UNE ‘early career’ researcher’s success in new award scheme

Published 30 November 2011

amandaAmanda Kennedy knew she was up against formidable odds in applying for one of the Commonwealth Government’s inaugural Discovery Early Career Research Awards.

But the young lawyer from the University of New England was not only among the 12 per cent of applicants from around the nation to be granted one of the awards, but also the only successful applicant in the field of law. “It’s amazing, really,” she said, “and it’s a real honour to have been chosen.”

Now, funded by her $375,000 award, she is about to embark on a three-year study of the role of the law in managing disputes over the use of natural resources.

Dr Kennedy (pictured here) is Deputy Director of the Australian Centre for Agriculture and Law (AgLaw Centre) at UNE. In that role, her research over the past three years has focused on aspects of natural resource law and rural social policy and, early this year, she coordinated an international colloquium at UNE – “Water Law: Through the Lens of Conflict” – that attracted participants from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Iceland, South Africa and the United States.

“My aim in this new research project,” she said, “is to investigate how conflicts over the use of natural resources develop, and how disputes might be managed more effectively through approaches that recognise the competing values of stakeholders and the influences on such conflict of both legal and other regulatory frameworks.

“The protracted conflict between farming and mining interests on the Liverpool Plains has been very much in the forefront of our minds here at the AgLaw Centre. That conflict escalated – in typical fashion – to litigation, taking a toll on those involved.

“The current applicable legislation tends to prioritise the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources, and mistrust abounds over the exploration licence process. The growing scarcity of natural resources, combined with the fact that different resource users are moving in closer proximity, means that such disputes are increasing in number. It is therefore of fundamental importance that systems for managing conflict over natural resources are effective. Any improvement in resolving such conflicts has to come from approaches recognising that stakeholders have divergent values and that the law is an actor in such conflict situations.”

Dr Kennedy will be studying cases of conflict in Australia – and also in the United States, where UNE’s partnership with Penn State University will facilitate her work.

The new Early Career Research Awards program, administered by the Australian Research Council with the aim of assisting talented young researchers to develop their careers, takes account of considerations such as the need for young women to have breaks in their careers for maternity leave. After graduating from UNE as a Doctor of Philosophy in March 2007, Amanda Kennedy’s first period of maternity leave was after the birth of her first daughter, Sarah, in December 2008. Her second daughter, Olivia, was born six months ago. “It was great to be applying for an award where I didn’t feel I had to make excuses for my time away from research,” she said.