IRF Research Seminar Series

2013 Seminars

Challenges to mainstream economic theory: why it matters now and what do we teach? - Dr Judith McNeill

Institute for Rural Futures Seminar Room, Tuesday, 5th November 2013, 1.00pm

Abstract - Neoclassical economics has attracted many challenges. Ecological economists have, for example, a long-standing critique of parts of popular economics texts. Since the Global Financial Crises, however, there has been an explosion of new literature keen to point out what is wrong with the subject and what should be taught. Areas in current macroeconomic theory and policy are under greatest attack. The talk will highlight controversies in monetary and fiscal policy to illustrate why current macroeconomic conditions, and these debates, are matters of no small consequence.

We will link this understanding with the critique from ecological economics arguing that contrary to what many people might expect, essential elements of ecological economics theory can be incorporated into the basic introductory macroeconomics framework without that framework losing coherence. Important policy questions such as the composition of fiscal stimulus programs, or a global 'Marshall Plan' (Lin 2013:xxi) can then be guided by a more realistic appreciation of future threats to economic growth. At the same time, we hope it is becomes clear that there are dangers to any 'degrowth'  - although the research agenda of that movement will continue to be important. Nor is it quite time yet, for the wholesale overthrow of the 'high priests' of the university neoclassical economics classes who 'refuse to look at the big picture' and 'continue to prop up world elites' (The Guardian, Tuesday 29 October, 2013, 'Mainstream economics is in denial, the world has changed).

Co-authors of the paper are Michael Coleman, Research Fellow, Agronomy and Soil Science, School of Environmental and Rural Science and Professor Jeremy B. Williams, Director of the Asia- Pacific Management Centre and Deputy Director of the Asia Pacific Centre for Sustainable Enterprise, Griffith University.

The paper will be presented to the Australian and New Zealand Society for Ecological Economics (ANZSEE) Conference, 11-15 November 2013.

Dr Judith McNeill is a Senior Research Fellow and the Institute for Rural Futures.

Has the carbon tax killed the Australian mining boom? - Dr Samuel Meng

Institute for Rural Futures Seminar Room, Thursday, 3rd October 2013, 1.00pm

Abstract - The resources sector has been the engine of Australian economic growth in recent years. It is sometimes suggested that the carbon tax policy introduced in July 2012 has killed this resources boom. By employing a computable general equilibrium (CGE) model and an environmentally-extended Social Accounting Matrix (SAM), this paper demonstrates the effects of the Australian carbon tax on the resources sector. The modelling results show that, in a flexible exchange regime, all resources sectors are affected negatively, but to different degrees. The brown coal sector is affected most with 26% decrease in output, 53% decrease in employment and 89% decrease in profitability. However, the other resources sectors are only mildly affected. Under the carbon tax, the resources sectors contribute significantly to total emission reductions in Australia. Given the fact that brown coal accounts only for a small portion of the output of natural resources and is primarily used by small businesses in Australia, it is reasonable to suggest that a carbon tax has not significantly affected the overall performance of the resources sector.

Dr Samuel Meng is an ARC Post-Doctoral Fellow and Lecturer in Economics.

The Past, Present, and Future landscapes of the Northern Rivers Region of NSW - Dr Phil Morley

Institute for Rural Futures Seminar Room, Tuesday, 3rd September 2013, 1.00pm

Abstract - Many rural coastal regions of Australia are experiencing rapid and large scale change.  "Sea change" migration has led to extensive development, urbanisation and land use change, and many coastal regions are heading towards landscapes with 'concrete jungles', less productive land and degraded ecosystems.  The challenge is how to manage these trends while maintaining ecological sustainability and agricultural production in the long term.

Constructing growth scenarios based on past trends and possible future development allows the analyst and interested residents to visualise the future landscapes that would result from current decisions. The scenarios can be used to compare alternatives such as changes to planning restrictions, urban growth in different areas, and the impact of different rates of climate change on future landscapes.

This seminar will present the findings of two projects that used similar techniques on the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. One project concentrated on the impacts on agriculture and the environment within the region, while the other considered the impacts of climate change on a slightly smaller area.

Dr Phil Morley is a Research Fellow and the Institute for Rural Futures.

Domesticating whitewood: a native tree in Vanuatu - Dr Geoff Smith

Institute for Rural Futures Seminar Room, Tuesday, 6th August 2013, 1.00pm

Abstract - Vanuatu needs to replace a dwindling native forest resource with a plantation industry.  After many years of trialling introduced and native species, Whitewood emerged as a native species with potential as the basis of a plantation industry.  This presentation will provide a broad overview of previous and current work, funded by ACIAR, on the domestication of this promising species and the social and economic environment affecting the development of the industry.

Geoff has recently arrived at IRF having spent many years researching the domestication of native tree species in subtropical and tropical eastern Australia, and more recently in Vanuatu.

Dr Geoff Smith is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Rural Futures.

Not Everyone is McDonaldized – Understanding the Sustainability of the Amish Subculture in North America - Professor Joe Donnermeyer

Institute for Rural Futures Seminar Room, Wednesday, 3rd July 2013, 12.00pm

Abstract - The Amish represent one of the fastest growing rural subcultures in North America.  Currently, their doubling time is less than 22 years and the rate of retention of daughters and sons in the Amish faith is about 90 percent. This seminar will provide a sociological introduction to the Amish, the essential features of their  social organisation and religious beliefs, the recent growth of population and new communities within Canada and the U.S., and how they have successfully resisted full acculturation/assimilation into mainstream North American society and culture.

Professor Joe Donnermeyer is Professor of Rural Sociology in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State University.  He has been associated with UNE since 1999 as an adjunct professor working on several research projects on rural crime with staff from Criminology and the Institute for Rural Futures.  Professor Donnermeyer is currently a visiting academic with BCSS.

Professor Donnermeyer is the recipient of numerous national teaching awards in the US.  He is also an international expert in Amish studies and this is the fascinating topic of his presentation at UNE.  He has conducted research on the demographic and occupational changes in Amish society for over 20 years.  He is the author of numerous book chapters, journal articles, and two books about the Amish, and annually teaches a course (Amish Society) at The Ohio State University.  The state of Ohio is the location for over 50 Amish communities.

The socio-economic impact of the Mt Hagen Market Redevelopment Project - Associate Professor Christie Chang

Institute for Rural Futures Seminar Room, Tuesday, 2nd July 2013, 1.00pm

Abstract - The Mt Hagen Market Redevelopment Project was funded by AusAid. The purpose of the research was to assess the impact of the Project on agricultural models and on urban women and street youths in Mt Hagen and surrounding regions. The research found that since its inception in 2006, the market has produced significant and positive economic and social outcomes extending well beyond Mt Hagen to neighbouring Highlands provinces and even coastal areas. However, a change of market management in late 2008 commenced a gradual decline in service delivery and community engagement in the market.  The seminar will tell the story of the Mt Hagen Redevelopment Project and assess its overall impact.

Associate Professor Christie Chang is a Principal Research Fellow at the Institute for Rural Futures. She specialises in agribusiness value chain and marketing and socio-economic analysis in developing countries in the Asia-Pacific. Christie is currently the Project Leader for two ACIAR projects, one on improving PNG sweet potato value chain and one on developing a sweet potato processing sector in PNG. Occasionally, Christie provides research consultancy service to development agencies, such as AusAid and NZAid.

Adaptive Management of Social-Ecological Systems: Reconciling Resilience and Economic Approaches - Graham Marshall

Institute for Rural Futures Seminar Room, Tuesday, 7th May 2013, 12.30pm

Abstract - With the escalating surprises encountered in responding to environmental challenges has come growing attention to resilience and the need to manage such challenges adaptively as social-ecological systems. A framework for economic evaluation of institutional (including policy) choices in this context, and a procedure for applying the framework, will be discussed in this seminar and illustrated using the choice between water buy-back and infrastructure upgrade programs for accumulating the 'environmental water' needed to sustain the ecosystems of the Murray–Darling Basin.

Climate change adaptation research in Cambodia - Bob Martin

Institute for Rural Futures Seminar Room, Friday, 5th April 2013, 12.30pm

Abstract - In north-west Cambodia, farmers have imposed traditional agricultural practices developed in other agro-ecological zones with no attempt to adapt to the local topography, climate or soils. Excessive tillage is accelerating soil fertility decline and causing soil erosion, especially on sloping land. Excessive burning is  impacting on carbon levels of cropping soils, and escaping fires are degrading large areas of forest and contributing to anthropogenic CO2 levels in the atmosphere. The region is also experiencing social stresses due to the rising cost and reduced availability of labour generated by the rapid expansion of maize and cassava production.

Farming systems in north-west Cambodia are also vulnerable to highly variable climatic conditions. Increasing climate variability and climate change is expected to aggravate the situation by causing more frequent and intense droughts and increasing temperatures. These trends are already evident in both regions.

This seminar focussed on Professor Martin's research into the resilience of  current farming practices and evaluated the economic and social viability of alternative crop-cattle systems that may help prepare for future changes in climate.

Bob Martin has had more than 40 years experience in farming systems and weed research covering north coast, far western  and north-western NSW. He was principal of the weeds research unit in the WA Department of Agriculture (1989-93), Chairman of the Australian Weeds Committee (1991-92), Program Leader Agricultural Systems NSW DPI (1993-97) and Director of the Tamworth Agricultural Institute (1997-07). From 2007-11, he was Director of the Primary Industries Innovation Centre a UNE/DPI partnership. Bob has led ACIAR projects in Cambodia since 2003 and has been full-time resident there since 2010. He has studied climate change adaptation options for farming systems for NW NSW and Cambodia over the past 5-6 years.

2014 Seminars

The Arts and their role in building social resilience, cognitive abilities and environmentally sustainable behaviours - Dr David Curtis

Institute for Rural Futures Seminar Room, Monday 10th November 2014, 1.00pm.

Using New England dieback as a case study, Dr David Curtis will talk about the role of the arts in building social resilience. He will draw on research he conducted at the Institute of Rural Futures, funded by Land and Water Australia and the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.

Dr Curtis is Adjunct Research Fellow at the Institute of Rural Futures, University of New England. He has over 30 years of practical and theoretical experience of revegetation, farm forestry, landcare and conservation in rural and urban areas in Australia. His career has included work as a national and regional manager, university lecturer, environmental educator, researcher and policy adviser. His ecological research included a 10-year study into the regeneration and rehabilitation of ecosystems impacted by rural dieback.

Dr Curtis' trans-disciplinary sociology research examined the role that the arts have in shaping environmental attitudes and behaviours. It found that the arts could significantly affect environmental attitudes through aiding in the communication of environmental information, creating empathy for the natural environment, and catalysing ecological sustainability.

David has organised several large community arts events and is founder, and current president, of EcoArts Australis Inc.

Quantifying Intactness in Rapid Eco-regional Assessments: Tools and Lessons Learned - Dr E. Jamie Trammell

Institute for Rural Futures Seminar Room, Thursday 6th November 2014, 1.00pm.


Alaska is largely considered pristine, yet faces increasingly complex threats to its intact ecosystems.  The U.S. Federal Government has recently funded strategic regional projects called "Rapid Eco-regional Assessments" in order to understand the cumulative effect of change "agents" in Alaska.  This research summarizes the findings from multiple eco-regional assessments in Alaska, focusing on the cumulative effects of climate change, wildfire, invasive species and human land use and development.

To measure the impact of these change agents, we assess the potential responses of a suite of species and habitats.  We use these potential responses to then model how overall landscape integrity may change in the future.  The assessment is based in a Geographic Information System, with the goal of providing a spatially-explicit planning tool for more informed arctic planning in Alaska.

Jamie Trammell is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and a Landscape Ecologist with the Alaska Natural Heritage Program at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. He is a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Rural Futures, BCSS, from 4 November to 12 November, and is keen to discuss collaborative research ventures with UNE academics and officers of the NSW government.

Making markets work for the poor: a third approach to development - Associate Professor Christie Chang

Institute for Rural Futures Seminar Room, Tuesday 23rd September 2014, 1.00pm.

Abstract - There are two schools of thought regarding the role of government in economic development: the neoclassical and neostructuralist approaches. The former contends that active competition in the market is the most effective means to achieve efficiency and maximal social welfare, while the latter contends that market failures are pervasive, and government action is required to correct market failure.

A third "market-friendly" approach has emerged, and has gained popularity among development practitioners. It accepts the basic premise that although markets can work well, markets are imperfect and government plays a role in making markets work better especially in providing an enabling environment for private sector development. In this study, we assess the applicability of the framework of "making markets work for the poor" to rural enterprise development in Papua New Guinea.

Associate Professor Christie Chang is a Principal Research Fellow at the Institute for Rural Futures. She specialises in agribusiness value chain and marketing and socio-economic analysis in developing countries in the Asia-Pacific. Christie is currently the Project Leader for two ACIAR projects in PNG.

The impact of distributed electricity generation on utility business models - Dr Fereidoon Sioshansi

Wright Lecture
Theatre, Thursday, 24th July 2014, 1.00pm

Hosted by the Institute for Rural Futures, UNE Business School, and AGL

Abstract - For the first time in the electric power industry's history, consumers in high retail tariff regions, notably in Australia, are able to meet virtually all their service needs through self-generation at costs that are on par or lower than the grid-supplied variety. This phenomenon
can be expected to spread as the cost of distributed generation (DG) continues to fall while the cost of grid-supplied electricity is projected to rise.

In the context of flat or declining electricity growth projections, such a scenario will challenge the incumbent stakeholders' business model, which is primarily based on charging customers on volume. As an increasing number of consumers become prosumers – consumers who have become their own producers – prevailing
tariffs have to be modified to reflect where and how value is delivered and how prosumers should pay for services. This presentation, based on a recently published book on the same subject, examines the evidence to date and the implications of these developments on the power sector's future.

Dr Fereidoon Sioshansi is President of Menlo Energy Economics, San Francisco, editor and publisher of EEnergy Informer, and regular contributor to The Electricity
, EU Energy Policy Review,
IAEE Forum and other publications.

How would we recognise a truly sustainable enterprise if we saw one? - Professor Jeremy B. Williams

Institute for Rural Futures Seminar Room, Tuesday, 15th April 2014, 1.00pm

Abstract - Westpac was recently ranked no. 1 among the Corporate Knights' Top 100 most sustainable companies, and yet it has loaned close to $3bn to the fossil fuel industry. Nestlé, a corporation with questionable sustainability credentials, is listed on the FTSE4Good index.

UniSuper, under pressure from members, recently announced that its socially responsible packages would divest from fossil fuels, gaming, alcohol and weapons this year. One might reasonably ask how they could ever have been considered socially responsible investments in the first place.

The problem, it seems, is that sustainability is in the eye of the beholder. This seminar presents the case for a sustainable enterprise economy, and how we might identify a truly sustainable enterprise.

Professor Jeremy Williams is Director, Asia Pacific Centre for Sustainable Enterprise, Griffith Business School.

Great White Butterfly: Benefit cost analysis of eradication from New Zealand - Dr Miriam East

Institute for Rural Futures Seminar Room, Tuesday, 4th March 2014, 1.00pm

Abstract - The invasive species, the Great White Butterfly (GWB) was first detected in Nelson, New Zealand in May 2010.  A monitoring program was initiated, and more recently an eradication program has begun, due to the expected impacts on the agricultural industry, urban home gardeners, and on native endemic species of cress in New Zealand.

This seminar will present the findings of a benefit cost analysis comparing the eradication program costs to the potential avoided economic losses that would be incurred with unhindered spread of the butterfly.

The results indicate that under most scenarios, the total benefits to New Zealand of eradicating the GWB are more than the proposed eradication budgets.  Benefit transfer has also been included to determine the potential willingness to pay by the New Zealand public for protection of the native cresses.

Dr Miriam East is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Rural Futures.

2015 Seminars

Linking environmental and food security imperatives in international development - Stephan Bognar
Research outcomes and ongoing opportunities to improve southern African beef production systems - Professor Heather Burrow
Value Chain Analysis to Assess the Risks and Resilience of Food Systems - Professor Jonathan Rushton

J.P. Belshaw Lecture Theatre, Tuesday, 25th August 2015, 12.00pm

Jonathan is an agricultural economist who works on animal health and food systems. He leads a team working on how to improve our understanding of the global burden of animal diseases, the assessment of animal disease interventions and the use of food system analysis to improve societal development.
He is a world leader in animal health and food system economics.

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Prospects for rural trees in a world affected by climate change - Dr Chris Nadolny

Institute for Rural Futures Seminar Room, Tuesday 9th June 2015, 1.00pm.

Dr Chris Nadolny works in the Ecology and Vegetation Classification team in the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.  Chris started his ecological career working on eucalypt dieback on the New England Tableland in the 1980s. At that time roughly half of the tree cover was lost from large parts of the region and, despite large efforts at revegetation, only a fraction of that tree cover has ever been replaced.

More recently, the risks of another intense episode of dieback are increasing due to agricultural intensification and climate change. At the same time,  the scale of revegetation by landholders and NRM agencies has been reduced. Yet, maintaining tree cover in the Australian landscape is increasingly important for agricultural productivity and for both mitigation of, and adaption to, climate change. In this seminar the ecological role of and prospects for trees in the Australian landscape will be discussed.

In the light of new information about how trees may directly affect climate, Chris argues that large-scale revegetation needs to be an important part of our response to climate change.

Dr Chris Nadolny seminar presentation

Capacity Building of small holder sweetpotato farmers in Papua New Guinea - Associate Professor Christie Chang

Institute for Rural Futures Seminar Room, Tuesday 19th May 2015, 1.00pm.

Sweetpotato is the most important food crop in Papua New Guinea, grown by the majority of households throughout the country. In recent years, it has become an important source of income for smallholder farmers in a developing market economy at a time when demand is rising in urban centres, especially
in coastal cities such as Lae and Port Moresby.

Meeting market demand requires a transformation, both in mindsets and skills, from subsistence to commercial farming. However, this has been challenging for the smallholder farmers and other value chain players because the majority of them do not have the resources and necessary technical and business management skills to meet the market requirements for quality and the consistency in supply. Most of these issues may be addressed by equipping smallholder farmers with the necessary skills through education and training. This study summarises the research, development and extension activities undertaken by an ACIAR project to identify the training needs and build the capacity of smallholder sweetpotato farmers, as well as the lessons learned and policy implications for further improvement.

Sweetpotato farmers standing in a crop field in Papua New Guinea

Understanding small-holder forest conservation motivations and the implications for climate policy - Professor Oscar Cacho

Institute for Rural Futures Seminar Room, Tuesday 10th March 2015, 1.00pm.

Deforestation is a leading cause of biodiversity loss and an important source of global carbon emissions. This means that there are important synergies between climate policy and conservation policy. The highest rates of deforestation occur in tropical countries, where much of the land at the forest frontier is managed informally by smallholders and where governance systems tend to be weak.

Deforestation is often accompanied by fires that release large amounts of carbon dioxide. These emissions are especially high in the case of peatlands which contain thick layers of carbon-rich matter.

These features must be considered when designing policies to reduce emissions from deforestation such as REDD+. A critical requirement for reducing deforestation is the willingness of small holder farmers to participate in such schemes.

This seminar will outline the results of research that evaluates the motivations driving land conversion by small holders in Sumatra. In the area surveyed, rates of peatland deforestation are high and the land is being cleared for palm oil plantations.

Professor Oscar Cacho started his professional life as a marine biologist and later became an economist. His research interests tackle problems of sustainability in agriculture and natural resources, particularly in developing countries. He is Professor, UNE Business School.