Researchers at the University of Canberra are attempting to find out why land use conflicts like coal seam gas and wind turbines cause so much angst in rural Australia.
The $150,000 research grant has been commission by Australian Research Council and will look specifically at the issues of CSG, wind turbines, water use in the Murray-Darling Basin and foreign investment in Australian farmland.
Professor of Australian public policy at the University, Linda Botterill, says the research will focus largely on people’s values.
“We’re interested in deeply-held core values that influence the way people develop their policy preferences around contentious issues,” she said.
“The values that are being considered, for example in the Murray-Darling Basin, are values around the environment, agriculture and broadly agrarian values about the importance of agricultural activity, and also around economic activity.”
Professor Botterill and her colleagues will conduct focus groups and interviews with people living in rural communities where land use conflicts have arisen.
“We suspect that the people who oppose wind turbines have more deeply held agrarian values about the aesthetics of rural landscapes, particularly tree changers who’ve come into rural communities looking for the rural idyll and escaping the city.
“(They’re) likely to feel that their rural environment is being spoilt by the erection of wind farms, but we don’t know (and) we won’t know until we go and ask these questions.”
Professor Botterill says the research is part of a bigger project on rethinking Australian public policy.
“If public policy makers start thinking about what values are relevant to a particular policy debate, we may avoid a lot of major disputes,” she said.
“For example, the launch of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in 2010, I attended a number of the meetings in rural Australia and it was a lesson in how not to consult with rural Australia.
“What happened is the Murray-Darling Basin Authority went into rural Australia and they focussed entirely on one value, which was environmentalism.
“By going into rural communities where people’s livelihoods are potentially on the line, where people care deeply about agriculture and have been in farming for many generations, to go in and run a meeting that’s all about the environment is not exactly going to endear the public servants from Canberra to rural Australia.
“If the policy makers had perhaps thought in terms of values and thought, ‘Well what matters to people in rural Australia?’ and they’d gone and said, ‘We collectively have a problem…what do you think we should be doing?’, they would have got a better response than simply coming in and saying, ‘You’re using too much water’.”
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