UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Constituting the Australian environment : the transition of political responsibility for the environment in Australia from state to federal government, 1974 - 1983 Allen, Blake


Between 1974 and 1983 the Australian federal government, responding to the increasing demands of grassroots activists, passed a series of legislation that successfully altered the federal relationship in Australia by transferring political responsibility for the environment from the state governments to the federal government in Canberra. To better illustrate this process, this thesis will utilize Tasmania as an emblematic case study. The first part of this thesis is a social history that analyzes the development of environmental consciousness in Tasmania. This analysis spans from the cultural impact of the extinction of the thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) on the island populace and culminates in the well-documented protests against the damming of the Serpentine and Franklin Rivers. This analysis will illustrate the failures of the state government to address public concerns and how this facilitated the transition of the focus of lobbying from the state to the federal level. The second part of this thesis is a legal history, looking at the legislation that was passed during this period that facilitated the transfer and explains the constitutional basis and effectiveness of the legislation. Through these two separate studies, this thesis will expand the existing Australian historiography, which has largely kept political and social analyses of the environmental movement separated, by integrating the two historical narratives. This thesis offers three contributions to Australian historiography. First, this research shows that the constitutional reformation that occurred under the governments of Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser, and Bob Hawke was driven not by government initiative but, rather, by grassroots demands, and illustrate a need to further integrate the studies of social and political history so as to better pursue the histoire totale of Australia. Second, this thesis also helps contribute to the still nascent study of extinction’s socio-cultural impact on human societies with its particular emphasis on the extinction of the thylacine as the genesis of Tasmanian environmentalism. Third, it offers a detailed legal dissection of the federal government’s early environmental legislation and the constitutional foundations for Canberra’s acquisition of this responsibility.

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