By Brett Johnson, LGAQ Manager, Member Support & Engagement
With more than half of Queensland’s councils situated along a coastline and being home to more than 3.5 million residents, it’s fair to say that there are challenges aplenty for Queensland’s coastal councils.
While these communities have been dealing with the threat of long-term environmental impacts for many years, more recently its issues like shortages in housing, decline in tourism, new energy markets and the economic downturn from the global COVID-19 pandemic that has placed a huge emphasis on local responses needing to be found to emerging and compounding pressures.
When Queensland’s coastal councils last met in October 2021 at the LGAQ’s 125th Annual Conference in Mackay those gathered insisted that they get together to start tackling the common challenges they collectively face in a dedicated forum with industry and government partners.
I sat down with LGAQ Lead - Planning & Development Crystal Baker and LGAQ Lead - Intergovernmental Relations Nicole Lessio, to garner some insight into the inaugural Coastal Leaders Forum, and what local government elected members and chief executives should expect from the gathering in Gladstone.
Crystal, when we refer to coastal councils, which councils are we talking about in Queensland?
We actually have 41 coastal councils here in Queensland, stretching from the South-East corner of the state right up to the Far North, and into the Gulf. These coastal regions are home to approximately 80 per cent of Queensland’s population and span the length of the Queensland coastline, which is the second largest in australia at 13,347km and includes more than 1,700 beaches and almost 2,000 offshore islands. Needless to say, the social, economic and environmental challenges and opportunities facing coastal councils are many and varied, and we are really aiming to embrace and address this as part of the LGAQ’s inaugural Coastal Leaders Forum.
Nicole, this is a new initiative for LGAQ, why is it important to bring coastal council’s mayors and CEOs together for an event like this?
Coastal councils face unique and shared challenges. Environmental protection and disaster mitigation is different on the coast than it is in rural and remote areas of Queensland. The challenges of COVID-19 to the tourism sector, the changing face of our industries—particularly energy—on the economy and the workforce, as well as the crisis in housing, are trials that all coastal councils are grappling with. The opportunity to learn from experts and from one another, to share experiences and ideas, to collaborate and cooperate can’t be understated. At the Coastal Leaders Forum, we want to create a dedicated opportunity to explore current and emerging issues and priorities for coastal councils, to get together to hear the latest research, share learnings and ideas, showcase initiatives and support networking and connections across councils that share so much.
Crystal, you’ve been here for a number of years, what are some of the perennial challenges for this group of councils, and what are some of the topics you anticipate will be discussed in Gladstone?
There are certainly a number of key challenges facing Queensland councils and local communities up and down the entire Queensland coastline. Unsurprisingly, issues like responding to coastal hazard risks and the impacts of insurance availability and affordability for residents, businesses and council assets, are right up there as being of key concern. There are also significant issues around housing supply and affordability as well as changing tourism markets and the growth in short-term holiday letting occurring in many coastal regions. The importance of effective community engagement, addressing economic transition and infrastructure needs as well as management and protection of our valuable natural assets in the coastal zone, have also been identified as critical to unpack. We’re very excited to be offering a jam-packed program to attendees that covers the breadth of these issues and also includes an optional site tour for delegates to see first-hand some of the challenges and opportunities within Gladstone region.
Nicole, what outcomes are you seeking from this event from an advocacy perspective?
The Forum is an opportunity to hold strategic discussions and engage with key state and federal government representatives and industry partners, on a range of coastal council specific priorities. Getting together, in person, to tackle the ‘wicked problems’ that challenge the resilience, sustainability and liveability of our communities has the potential to bring greater clarity to the advocacy needs of coastal councils. Whether this results in a plan for combined advocacy through a communique or a delegation, or simply an undertaking to work more closely together is entirely up to the participants.
Crystal, what industry partners and subject matter experts have been invited to participate for the inaugural event?
As highlighted above, the challenges and opportunities facing Queensland’s coastal councils and communities are diverse and varied. To reflect this, we’re partnering with, and inviting experts from across private and public sectors, and a range of different industries and fields including coastal management, insurance, technology and tourism industries to name just a few. We’re also inviting coastal councils to also share their own experiences in various sessions throughout the program and inviting state and federal government representatives, including ministers to hold roundtable discussions on key portfolio areas of importance to coastal councils.
Crystal, I understand that some of LGAQ’s projects like the QCoast2100 Program are going to be involved as well, can you tell us a little bit about that?
Absolutely. We’re actually combining the inaugural Coastal Leaders Forum with hosting a QCoast2100 Forum in Gladstone as well so that we can highlight the amazing work being delivered by Queensland coastal councils through this successful program and unpack future challenges and opportunities for implementation of adaptation options, with a view to further advocacy to support councils. The QCoast2100 Program kicked off in 2016 and is a state government commitment to a $13.234 million fund, which has assisted 31 coastal councils to advance coastal hazard adaptation planning in Queensland.
And finally, Nicole, for anyone still undecided on attending, what’s your final pitch to those still on the fence about attending the event this month?
There’s not enough time to get into the nitty gritty about coastal issues at other forums. The Coastal Leaders Forum is designed as an action-oriented event, with breakout sessions, workshops, panel discussions, site tours and roundtable discussions. What’s not to like about the opportunity to get together with colleagues and peers to learn, to collaborate and to form stronger, more cooperative relationships? Coastal councils share similar challenges, and it’s wonderful to have the chance to discuss these with others who are faced with them too. We want participants to feel heard, to learn and to go away with new ideas and concepts that they can apply in their own communities.
The LGAQ's Coastal Leaders Forum will be held at the Gladstone Entertainment Convention Centre between 11-12 August 2022. Click here for details and to register.