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No right to defend against sea for sea-side property owners

RISING TIDE: Belongil Beach shows the scars from a super moon tides, the type of event from which waterside landowners want to protect themselves.
RISING TIDE: Belongil Beach shows the scars from a super moon tides, the type of event from which waterside landowners want to protect themselves. Christian Morrow

BEACHFRONT property owners have no right under common law to protect their properties against erosion or rising sea levels, according to research by a Southern Cross University academic.

Recently published in the Australian Law Journal, the research was conducted by PhD candidate John Corkhill.

His paper disputes research by Karen Coleman, published in 2010, that there was a fundamental right for private landholders and a government duty to protect properties against the sea.

"I think it's a weak claim that we have these common law rights if the best thing you can point to is a case from 1828 in England," Mr Corkhill said.

To come to his conclusion, he reviewed legal cases dating back to the 1800s from Australia and Britain.

"The idea that we have got common law rights to defend against the sea just is nonsensical, given that we now have a framework in legislation that says if you want to build seawalls you need to get consent from council and the Crown.

"You can't have the right under common law when the legislation says you need permission."

"The fact that we have this legislation in place basically extinguishes those common law rights."

Coastal management should be done in the public interest, not the interests of private landholders, Mr Corkhill said.

"The fishing industry, the tourism industry, the boating industry, the surfing industry and public use are all at risk if we go down this track of building seawalls along the coast."

In a submission to a review on coastal reforms, Mr Corkhill said evidence of predicted sea rises and an increase in severe storms should be taken into account in developing a revised coastal management plan.

The risk to coastal properties would only increase over time and retreat was the best option.

"It's really past time in saying intensive development of the coast is a mistake; we need to be moving well back, in anticipation of what the scientists are saying is going to be centuries of sea level rise."

Topics:  coastal erosion southern cross university


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