Managed retreat -- the relocation of homes and infrastructure under threat from coastal flooding -- is one of the few policy options available for coastal communities facing long-term risks from accelerated sea level rise. At present, little is known about how the Australian public perceives policy options to mitigate sea level rise risks. This paper explores a range of different decision-making criteria used to assess a managed retreat scheme. A metatheoretical social functionalist framework is used to make sense of personal concerns elicited from an online survey asking respondents to consider a managed retreat scheme. The framework proposes that people can act intuitively as scientists, economists, politicians, prosecutors and theologians, when considering a complex topic such as managed retreat policy. The research found that the survey respondents are more likely to consider the topic of managed retreat from multiple functional perspectives than from a single functional perspective. The type of social functionalist frameworks that people used to assess the Conditional Occupancy Rights scheme was found to be influenced by their perceptions of sea level rise risk. The findings have implications for public debates about the long-term risks of sea level rise and for engaging with the community about managed retreat policy options.