A king’s ransom:
Public benefit within a modern energy landscape
© Maksim Pasko
Australia has an abundance of resources capable of generating energy – gas, brown and black coal, uranium, wind, water and sunshine. When the resource resides within the sub-stratum of the land it is subject to state ownership in accordance with Australia’s public resource framework. This effectively means that the state must look after the resource for the benefit of the public as a whole.
Yet public benefit in this context has never been fully defined and is therefore grounded in unarticulated allocative assumptions. The general principle is to ensure that the management and exploitation of these public resources is conducted in such a way that it maximises their net benefit and promotes distributional fairness. For the most part, benefit is generally presumed to mean economic gain.
Existing governance frameworks, at both the state and federal levels, are grounded in the classic liberal assumption that economic prosperity generated through state-supported free-market environmentalism constitutes public interest. Hence, where an energy project promises job creation and wealth infusion this is treated, at both a political and regulatory level, as concomitant with public interest. Broader, non-economic benefits consistent with longer term notions of public interest are therefore marginalised and often ignored completely.
This is particularly concerning within a transitioning energy landscape where issues such as social and environmental
The most important structural solution to the rush toward final disorder is to restore some harmony human laws and the laws of nature by giving law back to network comunities
Fritjof Capra & Ugo Mattei, “The Ecology of Law”
IMAGE: © Beyondcoalandgas-flickr