The term “sea change” describes the migration of people away from metropolitan areas and larger regional cities to high amenity coastal localities. For many it is a metaphorical change of life, rather than a literal movement to the sea. Although to date, much of the migration away from metropolitan centres has been focused on the coast. Some of those other population movements are known as a tree change. The move to the coast is not a recent phenomenon, with significant population flows to non-metropolitan coastal communities beginning in the late 1960s. In 2001 more than 85 per cent of Australians lived within 50 kilometres of the coastline. Approximately 20 per cent of Australians now live in coastal towns and cities other than capital cities. Much of the population growth along the coast has been within a three-kilometre strip, particularly in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.

Coastal communities around Australia are struggling to plan for rapid population growth driven by internal migration from metropolitan cities and inland areas. Increased population movements can present threats to the sensitive coastal areas to the environments, the coastal waters, dunes, wetlands and distinctive landscapes. Many coastal communities are surrounded by environments of national and international heritage importance, such as national parks, world heritage areas and increasingly marine protected areas. Those places are particularly vulnerable to inappropriate development that threatens biodiversity, cultural heritage sites, recreational and tourism values.

The social implications of sea change migration are also profound. In spite of new population growth, many non-metropolitan coastal communities are characterised by high levels of unemployment, lower than average household incomes and greater levels of socio-economic disadvantage, along with higher numbers of seniors than other parts of Australia. Therefore, producing ongoing housing stress, high unemployment and increasing population growth and development activity in these areas is not translating to long-term economic gains usually associated with population expansion. Social divisions are occurring between existing residents and newcomers and between wealthier, usually retiree, sea changers and those lower income groups who have been pushed out of expensive metropolitan areas.

Commonwealth, State and local policy and planning instruments addressing the sea change phenomenon focus on biophysical aspects, particularly environmental protection, and to a lesser degree, settlement structure and urban design. Social issues—such as building community cohesion, catering to the needs of ageing populations, housing affordability and cultural heritage—are not well addressed within the scope of current policy or planning instruments. This failure to integrate social and economic objectives and strategies within coastal policies and the land-use plans applying to coastal areas reflects broader difficulties associated with achieving the spectrum of sustainability goals. Given the evidence of social and economic disadvantage in sea change localities, and the likelihood that such disadvantage will continue without effective interventions, broadening coastal policy and planning processes to properly include social and economic dimensions is a priority.

In 2004 the National Sea Change Taskforce was established to represent regional coastal local government areas. This group has committed to fund significant research undertaken by the University of Sydney, Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning research centre. The taskforce holds annual conferences that bring together representatives from coastal councils, academics and interested community representatives to discuss these important issues. The Sea Change Taskforce has been instrumental in making submission to the State and Federal government inquiries and looks forward to the opportunity to comment in the current inquiry into barriers to effective climate change adaption of the Productivity Commission. The work of the Sea Change Taskforce is thoroughly supported by local government. The Hon. Paul Green and I have attended many of its conferences. We are very supportive of, and enjoy membership of, that group.

What is Community Resilience?

“Community” is defined as a group of people living in the same locality, and community resilience is about how well that group of people is capable of withstanding and absorbing the challenges of change and/or crisis. In recent times communities have been increasingly exposed to the challenges of crisis. We have seen droughts, fires and floods in our country and, in nearby regions, the impact of earthquakes and tsunamis. It is anticipated with the impacts of climate change there will be additional risk of exposure to emergency situations.

The media have brought into our homes and lives the images of the impacts associated with the disasters and that has reminded us of the importance of community connection and engagement as mechanisms to withstand the dramatic impact of these events. Many of the reports of affected communities remind us of the courage and preparedness of people to help others and this is commendable. But we have also been made aware of the lack of connection and knowledge of our local environments that have determined the ability to support and help those in need and in some cases the fatal consequences of the lack of local connection and community cohesion.

Federal and State governments are now focusing considerable resources on preparing communities for crisis. The term “community resilience” is being used to unite communities in preparing for the likely outcome of crisis. Much has been learnt from disaster management both here and overseas and there are some key understandings of how society can ensure it is capable of withstanding the impacts of disasters. Community development and resilience is now a portfolio area that The Greens New South Wales have adopted and I am pleased to provide a focus in relation to the preparedness of communities.

I intend to present examples of positive community projects that contribute to building social inclusion and cohesion and often involve recreation and cultural engagement. These programs most often involve volunteer participation and encourage diverse groups of people to connect and network under a common interest. It is well documented that social connections and networks are a determinant of community resilience. The principal of resourcing and supporting social connections has an important role in enhancing quality of life in the immediate as well as preparing society to withstand the possibility of disaster and crisis.

The unintended but associated product of social and cultural gathering is the introduction of diverse groups of people to provide them with the necessary connections. Governments collect and collate significant amounts of information that identify the inequities and vulnerabilities that exist in society. The focus in research and emergency management fields promotes community vulnerability mapping as a tool to define communities of high risk or social vulnerability. Once these groups or geographical areas are identified there is potential to target resources to these groups to improve not only their quality of life but also their capacity to be prepared for any crisis. Governments can provide a range of programs to improve community involvement and participation.

I acknowledge the initiatives by the New South Wales Government to support and resource communities to overcome vulnerability. The Community Builders program has provided at-risk groups access to funds for the delivery of programs and projects with an identified disadvantage that can be addressed or have the potential for increasing the social capital of a group. The importance of social connection cannot be overlooked in the strengthening of social networks to enhance resilience. The degree of connection—be it family, friends, social, education or other organisations—is an important source of information, advice and assistance. Government at all levels has an important role in supporting communities to connect and engage in the good times so that they are empowered and informed to respond when risks or disasters are impending or present.

The assistance by government to enhance community involvement should be viewed as an essential pathway to building strong and resilient communities that are able to cope and withstand disaster, crisis and change that challenge the day-to-day functioning of society. The goal to empower and assist communities requires a respect for localised resilience. To build social capital and strong community social structures will require the support of government. Programs that unite community across social and cultural divides are often those that do engage diverse groups of people in positive activities such as landcare, sport, book clubs, community gardens, soup kitchens and other forms of volunteering.

There is a responsibility to prepare the community so that they are able to respond to a potential crisis. Government at all levels can make the process of community development, resilience and preparedness for disaster and crisis more effective by recognising the important role of community projects that build connections and improve quality of life. It is these projects that will enhance in the present and build the strength and capacity for community to withstand and cope with change and crisis if needed in the future.

Bangalow Billy Cart Derby

After an intense two weeks of parliament I was able to spend time in my community on the weekend and participate in two volunteer events. One was tree planting at a new sports and cultural complex site in Byron Bay, where over 80 people turned to plant 2,000 trees. The other event was the community organised Bangalow Billy Cart Derby. This is an event in its 10th year and encourages whole of shire involvement and brings together all ages and all interests; an example of a great community resilience project.

This is a great example of a community resilience project. Sometimes the events that bring diverse people together serves to create an important environment for local communities to meet and engage with people they might not otherwise find themselves agreeing with or having much in common. It’s always good to set aside difference and enjoy a common sharing of community spirit. It’s these positive events that can strengthen communities and build a sense of community that can withstand the challenges and difficulties. This is the key to community resilience.