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Institutional continuity and change In Victoria's forests and parks 1900 - 2010

posted on 22.02.2017, 03:37 by Doolan, Brian Vincent
The conservation and use of Victoria’s public forests has been the subject of intensive political debate and conflict since the nineteenth century. Over that time institutional structures in the form of legislation, government organisations and spatial constructs have been established to formalise and control forest conservation and use. Geographers and environmental historians have explained this process in terms of non-Aboriginal Victorians coming to terms with a new environment, in a pattern similar to other colonial societies. This thesis examines that process in the period from 1900 to 2010, extending existing scholarship beyond the mid-twentieth century. It analyses how and why Victoria’s forest institutions have been established or modified and examines the tension between institutional continuity and change. In particular it investigates the paradox between the long-term objectives that have been established for Victoria’s public forest since the 1980s and repeated short-term changes in the organisations responsible for pursuing those objectives. The formation and modification of institutional structures is described using source material primarily from Victoria including historical statutes, parliamentary debates, annual reports and official papers of forest management organisations, Royal Commissions and formal inquiries, press articles, and secondary accounts. Information from interviews with past employees of forest management organisations is also used. Institutions formalise decisions and action across time but they are also subject to changing values and conditions, as well as considerations of contemporary utility. Institutional theory - little applied to problems of natural resource management in Australia except in economics - is used to analyse Victoria’s forest management structures. Several models of institutional function and models of institutional change over time are described and tested against the empirical experience in Victoria’s public forests. The research finds that higher order institutional structures such as the Forests Act and National Parks Act represent important societal positions in relation to environmental conservation, sustainable use of resources, industry development, Aboriginal land rights and heritage protection. Forged from the powerful clash of interests and legitimated in the formal arenas of Parliament, Royal Commissions and statutory inquiries, they are historic settlements within the Victorian polity - and expressions of cultural value much more than rational instrumentality. The research finds that Victoria’s forest institutions have incrementally changed and adapted as a result of both internal motivation and external pressures. Critical junctures such as major bushfires, the Little Desert controversy in 1969 and the Mabo High Court case in 1992 have also been highly significant in transforming institutional structure and operation. Adaptive change as well as the continuity essential to cope with long ecological timeframes, has been achieved when built on the transparent debate of political values, the incorporation of evidence and scientific knowledge, and the accommodation of differing community interests. Where these principles have not been observed there has been institutional failure. In particular the research concludes that excessive and internalised organisational change after 1980 has disrupted management effectiveness and has been used to re-program organisational philosophies and cultures and redirect forest and environmental policy often without public debate or alignment to legislation.


Principal supervisor

Stephen Mark Legg

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Philosophical, Historical & International Studies

Campus location



Faculty of Arts