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Crowley, K and Walker, KJ, Conclusions, Environmental Policy Failure: The Australian Story, Tilde University Press, K Crowley and KJ Walker (ed), Prahan, pp. 174-183. ISBN 9780734611406 (2012) [Research Book Chapter]

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Over a decade ago, Yencken argued that not only is Australia's ecological decline persisting, but that it is intensifying despite all our environmental policy efforts thus far (Yencken 2000, p. 4). This is surely policy failure of the highest order, and evidence that ecological concern is not yet integrated in any meaningful way into decision-making. It is certainly possible to point to positive environmental policy progress over the past several decades, but primarily in the sense of institutional innovation, and not in the sense of innovation making any great environmental difference. There is frustration, too, with flawed policy implementation, with lack of resourcing, with inadequate monitoring, with poor evaluation, and with neglected or abandoned initiatives.

Above this level of policy detail, we can begin to make sense of the systemic nature of the problem as we appreciate the implications of clashing values, environmental and developmentat and the persistent over-emphasis on natural resource exploitation. The political priorities of economic growth, industry certainty and the intergovernmental relations that facilitate these priorities very often work against strong environmental policy action. The efforts that were made in the 1990s to overcome this tension, to pursue ecologically sustainable development, and to integrate environmental concern have almost certainly failed, although the sentiment lives on in policy preambles and rhetoric.

There have been few policy reviews in this field. The most extensive is Dovers and Wild River (2003), in which Dovers reflects upon the efficacy of Australian environmental policy processes and institutional arrangements over the past few decades, offering comprehensive insights into the problems of policy failure. In terms of environmental policy persistence, he notes that many policies and institutions are not supported long enough, nor are they sufficiently robust, to make any difference. Lacking too is any purposefulness or agreed principles, goals or standards for environmental policy processes and institutional arrangements. Nor is it clear that there is sufficient information richness and sensitivity upon which to base policy and management practice, with basic environmental monitoring unclear at best, and long neglected or lacking altogether at worst.

Inclusiveness has been urged as a criterion for reflection about environmental policy processes and institutional arrangements. For a variety of reasons, it is found to lack clarity. Firstly, Australia has seen a remarkable increase in community-based management and monitoring programs, but conversely it has also seen a trend towards the devaluing of participation. This has included, for example, a diminution of public standing in environmental law in Australia. Participative processes were found in the Dovers-Wild River study to suffer from poor design and a lack of genuine commitment by governments, but there was also little evidence found that improved or enhanced public participation would markedly affect or improve environmental policy outcomes (Dovers & Wild River 2003, p. 524). There is no compelling record of environmental policy innovation or institutional flexibility. In the face of new and emerging information, adaptive capacity, or the reflecting upon lessons learnt from earlier experience, is strikingly deficient. The test of adequacy is simply not met.

In reviewing some of Australia's most critically challenging environmental issues and assessing the capacity of contemporary policies to solve them, measured by the key indicator of ecological improvement, this book reveals, case by case, the nature of environmental policy failure in this country. It is characteristic, for example, of both Labor and conservative governments across many generations. But this critical failure is so much more than a mere failure of political will, although this has been central, for example, to the inability of Australian federal governments to act decisively on climate change. Rather, it is deeply rooted on many fronts, including: Eurocentric development practices, short-term thinking, self-interest and corporate power, and the neglect of ecological sensitivities and sustainability, which combine to thwart effective policy development.

Now time is running out in a country where the natural environment is more vulnerable to impacts than in many other developed countries, and where there is a long-standing record of policy failure steeped in politics, neglect and incompetence. The value of ecological capital is yet to be appreciated in the 'quarry economy', as natural resources belonging to the public domain are undervalued and oversold, and where the rate of ecosystem destruction is unparalleled in the world. Each of our studies here considers environmental policy legacy in terms of past efforts and effectiveness, current critical issues and challenges, and implications for future policy. As a whole, they find that not only is the environment as a natural asset being irreparably degraded in Australia, but that the intrinsic value of its natural heritage is being eroded and the integrity of ecosystems is under serious threat.

Item Details

Item Type:Research Book Chapter
Keywords:Australia, ecological decline, environmental degradation, policy, review, failure, political priorities
Research Division:Human Society
Research Group:Policy and administration
Research Field:Environment policy
Objective Division:Law, Politics and Community Services
Objective Group:Government and politics
Objective Field:Government and politics not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Crowley, K (Associate Professor Kate Crowley)
ID Code:74443
Year Published:2012 (online first 2011)
Deposited By:Government
Deposited On:2011-11-30
Last Modified:2016-09-30
Downloads:1 View Download Statistics

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