Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Business

Faculty

Business and Law

First Advisor

Dr Theo Christopher

Second Advisor

Professor Malcolm Smith

Abstract

Since the early 1990’s, issues of sustainability involving community, government and industry have gained momentum, and the environment has become the focus of numerous studies, such as those undertaken by Young and Hayes (2002); Yuan (2001); Staley (2006); Mellahi and Wood (2004); Hezri and Hasan (2006); Dowse 2006; Wilmhurst and Frost (2000); and Qian, Burritt and Monroe (2010). Cotter and Hannan (1999, p.11) also discussed the impetus of a United Nations summit in 1992, known as the Earth Summit, which resulted in Local Agenda 21, a blueprint for action to achieve sustainable development.

Global sustainability is currently a major focus for policies in both the public and private sectors. Local government in Australia is currently undergoing historic changes as a result of a major thrust to restructure through amalgamation, in order to improve efficiencies and effectiveness in local government. Amalgamations are considered necessary for the financial survival of local government, as there is growing evidence to suggest that too many small councils will not be financially viable in the future. Moreover, local government worldwide is now more accountable than ever before for sustainable policy choices and the impact of those policy choices on their communities.

Sustainable policy choices of local councils worldwide will have an enormous economic and environmental impact on the planet. Previous studies into the effects of sustainability issues and their relationship to local councils have been carried out by Kloot and Martin (2001); O’Brien (2002); Reid (1999); Bulkeley (2000); and Tebbatt (2006).

This empirical quantitative study examines the sustainability policy choices of local government Australia-wide, and looks specifically at the determinants of such choices in local government. It also investigates the influence of stakeholders on the sustainability policy choices of each local government, the results of which have the potential to affect society’s quality of life. Identifying stakeholders who influence sustainability policy choices is therefore of great importance for the future.

All five hundred and fifty eight local Australian government entities listed by the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) were invited to participate in this study. Data were gathered through the use of a structured questionnaire, and an analysis was undertaken to identify those stakeholders who influence the sustainability policies of Australian local government.

This is the first research to examine all Australian local government entities to find out why they make the sustainability choices they do. To date, most studies relating to local government have been in areas of disclosure, such as those carried out by Royston (2001); Priest, Ng and Dolley (1999); and Piaseka (2006).

The findings of this study support the assertion of Mitchell, Agle and Wood (1997), that stakeholder salience is positively related to the cumulative number of the three variable attributes of power, legitimacy and urgency. In addition, this study ranked stakeholders from one to eight according to the perceptions of local government CEOs. It is interesting to note that, of the listed stakeholders, government did not rank as number one. The results indicated that stakeholder influence on local government sustainability policy choices varied depending on local government size, location, and whether they were urban or rural according to their government classification. The researcher was surprised to learn that many councils did not know their own government classification. The study also revealed that local government took sustainability seriously in all its forms and applications. As in previous research, the CEO of each council was selected as the respondent for the questionnaire. It was discovered that many of the larger councils had specialist positions dealing with these issues.

This study is significant because it contributes original research in the area of stakeholder influence on sustainability policy choices of local government in Australia. It is important for future sustainability studies to have an understanding of which stakeholders influence local government in making their sustainability policy choices. This study also clarifies the perceived salience of local government stakeholders from the perspective of Australian local government CEOs. Moreover, the study proves quite clearly that local government is not homogenous, and the potential exists for future studies to investigate the importance and consequence of heterogeneous local government in Australia and around the world.

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