Power, policy and remote citizen activism: a case study of the Lake Eyre Basin Wild Rivers policy

2017-03-02T01:28:44Z (GMT) by Capel, Christene Susanne
This PhD research examines what influence women and men in Central Western Queensland (CWQ) have on natural resource management policy that significantly impacts on their lives and livelihoods. It uses the Lake Eyre Basin Wild Rivers (LEB WR) policy development and deliberations as a case study focusing in particular on the period from 2009–2011. Sociological research in remote Australia is rare, especially research conducted by a long-term community based insider researcher. Some organisations and individuals expend a substantial amount of time and money to influence government policy from remote areas, with varied success. This case study provides evidence of policy being shaped by remote citizens despite widely disparate views being held by participants and a perception that Wild Rivers policy was imposed on them. The topic is explored using a critical theory approach drawing on Lukes structural theories of power. Gender and intersectionality are also used to frame the research as are the concepts of Deliberative Democracy and Ecological Sustainable Development (ESD). Geographic remoteness, gender and indigeneity are specifically examined as potential sites of marginalisation. Methods included the use of semi-structured interviews with activists and a media content analysis. While resistance was evident, many of those trying to influence policy were engaged in activism. The terms ‘remote’ and ‘activist’ have almost been mutually exclusive. However while some dominant sectors had the power to influence policy this was not the domain of any one organisation throughout the policy development period. While it was largely urban based conservation advocacy groups that ensured that the Wild Rivers policy was on the government agenda initially, of necessity their representatives collaborated with diverse stakeholders in remote based deliberative forums to shape the policy. Through this process, other sectors also had influence (in particular agriculture and local government). Some sectors such as mining lobbied government more actively outside regional deliberative forums. The Remote Area Planning and Development Board (RAPAD) were influential in the process, using a power-to mechanism to bring together a diverse range of stakeholders, to deliberate on policy before official regional government consultation. This strategy, as well as negotiation between forums and meetings, proved useful to shape the emerging policy despite the fact that some sectors were more dominant at times and others such as women and Indigenous people were marginalised. There are major barriers for remote area activists which need to be recognised by governments. First and foremost is the cost of travel across vast distances. Other significant barriers include volunteer burnout, cultural barriers, seasonal climatic and geographic constraints and limits on internet connectivity. The marginalisation of female voices was very evident in the lack of women participating in regional deliberative forums and commenting on the policy via the media. Indigenous participants in this research, while initially excluded, felt they had been relatively well included in government and other consultative forums. Despite the considerable barriers and power imbalances remote citizens had influence as they re-shaped the existing Wild Rivers policy to fit the Lake Eyre Basin through collaboration, negotiation and the use of other activist tactics.