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Public resource ownership and community engagement in a modern energy landscape
journal contributionposted on 2017-01-01, 00:00 authored by Samantha HepburnSamantha Hepburn
The onshore resource conflicts that have erupted in the Eastern states of Australia highlight the deep need for axiomatic structural change in public resource ownership frameworks. Much of the conflict that has arisen stems from the failure of the state, as owner, to give proper regard to the social and environmental concerns relevant to the expansion of onshore resource development. The underlying rationale for vesting resources in the state is to ensure they are managed for the benefit of the community as a whole. The implied assumption is that public benefit obligations are met through state administration because this is the most effective means of reinjecting the financial gains of resource exploitation back into the community. This article argues that the dramatic social and environmental impacts associated with a transitioning onshore resource sector have fundamentally altered this perspective. In this environment, the public interest obligations of the state transcend efficiency imperatives. In a modern public resource framework the state can only properly comply with its core public interest obligations where the social and environmental concerns of impacted communities regarding onshore resource development are effectively managed. This structural realignment coheres with the emergence of a more attuned and environmentally engaged communitarian network. This article draws upon social obligation jurisprudence, including land ethics, the public trust doctrine and the doctrine of propriety, to argue that the public ownership of resources has always been qualified by strong communitarian obligations. Responding to these obligations in a timely and effective manner is has, in the context of onshore resource expansion, become a public interest imperative. This is apparent not only from the growing formal importance of social licencing protocols in resource development projects but also, at a more fundamental level, in the normative drive towards ecological progression and improved structural consistency between human and natural law.