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Trouble in Paradise? Governing Australia's multifunctional rural landscapes

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Australia's rural lands are undergoing a process of intensive re-evaluation whereby previously unthought of, ignored, and excluded interests are gradually but emphatically asserting themselves. This re-interpretation, which itself reflects a transformation in established relationships between local communities, the three tiers of government in Australia and the private and non-governmental sectors, is being expressed in spatially uneven ways. Neoliberalist governments have 'rolled out' new models of so-called locally led, bottom-up entrepreneurialism and community development as the panacea to regional inequality. In this context, this paper critically scrutinises the evolving character of governance in one zone undergoing dramatic change across the spectrum: the high-amenity rural landscapes of New South Wales North Coast. In particular, it seeks to explore whether or not the advent of neoliberalist modes of governing that centre on the 'active citizen' and, by extension, the 'active community', necessarily produce a genuinely inclusive politics of community participation. Recent land-use disputes in the Mullumbimby region are emblematic of a case of locally led community development in which deeply concerned local citizens build social capital to form factions in defence of their cause but which also generate considerable disunity—antipathy, even—between rival factions.

Keywords: Australia; Mullumbimby; amenity landscape; community development; neoliberalism; rural governance

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Division of Geography and Planning, University of New England, Australia

Publication date: 2011-06-01

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