Objective truths or subjective realities
: A model of social and cultural impact assessment to deliver socially, culturally, ecologically and economically sustainable development of Northern Australia

  • Jane Marianne Munday

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    The aim of this thesis is to contribute to better policy and practice of social and cultural
    impact assessment. The overarching research question is: ‘What model of social and cultural
    impact assessment will deliver socially, culturally, ecologically and economically sustainable
    development of North Australia, including the ability of Aboriginal people to determine the
    type, pace and scale of development on their land and seas?’.

    A multi-methods research approach includes an audit of impact assessment studies in the
    Northern Territory (NT) between 1974 and 2018 and 58 key informant interviews with
    practitioners, regulators, companies, decision-makers and Aboriginal leaders. Given the
    multidisciplinary nature of impact assessment, the research draws on theoretical frameworks
    from sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, political science and human

    The thesis starts with a gap analysis of the social, cultural and participative elements of
    impact assessment in the NT between 1974 and 2018. It explores the dimensions of quality
    impact assessment, perceived gaps between the ideal and actual practice and links between
    a quality system and practitioners’ qualifications. It then explores key elements of a model
    that suits the unique context of North Australia. These elements are values mapping,
    participative justice and cultural competence.

    Finally, the thesis outlines the forces driving and inhibiting institutionalisation of the model.
    Barriers include a cultural capture of impact assessment by technical scientific approaches
    and narrow conceptions of sustainability. The thesis concludes that impact assessment fails
    to meet societal, proponent or practitioners’ expectations. It is seen as costly, inefficient,
    culturally incompetent and as excluding the values and perspectives of those most affected
    by development. Social impact assessment suffers from poorly qualified practitioners, a lowly
    status and lack of agreed methodologies. The consequences are to divorce humans from the
    socio-ecological ecosystems on which they depend, and which they continue to degrade, and
    a failure to address a growing trust deficit in regulatory, political and business institutions.
    Date of Award2021
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorRolf Gerritsen (Supervisor) & Natasha Stacey (Supervisor)

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