achieve without deferring huge areas of forest. This was the case with Benandarah, where a compromise was forced by industry and Government interests in the pursual of targets for values within Benadarah, and Benandarah was not deferred.

This decision was an example of the generally compromised nature of this process, sacrificing required interim protection of environmental values for industry / economic interests. This particular decision for Benandarah was clearly precipitated by and based upon the high levels of harvestable wood there, and in fact that argument was consistently used to force the compromise which left Benandarah undeferred and thus available for logging. Essentially, it was economic interests which caused Benandarah to be left unprotected in the Interim Assessment Process, not a lack of conservation values. The CRA/IDFA processes have to date paid no heed to essential issues such as ‘reserve design’ and the fact that protecting these forests would protect a broader range of coastal ecosytems and help satisfy the governments wish to develop a CAR reserve system for the coastal zone

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In February 1992, the Commonwealth and State governments signed the Inter-Governmental Agreement on the Environment (IGAE) which includes the Precautionary Principle and Inter-Generational Equity. This was an attempt to facilitate a spirit of co-operation between the Commonwealth Government, State Governments and local governments of Australia on matters of environmental importance. In endorsing the IGAE, all levels of government in Australia have agreed to be guided by its principles. The IGAE states "the present generation should ensure that the health, diversity and productivity of the environment is maintained or enhanced for the benefit of future generations." As such, "economic development is consistent with the IGAE and inter-generational equity if and only if opportunities to use, enjoy and consume natural capital are conserved and we do not increase the risk of irreversibly changing ecological functions and processes." IGAE principles suggest that current generations are obligated to maintain the natural productivity of conditionally-renewable, simple biotic resources like soils, fisheries and forests so that they are available for use and enjoyment by succeeding generations (Young, 1993). The IGAE goes on: "where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage (to natural capital), public and private decisions should be guided by a careful evaluation to avoid, wherever practicable, serious or irreversible damage to the environment." In brief the Precautionary Principle is about decisions in the face of potentially-adverse outcomes for which we may lack full scientific certainty. It ensures that decisions made now, leave succeeding generations with at least an equivalent set of opportunities for human welfare.

The Prime Minister, John Howard (1998) is committed to the principles of the IGAE. In 1998 he stated that, "We are the custodians of this precious (natural) legacy and we must act to ensure future generations have access to the economic prosperity and the rich environment we are blessed with." Our precious legacy; species diversity, ecosystem integrity and ancient cultural heritage sites is irreplaceable. Once gone there are no substitutes; they are gone forever. The people of New South Wales endorse Mr Howard’s stance on environmental custodianship. The survey, Who Cares About The Environment in 1997? Environmental Knowledge, Attitudes, Skills and Behaviours in NSW, commissioned by the Environment Protection Agency, revealed that environmental custodianship and "concern for future generations" are the two environmental issues of greatest concern to the people of New South Wales.

Leading forest ecologists suggest that there is a considerable body of quantifiable and testable scientific information indicating that integrated harvesting of native forests can result in long-term, perhaps permanent, detrimental impacts on biodiversity, hydrological functions and other land-use practices such as tourism and public recreation. Yet the practice continues with little regard to sustainability, ecological systems or the rights and requirements of future generations of Australians.

While land managers continue to ignore the Precautionary Principle and Inter-Generational Equity "environmental management will (continue to) be characterised by ad hoc responses to urgent, emerging problems (and there will remain) little evidence that this broader approach and commitment to sustainability has been fully integrated into decision-making" (Department of the Environment , Sport and Territories, 1996).

And while ad hoc, reactive responses to land-use issues continue, Prime Minister John Howard’s 1998 vision of "the mutual goals of (thriving rural industries), sustainable primary production and conserving biological diversity" can never become reality.

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