Unpacking the politics and perspectives of seaside living

Mr Tom Fitzgerald1

1University Of Sydney, Sydney, Australia


Some people are risk averse, others are risk takers. Some just don’t even care. So when our coasts and homes are threatened by higher seas, how do we decide what risks we can live with? When it comes to the tricky task of managing coastal areas in democratic states, science must take the back seat in decision-making, and give way to collective decision-making. This presentation will take you on a journey exploring perspectives of risk uncovered during research at two case study locations: Collaroy-Narrabeen Beach in Australia and the Kāpiti Coast in New Zealand.

Coastal management decisions are made in an increasingly dynamic context: shores and oceans move, science continually develops, and populations, and opinions change even more frequently. Producing sustainable coastal management pathways have all the hallmarks of ‘wicked problems’, or ‘risk conundrums’. But for better or worse, it is within this complex, ambiguous environment that these tough choices must be made.

So how effective is this decision-making? How well are we doing? Does the governance of coastal risk focus in the right place? Moving beyond the traditional paradigm of physical delineation of risk, I’ve been uncovering the socio-political and governance dynamics of coastal risk management. Anonymous semi-structured interviews were undertaken with participants selected at both sites to represent civil society, science, the market and the state, and a comparative analysis was completed. My findings provide evidence that suggests we could be doing things better. Collaborative, deliberative decision-making processes could provide a solution.


Tom has broad experience in the development, analysis and implementation of coastal policy.  He’s worked for all levels of government, for NGOs, academic institutions and in the private sector in multiple jurisdictions.

Most recently Tom held senior positions within the NSW Department of Planning and Environment and had a lead role in both the coastal management reforms and the NSW Marine Estate work programme. He is now employed by the University of NSW undertaking a survey on the perceptions of risk and risk communication around coastal hazards. Tom is now based in Sydney but works in both Australia and NZ.

He was former Secretary for the Australian Coastal Society, Regional Coordinator for the New Zealand Coastal Society and has volunteered his time on the organising committees of the NSW Coastal Conference for the last 5 years and the NZCS Conference 2017. He also volunteers with the Environmental Defence Society (Australian Oceans Institute) in NZ on ocean management.

About the Association

The Australian Coastal Society (ACS) was initiated at the Coast to Coast Conference in Tasmania in 2004. The idea was floated as a means for those interested in coastal matters to communicate between conferences and where possible take resolutions of the conference to appropriate levels of government.

The idea was discussed further at the Coast to Coast Conference in Melbourne in 2006 and it was agreed that Bruce Thom develop a constitution of a company limited by guarantee that would operate on a national basis.

This plan was accomplished and in 2008 at the Coast to Coast Conference in Darwin the constitution was ratified and an Executive appointed. The company received charitable status in 2011.

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