TS-CRC Student project - Assessing community sustainability in remote northern Australian towns

James Cook University, Townsville: Completed May 2002

Colin Macgregor

Commenced 1996

Background | Project Achievements |


Globalisation and sustainability are philosophical ideals that have been embraced politically by most developed nations. However, there are many who argue that these are opposing paradigms; the former demands efficiency and free trade in a competitive global economy, the other demands social and economic equality without compromising the environment.

There is considerable debate about what constitutes a sustainable community and, perhaps more importantly, how progress towards it should be assessed and monitored. For any sustainability program to succeed there must also be wide support from the local community, but for what sorts of sustainability initiatives can we expect to find such support? The research associated with this PhD thesis addressed these issues.

The towns of Australia's savanna region provide an interesting geography for the study. The emerging 'global economic playing field' has, for some towns in the region, offered economic opportunities as never before and, as a result, they are growing rapidly. On the other hand, the global economy has worked against other towns and they are experiencing rapid decline. In short, different sustainability issues emerge depending upon circumstances.

Project Achievements

At the heart of the PhD lies an analytical model capable of assessing community support for sustainability initiatives at the local level. The model was developed with local government in mind and it was used to compare and contrast a sample of towns from across the northern Australia region. The thesis explains the research methods which included community surveys and interviews. The collected data was used to validate the analytical model and ascertain community capacity to attain sustainability in each town. The thesis presents the most notable findings of the research. The model clearly has applications in other contexts and a different scales.

It is now widely acknowledged that sustainability can never be achieved without also integrating human values into management structures. As such, all natural resource management requires an examination of values. This project provides both a theory and a methodology for dealing with this issue. 


Dr Colin MacGregor