Forster was the venue for this year’s NSW coastal conference. This is the 24th NSW conference. It was attended by 252 participants, a number slightly larger than usual. I am always impressed by the number and diversity of folk who come to these conferences: engineers, consultants, planners, managers, councillors, postgraduate students, community representatives and academics. Their business, passion and interest is in coastal management. The fact that around 200 to 250 people are prepared to attend each year signifies a sustained interest in the coast in this state, and as I said in my wrap-up—long may it continue. I for one try to come each year having attended all 24 although sadly there were a few in the 90s when I was only able to be present for a few hours.

One of the delights of these conferences is the location. Each year a council is selected from places outside of Sydney. There has never been a NSW coastal conference in the metro centre. This is testimony to the long-standing interest from Tweed to Bega in hosting or participating the annual event. Next year we will celebrate 25 years at Coffs Harbour. Several councils have served as host more than once while others have yet to throw their hat in the ring. It is a boost to the local economy to have 200 folk attend for 3 to 4 days. This year Great Lakes Council was our host and the conference was held in the salubrious surrounds of Club Forster. And again the conference was assisted by Amy, Jayne and Janine from East Coast Conferences—they are fantastic.

Great Lakes is a marvellous location for a conference for a range of reasons. First, the weather! We had glorious conditions during a week that it rained in Sydney. Seriously, the lakes, beaches, hills and dunes have a history of geomorphology, ecology and land uses that provide any coastal lover with fascinating stories. One such story lay hidden for all but a few interested in landforms and geology; this is the history of sedimentation in the Tuncurry embayment so beautifully described by Peter Roy and his team in 1997. I assembled a panel that outlined this work including Peter Cowell, Mike Kinsela and Marc Daley. But the lakes are under the stewardship of a council very much dedicated to providing residents and tourists with a clean, healthy and attractive environment for both present and future generations.  The General Manager, Glenn Handford, leads the way. Rarely do GMs speak at our conferences. This year Glenn gave a magnificent opening address on the virtues of the area and many of the challenges, and over the years there have been quite a few including pollution and coastal erosion. He paid tribute to many on staff and the councillors; one deserves special mention, the leader of the environment team, Gerard Tuckerman. He was given a Public Service award at the conference dinner.

As usual there are an excellent array of presentations at the conference, plenary, session and poster. Field trips were also fitted in on Thursday afternoon. The conference dinner on Thursday night is always a highlight and for some reason beyond my control I get invited each year to serve as MC! It is great fun. I have the privilege of chairing the awards committee and present to a variety of councils, community folk and individuals an award including the Ruth Readford Lifetime Achievement Award. This year it was shared. Frank Atchison received recognition for his Dunecare leadership and action in the region, and Dr Peter Roy for his geologic work on the NSW shelf, coast and estuaries. They are both remarkable individuals and thoroughly deserve the award.

Last year at the dinner for the 23rd conference in the Shoalhaven area, the then Minister for the Environment, Rob Stokes, promised that in 12 months he would be able to announce a package of coastal reforms. And he delivered…

On Friday morning he came up to Forster as Minister for Planning. He addressed the conference on proposed changes to coastal legislation, policy and the Coastal Manual. He was able to outline the basis for a new Coastal Management Act to replace the old 1979 Coastal Protection Act; a draft exposure bill was made available to delegates. He also outlined a new Coastal Management SEPP to replace and incorporate existing coastal SEPPs, and the structure of the new Manual was made available. I will comment on the process and substance of these changes at another time.

The Minister is seeking feedback knowing that he is dealing with wicked problems and that while many will see positive gains, others may not be too happy. I introduced the Minister to Geoff Wescott who attended the conference wearing the hat of chairing the Victorian coastal review of coast and marine legislation. John Corkill is coordinating the ACS response to the NSW reforms as several of us are directly engaged in the process. 

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Finally. I would again like to take the opportunity of thanking all those involved in this conference. It was held in a very positive spirit with the usual sharing of ideas and interests. Most significantly, it was fabulous to know that we have a Minister committed to improving coastal planning and management in this state.

– words by Prof Bruce Thom