A new report by the Victorian Auditor General’s Office has found that Victoria’s coastal assets are under threat from poor management.
The report, Protecting Victoria’s Coastal Assets, found that there was “a real risk, in the near future, of Victorians losing valued assets and infrastructure along the coast.”
The report concluded that this was due to a combination of agency’s incomplete knowledge about the assets for which they are accountable, or of the asset’s age or condition, along with poorly integrated planning and fragmented responsibility.
“There is a strong case for more top-down management that takes a statewide view of our coastal assets, hazards and risks. While such an approach requires investment in a consolidated asset inventory, it would make it possible to eliminate the inconsistency in management approaches and practices across agencies. It would also promote integrated thinking and serve to better target funding to protect our most valuable built and natural assets.”
In the larger agencies audited, there were some common reasons for poorer management of coastal assets:
Coastal assets receive less attention or are not included in the agency's standard asset management practices because other more critical assets have higher priority. Further, assets in inland areas outnumber those in the narrower coastal areas.
Asset management is not the main focus of the agency's work.
Agencies rely on staff experience and knowledge instead of applying robust systems and processes to maintain and protect their assets.
Each of the seven audited agencies is engaging in some good on-ground local work to manage and protect coastal assets from current coastal inundation and erosion risks. This work ranges from repairing beach access stairs after storms and rebuilding eroded beaches, to protecting dune vegetation and nesting shorebirds.
However, overall natural and built assets on Victoria's coastline are not being adequately protected.
The audited agencies' ability to do this strategically and cost-effectively is limited by weaknesses in their coastal asset management practices and a number of governance and management barriers:
Coastal assets are not a focus for larger agencies, because they make up only a small subset of agencies' overall asset portfolios.
The limited knowledge about existing coastal processes, such as wave behaviour and sand movement, and uncertainty about the likely impact of future climate change reduce agencies' ability and confidence to act.
The need to focus on the safety risks that failing coastal assets may pose diverts agencies' attention or leaves little time for them to consider other risks.
The lack of a risk management culture means staff consider and respond to risks informally during their daily activities but do not systematically assess risks or document their response activities.
Additional barriers at the state level affecting the management and protection of coastal assets include:
poor oversight by DELWP across all public coastal areas contributing to overly complex planning and management arrangements
the skills and capacities of coastal managers not aligning with what is needed to manage and protect assets
constraints on funding, how revenue is generated, and where and when it can be spent
the lack of a statewide perspective on what areas are at greatest risk from coastal hazards, as well as on what assets are currently being protected or need to be protected
the lack of effective guidance and support provided by DELWP to its coastal managers to be effective risk-based asset managers.