A king’s ran­som:

Pub­lic ben­e­fit within a mod­ern en­ergy land­scape

AQ: Australian Quarterly - - CONTENTS - PROF SA­MAN­THA HEP­BURN

© 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

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