How can risk governance be Improved through public engagement? A case study of liquefied natural gas development in Gladstone Harbour

  • Rens Gertjan Van Der Vegt

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    This research project will explore how risk governance can be improved through public engagement by means of a case study of liquefied natural gas development in Gladstone harbour in Queensland, Australia. In this context, the notion of ‘governance’ refers to the structures and processes for collective decision-making that involves a multitude of actors, both state and non-state (Nye and Donahue, 2000; Rosenau, 1992; van Asselt and Renn, 2011; Wolf, 2002). The term can be interpreted both in a descriptive and in a normative sense, that is; “as a description of how decisions are made and as a model for how to improve decision-making structures and processes” (van Asselt and Renn, 2011: 443). ‘Risks’ refer to the possibility of damage or the unintended consequences of human actions that has not yet happened but is threatening; they are unpredictable due to the uncertainty that surrounds the causes needed to produce it (Beck, 1992; Giddens, 1990; IRGC, 2005; Renn & Walker, 2008). This implies that risks are socially constructed and that it involves the notion that the future can be influenced by our decisions, that unwanted outcomes can be avoided. Risk governance subsequently uses the definitions and interpretations of ‘governance’, but transfers them to the context of ‘risk’ and risk-related decision-making (IRGC, 2005; Renn and Walker, 2008). When public engagement is involved in (risk) governance, it means that there should be an active participation of the public with the governmental actors in the decision-making process itself, during which, through an act of dialogue and negotiation, both stakeholders have a chance of transforming the opinions of the other parties (Rowe and Frewer, 2005). 

    However, significant questions remain over the best means to integrate public engagement in risk governance, including: who, how or what to include and what outcomes to expect (Renn & Schweizer, 2009). This research will therefore examine how risk governance can be improved through public engagement. A case study of LNG development in Gladstone has been chosen in order to assess the risk governance process of the decisions that have been put forward and the risks this brings to the local environment and the local community. Finally, the extent in which public engagement has been used in this process will be critically examined. In this way, recommendations will be given on how to improve risk governance through public engagement.

    Methodologically this will be framed within a research paradigm of Critical Theory with its associated ontological level of historical realism and its epistemological position of subjectivism. In particular, an analytic-deliberative model of decision-making and the theory of communicative rationality of Habermas (1984) will be drawn upon. On a more operational level, semi-structured interviews will be used as the methods in order to reach a descriptive representation for a sample of the stakeholders involved. Within this context, the following aim and objectives have been formulated:

    Aim: This study aims to answer the question of how risk governance can be improved through public engagement using a case study of liquefied natural gas development in Gladstone Harbour.

    1) Investigate the relationship between risk governance and public engagement in relation to complex issues by means of a literature review.

    2) Explore the social, economic and environmental risk perceptions of a variety of stakeholder groups in relation to LNG development in Gladstone.

    3) Examine how risk governance and public engagement mechanisms have been applied and how the stakeholders involved perceived this with regard to LNG development in Gladstone.

    4) Explore the lessons that can be drawn as to whether and how risk governance can be improved through public engagement, based on the case study results. 
    Date of AwardOct 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPascal Tremblay (Supervisor), Elspeth Oppermann (Supervisor) & Jacqueline Gould (Supervisor)

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