Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Computer and Information Science


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

First Supervisor

Pierre Horwitz

Second Supervisor

John Duff

Third Supervisor

Richard McKenna


The aim of this thesis is to explore the role of science and public participation in environmental policy-making processes in Australia. To this end, I analyse the Western Australian Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) process, a recent Australian Federal Government initiative designed to resolve a longstanding dispute over native forest use and management. Theoretically underpinned by an open systems approach, the thesis employs a case study method for the analysis of the RFA process, using data from three distinct sources; interviews, RFA-related literature, and media content. The analysis of the RFA occurs against the historical background to this policy process and in context of contemporary discussions on science and public participation in natural resource conflicts. Interview data is used for the construction of a meta-narrative of the RFA from multiple stakeholder perspectives as a means of learning about the inclusiveness of, and the treatment of science during, the RFA process. The interview data is analysed using an adaptation of discourse analysis, the findings of which are integrated with information derived from the other data sources. This combined data set is then used to inform a systems critique of the Western Australian RFA process in view of gauging its perceived strengths and weaknesses. The analysis reveals a sense of systemic failure in the management of the Western Australian RFA, pointing towards a process and governing structures which constrained opportunities for stakeholder input and deliberation-based decision-making. A range of cultural, socio-political, and personality-based issues are seen to have given rise to constraints, underlying which is found to be an economic rationality subtly driving a systemic closure of political structures and processes. The resultant degree of closedness is shown to have caused an insensitivity of the political apparatus towards community opposition to, and scientific concerns about, commercial forestry, which is understood to have contributed to the social and political rejection of the process and its outcomes. In this thesis I unearth a paradox arising out of the political need to reduce and simplify the complexity inherent in messy socio-ecological affairs but in doing so adding ii complexity due to political over-simplification. The findings suggest that the political process depends on the trimming of complexity for pragmatic reasons but that, at the same time, the politicality of such closure demands deliberative approaches to negotiate the terms of closing so as to attain sustainable process outcomes. This thesis echoes calls from the literature in support of political and scientific pluralism. An opening of political structures and processes is suggested to enable and facilitate active stakeholder participation and decision-making. Similarly, it is argued that science also needs to become more open towards alternative, yet equally valid, modes of knowing and understanding so as to avert threats to its relevance and trustworthiness in political processes dealing with complex socio-ecological problems. Complex problems demand problem solving with requisite complexity. An openness of politics and science and the processes they engage in invites variety of perspective, which in turn increases capacity to deal effectively with socio-ecological messes. Finally, this thesis understands the dominance of economic rationality as a constraint for environmental policy-making, working against notions of openness and plurality and thus precluding trans-formational change in the structure, mode, and outcomes, of political decision-making. For its implicitness this constraint has so far defied needed societal reflection on its implications for science, society, politics, and nature, which is why this thesis stresses the need for explication and for searching pathways towards more balanced rationalities in policy making processes.