Wetlands Conservation Policy for Western Australia
A Wetlands Conservation Policy was released by the Minister for the Environment in the Government of Western Australia on 23 August 1997 and adds to the rapidly growing stable of such instruments being put in place around the world. At last count, the Bureau is aware of at least 29 wetland policies and strategies in place at national level amongst Ramsar Contracting Parties, and has news of many more under development - and pleasingly the pace is quickening. It is equally gratifying to learn of more policies being developed at the sub-national level in harmony with National Wetland Policies in those countries.
Like most policy documents, the one for Western Australia contains a healthy smattering of weasel or out words (e.g., "where appropriate" and "seek opportunities"), but the Government should be congratulated for its recognition of wetlands as a priority management issue. Overall, the Policy commits the Government of this jurisdiction to a comprehensive range of actions, and if these can all be delivered it will be a major step forward for wetland conservation across this massive area. Let's not forget that Western Australia covers some 2.5 million square kilometres and, to put this is in perspective, this is more than twice the area of countries like Bolivia, Chad, Colombia, Ethiopia, and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
One aspect that may weaken the effectiveness of the Western Australian Wetland Policy is that it states that, despite the comprehensiveness of the Ramsar definition of wetlands, some exceptions are to be made in the coverage of this program. For example, the management actions directed at areas such as wetlands of the shallow marine areas, according the the "Scope of Policy" section of the document, will be addressed through "other government programs." Western Australia has an extensive coastline which includes vast tracts of near-pristine wetlands of global importance. It is to be hoped that these areas will indeed be given the same level of management attention as the Wetland Policy indicates will now be directed at the inland wetlands.
More positively, it is pleasing to see that the Policy will result in the establishment of a cross-sectoral coordinating committee to oversee its implementation, and that this will include the key government departments as well as non-government representation. The Policy also recognizes the need for this tier of government within Australia's three-tier Federal system to working cooperatively with the Federal and local authorities.
In Australia there now exists a Federal Wetland Policy and under this, at the State Government level, similar Policies for two of the eight jurisdictions (New South Wales and now Western Australia). Other State governments in Australia are expected to follow this lead with Queensland and the Northern Territory well advanced in this process. For other countries with similar Federal systems of Governments, this is an interesting model to observe, where each tier of government develops complementary Wetland Policies to assist with coordinated national actions and cooperation.
Copies of the attractively published Policy can be requested from the Department of Conservation and Land Management, Locked Bag 104, Bentley Delivery Centre, WA 6983, Australia (fax +61 8 9386 1578).
-- reported by Dr Bill Phillips, Deputy Secretary General, Ramsar Convention