Marcus B Lane, Geographical and Environmental Studies, The University of Adelaide
prepared for the 2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee, 2006
Civic regionalism is widely held to be more democratic than top-down NRM from a centralised government. The basis for this belief is that decentralising management to citizen boards and other bodies helps improve the fairness of decisions, overcoming the insensitivity of centralised bureaucracies to local and regional difference. Such a model crudely assumes an inverse relationship between democracy and geographic scale.
Since justice is as important as effectiveness in NRM, fairer outcomes and better democracy is a crucial issue.
Regrettably for ardent decentralists, there is no demonstrated correlation between democracy and smaller units of governance (Ehrenberg 1999). Localised, participatory efforts can serve to buttress the position of local elites, enforce conformity, and eliminate difference in political processes. For example, some groups of people have been very poorly represented among Landcare groups (Lockie 2001). There are reports of cases where decentralised NRM has resulted in undemocratic decision-making processes and an inequitable distribution of resources.
The treatment of Indigenous Australians under the Natural Heritage Trust I is also suggestive of this trend (Lane 2005). Clearly, incorporating the view and knowledge of people with little power is not automatic.
‘The question is one of power. Who has access to resources and can deploy them in order to disadvantage others? Clearly, it is not the holders of indigenous knowledge who exercise the power to marginalize … The criterion of power will triumph when local, traditional, or practical knowledge is contrasted with global, modern, or theoretical knowledge.’ (Agrawal quoted in Howitt 2001, 38)
This does not mean that civic regionalism is, by nature, undemocratic. It does mean that regional governance that relies on citizen participation must be designed to explicitly ensure accountability and fairness.
Democratic civic regionalism and environmental justice can be secured only by processes that ensure that:
- everyone can participate and not merely the articulate or the organised
- decision-making processes are not dominated by elites
- effective mechanisms for dispute resolution exist
- regional bodies are accountable both to the citizens they represent and to the governments that fund them.
All of this requires, in turn, a more detailed consideration of how regional policy is constructed. As indicated earlier, it also requires new skills for environmental managers.
Links to another web site
Links to data in the DRS
Opens a pop-up window