Sound legislative governance framework for spatial planning and management

Published: 26 July 2016
Last edited: 28 March 2019
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This solution addresses the complexities of having multiple jurisdictions and interests involved in co-managing a very large and diverse area. Today complementary management and planning provisions apply in virtually all marine waters within the GBR, irrespective of the jurisdictional responsibility.


Scale of implementation
Coral reef
Deep sea
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Coastal and marine spatial management
Protected area management planning
Inefficient management of financial resources
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Poor governance and participation
Aichi targets
Target 18: Traditional knowledge


Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia


Managing an MPA when jurisdictional and ecological boundaries do not align. Effectively managing a large area can be jurisdictionally complex; e.g. within the GBR, some areas are managed by the federal government, some areas are managed by the State of Queensland, and other areas have been recognised as being sea country for specific Indigenous owners. Various ways have been developed to maximize complementary planning and management while minimising public confusion.


Both the managers of the GBR as well as the public who need to understand which rules apply where.

How do the building blocks interact?

Collectively these building blocks outline how a sound governance framework has developed over the years to manage such a jurisdictionally complex area as the GBR. This includes a strong commitment to effective and meaningful partnerships with Indigenous people, local communities and industries to help conserve the values of the GBR. One of the key building blocks is the cross-jurisdictional agreements outlined in BB1 between the Australian government and the State of Queensland. These agreements are implemented by the complementary management approach which includes the complementary legislation as outlined in BB2. Australia also has international obligations as outlined in BB3, some of which flow down into national legislation. Three other key aspects of the shared governance approach are also outlined: - BB4 explains how the Indigenous Traditional Owners work with both levels of government to manage what they consider is their sea country; - BB5 outlines various advisory committees (both voluntary and appointed) that assist the GBR managers, ensuring a range of public input occurs; and - BB6 explains how major industries, along with key groups such as councils and schools , work in on-going partnerships with governments.


The most significant impact of complementary management is that the boundary between the State and federal waters does not need to be defined nor mapped. The same rules and regulations effectively apply either side of the boundary, i.e. all waters seaward of the high water mark, extending to the outer (seaward) edge of the federal Marine Park.This resolution also addresses the fact there are ~1,000 islands with the Park’s outer boundary, all surrounded by tidal waters. Furthermore there are differing jurisdictional interpretations of where low water mark (LWM) occurs. LWM also periodically moves because of erosion and accretion, so mapping the boundary is impractical. This issue would be further complicated given there are no clear or agreed principles for defining what are ‘the internal waters’ of the State i.e.which parts of bays, channels, river mouths or estuaries are ‘internal waters’ and hence not part of the federal Marine Park. Finally, the complementary approach is a workable solution providing far more effective management; e.g. LWM is frequently covered by water, making it unworkable as a boundary from an enforcement perspective. Management would be much more complicated if the rules were different in each jurisdiction


Most people are aware that the GBR covers a very large area (a similar area to Italy or Japan). Few, however, are aware of the jurisdictional complexities that occur within that large area and the implications for governance. Within the GBR World Heritage Area, four layers of legislation apply: • international law (see BB3 - ‘Conventions’); • Commonwealth law (i.e. law enacted and administered by the Australian Government); • Queensland law (including planning schemes and local laws made by local governments); and • common law (i.e. law developed by judges in courts) – in Australia, Native Title, now recognised as part of the common law, has important implications for environmental law. The Australian Constitution establishes the overarching legal authority for environmental management, with responsibility shared between the federal and State governments. Various tools have evolved over 40 years to address these jurisdictional complexities, with the overarching aim to protect, conserve and manage the GBR. These include a formal Intergovernmental Agreement that provides the basis for cooperative arrangements between the Australian and Queensland governments. The federal GBR Marine Park covers the majority of the waters within the outer GBR boundary. However, that Park does not include any tidal lands/tidal waters along the mainland coast or around islands, nor 13 coastal exclusion areas around major ports, nor the majority of the ~1000 islands, nor any ‘internal waters’ of Queensland (see ‘Impacts’ above for ‘internal waters’). Most of the islands within the GBR are under Queensland jurisdiction (only 70 islands or parts of islands are under federal jurisdiction as they contain lighthouses or defence training areas). About half of all the GBR islands are declared as ‘National Parks’ under Queensland legislation; the remainder are a mixture of tenures including freehold, leasehold, unallocated State land and Aboriginal land. To further complicate matters, the GBR World Heritage Area covers a slightly larger area than the federal Marine Park – the World Heritage Area includes all 1000 islands within the outer boundaries and all waters seaward of low water mark including any waters in the ports or within internal waters of Queensland below LWM. Today the complementary management approach means that all marine waters within the GBR, irrespective of the jurisdictional responsibility, have virtually the same rules and regulations.

Contributed by

Jon C. Day ARC Centre for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

Other contributors

ARC Centre for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University