We divide our research into a number of theme areas:

  • Rules — which address government regulation, quasi-regulation such as policies and plans, and private regulation like industry standards
  • Tools of strategy — such as regulation, market instruments, education and information and voluntary action
  • Risks — particularly the management of risks which go with rural innovation such as genetic modification or new species introduction
  • Relationships — addressing contracts, agreements, disputes and institutional arrangements.

Our projects

Within our current projects there exists opportunities for research students and collaboration. We welcome industry enquiries to work with us on these priority areas of scholarship.

Next Generation Natural Resource Governance

This is a major, multi-collaborator research programme which is focused upon proposing the next generation of integrated natural resource management laws and institutions. The impetus is the realisation that notwithstanding significant investments and legal interventions, rural landscapes continue to degrade. The intention of the research is to propose innovations that overcome identified limitations to present governance arrangements, notably:

  • the use of behavioural science to systematically improve the effectiveness of laws, market instruments and social interventions;
  • reducing high transaction costs that plague natural resource management programmes, including the effects of complexity and overlap between laws and institutions;
  • the need to find effective ways of creating collaboration between those being regulated and regulators, and to harness the good will of consumers and citizens to support sustainability.

This research program involves collaborators in Australia, USA, Iceland and Asia, and is in part supported by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage grant.

Dr Jacqueline Williams — ARC research program
Dr Robyn Bartel — Regulatory harmonisation

Resource Conflicts

As resources become scarce and conservation more important, conflict over resources increases. New methods for resource sharing and for managing conflicts when they arise will be needed. This research is focused upon innovations to avoid or manage such conflicts. Two themes are being developed:

  • Water law and water institutions. This work is particularly concerned with water laws and administrative arrangements to allocate resources equitably and effectively. We have conducted extensive research into irrigation institutional arrangements and the Murray-Darling Basin plans under the Australian Water Act 2007. We have also considered some international water regimes in Asia.
  • Mining –related resources conflict. In many parts of the world there is conflict triggered by extractive developments. The legal and institutional arrangements privilege different interests in different jurisdictions. This research is concerned with exploring the patterns of outcome from legal and institutional arrangements and with proposing alternatives that could better suit interests of sustainability and fairness.

Developing particularly the second of these themes, Dr Amanda Kennedy is currently leading a three-year $375,000 ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award project entitled 'Effective systems for managing intractable natural resource conflict'. This research focuses upon experiences of land use conflict where mineral and gas extraction are concerned, and examines from an environmental justice perspective the extent to which existing regulatory frameworks are equipped to manage such conflict. This research focuses upon conflict concerning land use where the extraction of minerals (such as coal) and gas are a focus. It explores the development of social conflict over resource use through a series of regional case studies (including Bulga in NSW, the Liverpool Plains and Narrabri in north-west NSW and Tara in southern QLD), each of which have involved the extraction of either coal or coal seam gas in areas traditionally dominated by other land uses (e.g. agriculture). Through stakeholder interviews and detailed analysis of case law, statute and other sources, the case studies illustrate that contemporary regulatory frameworks fail to apply principles of environmental justice and fairness in land use decision making. In particular, they highlight weaknesses in current mechanisms for meaningful public participation, and a lack of recognition for non-dominant perspectives in the political arena. Overall, the research seeks to propose new systems for managing intractable land use conflicts, underpinned by the principles of environmental justice. This research is topical, given the growth in both coal and gas exploration activities across Australia. It also draws upon international perspectives, including the USA, where similar conflicts are at play.

Professor Paul Martin
Dr Amanda Kennedy

Rural Social Justice

Rural social justice issues exist in many forms, including inequity of access to resources for less advantaged (notably indigenous) people, and the too-frequent inability of rural and regional citizens to obtain equivalent legal and other services to their urban counterparts. Two areas of research concentration for the Centre are:

  • the use of legal doctrines to support the protection of indigenous knowledge, including cultural stories and secrets; and
  • mechanisms to improve rural access to professional support and resources, and to support rural professionals.

Dr Amanda Kennedy

Engaged multi-disciplinary scholarship

A central challenges of both natural resources and social justice research is the need to effectively combine a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including law and institutional approaches along with biophysical and social sciences. This is particularly so when the outcome targeted is effective application of the results of the research, and innovative solutions to complex problems. Working particularly with colleagues at Penn State, and with other researchers focused on innovation, adoption and engagement, this programme is in part cross-cutting. It also involves partnership with industry, government and NGO partners in the pursuit of effective application of our research.

Intellectual Property, Traditional Knowledge and Seeds

The question of who owns the intellectual property rights of seeds that have traditionally been used by our indigenous populations is being tackled by a team of experts from the University of New England. Hundreds of native plant species, many unique to this land, were traditionally used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders for food and medicines. The knowledge relating to the use, harvesting and properties of these plans has been passed down over thousands of years as Traditional Knowledge. So what happens when plants traditionally used by our indigenous population are used for commercial gain? How is the Traditional Knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations protected, and who gets the benefits from potential commercialisation of bush products?

Professor Mark Perry and Professor Paul Martin from UNE's School of Law and post-doctorate student Mark Shepherd have joined forces to find answers to these questions in a project funded by the Australian Government's Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) for Remote Economic Participation.  Professor Mark Perry says the main aim of the research is to expand the understanding about culturally-appropriate approaches to the conservation and use of Australian seeds. "Essentially Australian seeds are genetic resources. It's when the Traditional Knowledge that relates to those seeds, which has been passed down over generations, comes into the equation that some interesting legal questions arise. Some of these seeds potentially have significant commercial value, so it's a lot more relevant than simply establishing a legal understanding of the issue. We're aiming to provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups with information to guide their interactions with commercial cultivators who want to market certain plants and seeds. It's also about ensuring that Traditional Knowledge and hereditary custodianship are acknowledged and appreciated and appropriately compensated."

The aim of the project is to highlight the issues surrounding the intellectual property of seeds, particularly to the scientific community and Indigenous stakeholders both nationally and internationally, as well as alternative viewpoints of the inherent value in the seed, which is not recognised under our intellectual property frameworks. The intellectual property rights of indigenous populations have already been recognised at a world level by the World Intellectual Property Organisation, which is a body of the United Nations. A specially formed international committee is now steering negotiations towards developing a set of international legal rules that will give some effective protection to Traditional Knowledge holders.

Communities versus invasive species

In Australia, invasive animals still continue to pass through the strict national biosecurity system that exists to protect agricultural values and citizens from health risks. There are more than 50 feral animals, such as feral cats and dogs, rabbits and foxes, that every year affect the well being of millions of Australians in regional and rural communities. Biological infestations from invasives destroy food crops every year and kill domestic livestock. They also have devastating psychological consequences on farmers and damage natural habitats and species, which are part of our national heritage.

Volunteers, land resource managers, front-line practitioners are key to invasive animal management but they are often under-resourced and lack of sustained capacity-building mechanisms for supporting effective community action in invasive animal control and management. They also face many legal and administrative barriers (e.g. fragmented institutional arrangements, regulatory enforcement and compliance issues and poor institutional coordination). The invasive animal challenge is a complex and multidimensional problem, which requires a strategic research approach.

Drawing on its expertise on the institutional and legal dimension of natural resource management as well as its previous work on invasives, the Aglaw Centre has, in close collaboration with the Invasive Animals CRC, the Department of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences of UNE, and community engagement experts from Penn State University in the USA developed a transdisciplinary research program that aims to integrate front-line people' knowledge, experiences and skills into the research process. Program 4 'Facilitating Effective Community Action,' which is part of the Invasive Animals CRC, is working with communities to equip them with new tools and better understand the institutional and human dimension of the invasive animal challenge. Program 4 has three parts. 4.E.1 is providing access to the best available knowledge and 'tools' to improve community participation. 4.E.2. is helping those involved with invasive animal issues make use of behavioural science to improve their communication strategies. Program 4.E.1 and Program 4.E.2 are working with networks across Australia. Program 4.E.3 is working on ways of reducing the institutional barriers that front-line and communities face to manage invasive animals effectively. It aims to propose (with the support of community groups and front-line practitioners), reforms that will reduce legal and administrative barriers to citizens taking action on invasive animals.