Much of the Centre's work is carried on through collaborative projects involving industry, government and civil society organisations. Our engaged scholarship approach puts a great deal of emphasis on working with and for the people and organisations who make things happen 'at the front line' in three main areas:
- Natural resource governance
- Rural social justice
- Institutional aspects of rural innovation
Engaged multi-disciplinary scholarship
A central challenge of both natural resources and social justice research is the need to effectively combine disciplinary perspectives, including law and institutional approaches along with biophysical and social sciences. This is particularly so when the goal is effective application of research, and solutions to complex problems. Working with colleagues at Penn State, and with other researchers focused on innovation, adoption and engagement, our research involves partnership with industry, government and NGO partners to ensure effective application of our research.
Next Generation Natural Resource Governance
This major, multi-collaborator research programme 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 research proposes innovations to overcome limitations to present governance arrangements, notably:
- the use of behavioural science to systematically improve the effectiveness of laws, market instruments and social interventions;
- addressing the high transaction costs that plague natural resource management programmes, including the effects of complexity and overlap between laws and institutions;
- finding more effective ways to create collaboration between those being regulated and regulators, and to harness the good will of consumers and citizens to support sustainability.
As resources become scarce and conservation more important, conflict over resources increases. New methods for resource sharing and for managing conflicts are needed. Two themes are being explored:
- Water law and water institutions. This work focuses on arrangements to allocate water resources equitably and effectively. We have conducted extensive research into irrigation and the Murray-Darling Basin plans under the Australian Water Act 2007. We have also considered some international water regimes. The Centre conducted a multi-year research project on institutional issues affecting irrigation. This research considered policy risk, transaction costs, and many related issues
- Mining resources conflict triggered by extractive developments. The legal and institutional arrangements privilege different interests in different jurisdictions. This research explores the outcomes from legal and institutional arrangements and proposes alternatives that could enhance sustainability and fairness.
Dr Amanda Kennedy led 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. This examined the extent to which regulatory frameworks are equipped to manage such conflict. This research explored social conflict over resource use through regional case studies (including Bulga in NSW, the Liverpool Plains and Narrabri in north-west NSW and North-Central Pennsylvania in the USA). Through stakeholder interviews and analysis of case law, statute and other sources, the case studies illustrate that regulatory frameworks fail to apply principles of environmental justice.The research proposes systems for managing intractable land use conflicts, underpinned by the principles of environmental justice.
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. The issues we have researched include:
- the use of legal doctrines to support the protection of indigenous knowledge, including culture, stories and secrets; and
- improving rural access to professional support and resources, and to support rural professionals.
Dr Amanda Kennedy
Intellectual Property, Traditional Knowledge and Nature
The issue of who owns the intellectual property rights of seeds and other biological material traditionally been used by our indigenous populations is being tackled by 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 native 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? This is one of the issues being explored in a suite of studies about legal protection of Indigenous citizen interests in natural resources, culture and knowledge.
These projects involve (or have involved) finding more effective approaches to advance the interests f Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in:
- native plants and resources
- traditional knowledge and practices
- cultural traditions and practices
Communities managing invasive species
Invasive plants and animals are identified as one of the five fundamental challenges to biodiversity, and a major economic cost There are more than 50 feral animals, such as feral cats and dogs, rabbits and foxes, that affect millions of Australians in regional and rural communities. Biological infestations destroy food crops every year and kill livestock. They also have psychological consequences on farmers and damage natural habitats and species.
Volunteers, land resource managers and front-line practitioners are often under-resourced and lack of sustained capacity-building mechanisms. They face many legal and administrative barriers (e.g. fragmented institutional arrangements, regulatory enforcement and compliance issues and poor institutional coordination).
The Aglaw Centre, in close collaboration with the Invasive Animals CRC, the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences of UNE, and community engagement experts from Penn State University in the USA, has a transdisciplinary research program that integrates front-line people' knowledge, experiences and skills into the research. Program 4.E.3 is working on reducing the institutional barriers that front-line and communities face. It proposes (with the support of community groups and front-line practitioners), reforms to reduce legal and administrative barriers to citizens taking action on invasive animals.
Professor Paul Martin