The environmental implications of the local-state antinomy in Australia

Environment Central-local government relations Local government State governments Queensland

An antinomy is a contradiction between a principle and its opposite, where there is a compelling case for accepting both. This thesis adopts the antinomy of local-state government in Australia as its central conceptual theme, describing it with the following defensible, but contradictory principles that: • Australian local governments are statutory agencies of Australia’s state governments, with no power or authority beyond that which is ascribed to them by the states (the outside-in principle); and • Local governments in Australia are independent agencies whose authority and interests transcend their regulatory powers by nature of their attachment to their local area (the inside-out principle). The central conceptual theme of the antinomy of local-state government shapes the overall thesis, as well as providing the focus for its introduction and conclusion. The thesis induces elements of the antinomy and structures much of its discussion around these key issues. It does not try to prove or resolve the antinomy. Instead the thesis uses the concept to explore and develop its second complex theme - the practical and applied experience of Australian local governments (LGs) as they attempt to deliver beneficial environmental outcomes. The great bulk of the substantive work presented in the thesis focuses on descriptions and analyses of LGs’ environmental work and the contexts within which they do it. The thesis contends that the local-state antinomy underpins many problems facing Australian LGs as they attempt to deliver beneficial environmental outcomes. Four research questions are addressed. They are: • How can Australian LG capacity to deliver beneficial environmental outcomes be understood? • Within this capacity, what are the environmental outcomes now being achieved by Australian LGs? • How can Australian local government extend its capacity to deliver beneficial environmental outcomes? and • What are the implications of the local-state antinomy on Australian LG capacity to deliver beneficial environmental outcomes? 2 Abstract This thesis reviews literature on Australian LG, LG environmental work, and the methods that are appropriate in investigating these questions. The overall thesis uses scientific, grounded theory and action research methods and draws on ideas from symbolic interactionism. Parts of the thesis also use environmental risk assessment, gap analysis techniques, case study and comparative analysis. The goal of generating grounded theories led to a strong focus on the development and exploration of analytical categories and the relationships between them. One such category summarises the relationship between LG and state government (SG), whereby LGs are identified as the inside sphere of government, while the SG is one of several outside spheres. Environmental efforts that impact between the spheres are described in relation to their source and impact, using this terminology, so that inside-out initiatives are driven by LGs but impact more broadly, and outside-in initiatives are driven by states but impact on local areas. Two extensive studies are presented, each stemming primarily from one side of the local-state antinomy. The first is a quantitative, statewide study of local (and state) government implementation of the Queensland Environmental Protection Act. That process is considered a predominantly outside-in environmental initiative, in that LG interest and authority for that work stem directly from a SG statute. For simplicity, this is referred to as an outside-in study. That study involved the development and application of the Comparative Environmental Risk Assessment Method, that enabled the assessment of the environmental and other outcomes from the Queensland legislation. The outside-in study is complimented by comparative case studies that mostly reflect inside-out environmental initiatives as they are defined and described by LGs. Again, this required the development of innovative research methods, specifically a comparative case study method. 34 case studies gathered from different types of LGs across Australia are presented, each representing an attempt by LG to deliver beneficial environmental outcomes. In answer to the research questions, LG capacity to deliver environmental outcomes can be understood when the antinomy is examined through the research methods and analytical categories developed and presented here. LGs are delivering significant beneficial environmental outcomes, both as agents of SGs and through their own initiatives. Improving LG capacity to deliver environmental outcomes primarily requires a respect for LG perspectives, and for LG priorities, which inherently include a focus on their own local areas. State governments can build effective partnerships between the spheres and enhance LG environmental capacity by recognising and supporting LG’s own priorities, while assisting their engagement with broader strategic objectives.

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