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Regional delivery of natural resource management in Australia: is it democratic and does it matter?

Moore, S.A. (2005) Regional delivery of natural resource management in Australia: is it democratic and does it matter? In: Eversole, R. and Martin, J., (eds.) Participation and governance in regional development : global trends in an Australian context. Ashgate, Aldershot, Hampshire, pp. 121-136.

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Australia’s agricultural and pastoral lands face widespread degradation and declining productivity (Wentworth Group 2002). In response, the Australian Government has committed billions of dollars to the regional delivery of natural resource management, where regional groups plan and administer programs to achieve on-ground improvements in land and water management (CoA 2004a), predominantly on private lands. On the basis of these plans, some landholders will be publicly funded and others will miss out.

Given this decision making spends public funds and has equity implications, it is timely to ask ‘are these processes democratic and does it matter’? To address this question, this chapter begins by overviewing natural resource management in Australia. Specific attention is given to the two most recent programs, the Natural Heritage Trust Extension (NHT Extension) and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality (NAP) (CoA 2004a). This discussion is set in the context of worldwide trends in regionalism and regionalisation. and placed within the political context of Australia as a third way democracy (Reddel 2004, Giddens 2000). The idea of the ‘demos’ is then introduced, as conceptualised by Dahi (1989) in his work on procedural democracy (Guttmann and Thompson 1995). Using the demos as an analytical lens helps move us beyond the current plethora of work and rhetoric around representation and participation.

The subsequent critique addresses the second part of the question first — does it matter if regional natural resource management processes are democratic? The answer is that it does, given democracy’s place in the Australian psyche and culture, and its centrality in third way politics. Regarding whether these processes are, in fact, democratic, it is clear that the regional groups do not fully represent their demos. As such, they are not democratic. The chapter concludes with comments on how the demos could be better represented. Also included are thoughts on regional delivery of natural resource management as a model for pluralistic participation in regional development governance, a central theme of this book.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Environmental Science
Publisher: Ashgate
Copyright: (c) Robyn Eversole and John Martin 2005
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