The Cambridge Handbook of the Social Sciences in Australia

By Ian McAllister; Steve Dowrick et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 20
Environmental Policy and
Elim Papadakis

Several factors affect how new policy ideas progress onto the political agenda. These include intellectual breakthroughs in research, which in turn change perceptions of issues; and the willingness by or pressure on political organisations and the media to articulate new ideas. When such organisations as political parties, interest groups and social movements latch onto new concepts from expert communities, often claiming them as their own, there is scope for significant shifts in the research agenda across many disciplines, including the social sciences. Above all, if political organisations are able to influence debate, through media coverage and, subsequently, through public opinion, there is likely to be an increase in research capacity.

There are certainly time lags between some of these stages of development.Take the impact of one of the most influential works in the recent history of the environmental movement, Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson (1962). Its influence was immediate in some respects but delayed in others. Silent Spring was a landmark scientific study written by a marine biologist who had previously worked for the United States government, and a passionate attempt to change perceptions about the chemical industry (and industry in general) from that of a benign force in promoting progress and prosperity to that of arrogance, characteristic of neglectful and exploitative attitudes to nature. Though the work attracted huge publicity across the world, its impact on mainstream media perceptions in Australia was delayed by several years, as was the effect on policies over the use of DDT (Papadakis 1996:74–5).

There are many examples of innovations, breakthroughs or discoveries that were 'ahead of their time', yet formed the basis years later for environmental movements in Australia. These include acknowledgement of the significance of the difference in lifestyles of European settlers and the Indigenous population; creation of myths about the Australian bush by poets and artists, and the connection between these ideas and the notions of nationalism, egalitarianism and patriotism; the practice of organised lobbying by associations of preservationists and conservationists; adaptation of a model from the US for the preservation of wilderness and national parks; innovations in ideas about tourism and environmental protection; and the concept of preservation for future generations. Yet it was not until several decades later, from the 1960s, that leading political


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