Australia’s Oceans Policy - The Twentieth Anniversary (1998-2018) Australian Journal of Maritime & Ocean Affairs

Australian Journal of Maritime & Ocean Affairs

Twenty years on: Australia’s Oceans Policy

Australia has a significant maritime domain—the third-largest maritime jurisdiction in the world, of 13.86 million km2 in area that is area almost twice the size of the Australian landmass and the longest ice-free coastline in the world at 37,000 kilometres in length. This domain stretches from the tropic to the Antarctic and encompasses a range of biogeographic regions, shipping routes and supports a range of activities; commercial fisheries, significant offshore oil and gas production areas, tourism and recreational activities. Governance of this domain is equally diverse, involving complex interactions between the Australian, and state and territory governments.

In late December 1998, towards the end of the International Year of the Oceans, Australia’s Oceans Policy was launched, at the time regarded as a world-leading attempt to promote an integrated ecosystem-based framework for managing Australia’s ocean resources and environments. The Oceans Policy followed a number of coastal and ocean management initiatives introduced in the preceding decade, and while is part of this continuum of policy development, it attempted a significant departure from traditional management arrangements. The announcement of Australia’s Oceans Policy in 1998 followed Canada’s Oceans Act of 1997 but pre-dated ocean policy initiatives in the USA and Europe. This initiative reinforced Australia’s leadership in ocean governance, and mirrored equally pioneering effort two decades earlier with the establishment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in 1975.

Twenty years on we have greater understanding of vulnerabilities and threats to Australia’s oceans domain. There is also broader scientific understanding and awareness of policy tools for integrated oceans management. At the same time, however, there is little current coordination or integration of ocean management sectors; key aspirations from the 1998 policy. Despite twenty years of effort Australia’s oceans policy remains fragmented and contested with few legacies remaining from the 1998 framework. Australia’s experience with developing and implementing its national Oceans Policy from 1998 provides important and useful opportunities for lesson drawing in developing policy  responses to demands for integrated, ecosystem-based approaches to oceans management.  The challenges in moving from a sectoral to an integrated focus to ocean governance cannot be underestimated.

The Australian Journal of Maritime and Oceans Affairs and its predecessor, Maritime Studies, were important forums in the discussions on Australia’s oceans policy. Twenty years on it is appropriate to reflects on the development, implementation and evaluation of this policy initiative as reflected through contribution to the journal. This special issue also serves to highlight the rich archive of material found in the issues of Maritime Studies (1981-2008).

Dr Joanna Vince, as Editor of this Special Issue, has selected papers that provide a detailed treatment of Australia’s Ocean’s Policy. I thank Dr Vince for her work on this issue, reflecting her longstanding interest in, work on, and assessment of, Australia’s ocean policy and governance. I note, particularly, her new paper on the oceans policy that serves as an introduction to this special issue. I also wish to acknowledge and thank the Taylor and Francis editorial and production team for the Australian Journal of Maritime and Oceans Affairs—Thijs Van Vlijmen, Kate Edmonds, Colleen Cummings, John Ong, and Ramanan Vilvanathan—for their support and work in bringing this special issue to completion.


Marcus Haward
Editor-in-Chief, Australian Journal of Maritime and Ocean Affairs
University of Tasmania, Hobart.

Marcus Haward provided contributions at various stages in the development and implementation of Australia’s Oceans Policy, including appointment to the Institutional Arrangements Working Group for the Southeast Regional Marine Plan.