Critical issues in regional natural resource management
Marcus B Lane, Geographical and Environmental Studies, The University of Adelaide
prepared for the 2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee, 2006
Civic regionalism has been promoted as a means (among other things) to better integrate the use, allocation and management of natural resources. It is seen as a way of addressing concerns about ‘fragmentation’ or ‘lack of coordination’ in environmental governance.
This assumption—that governing at the scale of the region through regional groups will enhance the integration of policy and management—is remarkable and unwarranted. The allocation, use and management of natural resources is a complex, multi-jurisdictional domain in which many non-government players (from market and civil society) jostle with diverse government players to determine environmental policy at different scales. Furthermore, because many of the causes of environmental problems are extra-regional, regional bodies will be required to coordinate the activities of more powerful government and market forces operating at broader scales.
There is no question that better integration of policy and management is needed. Efforts to improve our use of natural resources have been constantly frustrated by lack of integration in policy design and by the lack of vertical and horizontal harmony in processes of governance.
This problem is multi-faceted and not necessarily solved by civic regionalism. Aspects include:
‘(i) the complex and dynamic character of Australian federalism, (ii) the rigorous defence of agency fiefdoms, (iii) inefficiencies, duplication, contradictions and inconsistencies across policies, (iv) a lack of continuity caused by almost constant programmatic and structural change, (v) a loss of public confidence in both the processes of governance and government, and (vi) the rapid shift of NRM policies to community-based programs without adequate funding and other support.’ (Morrison et al. 2004, 247)
If civic regionalism is be more integrating, the vertical roles of regional bodies relative to local, state and federal governments will need to be clarified and made to coordinate. It will also require greater structural and procedural reform of federal and state NRM agencies to provide for greater horizontal integration. (The Australian Government’s recent ‘Whole-of-Government’ initiative is a welcome gesture here.)
There will also need to be far greater clarity in the relationship and integration of the functional roles of the multitude of NRM plans and other instruments being used by all levels of government. It is impossible to overstate the need for this kind of reform. In the Wet Tropics region of north Queensland, for example, McDonald and others (2003) report that there are currently more than 120 current plans in operation!
Finally, the remarks made above about the need for new skills and a new toolkit for environmental managers in Australia are relevant here. Integration is as much about process as it is about substance. Integrative environmental managers are those that understand processes of consensus building, collaboration, networking and conflict resolution.
If we look for evidence of how effectively we use the various techniques of governance, we have no further to look than negotiated agreements between mining companies and Indigenous Australians. Recent research shows that these agreements poorly reflect the needs and interests of Indigenous communities (O’Faircheallaigh and Corbett in press). If working horizontally requires new skills, we rapidly need to acquire them and the structures to be able to use them effectively.