Property and place attachment: a legal geographical analysis of biodiversity law reform in New South Wales

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Journal Article
Geographical Research, 2016, 54 (3), pp. 267 - 284
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© 2015 Institute of Australian Geographers Environmental indicators suggest that the legislation regulating land clearing in NSW should be strengthened. However, reform has moved in the opposite direction, continuously weakening the law in response to the marginal but politically significant argument that the Act undermined sacrosanct private property rights. The cultural mythology around property and the legal discourse of property dephysicalise relations between people and place, transforming them into categories of abstract and predominantly commercial rights, and foster a vocabulary of entitlement to land as a civil and political right. Opponents to the existing legislation have also argued that it insufficiently accommodates vernacular knowledge regarding locally specific conditions and variations, and creates disrespect and mistrust between government and landholders. This paper interrogates the relationships between the key arguments of opponents to the existing legislation with place attachment. Place attachment describes the bond between people and place and is usually regarded as being positive for environmental protection. However, it may also underpin reactionary place-protective behaviours including NIMBYism, the preservation of degraded landscapes and inappropriate place management practices, including the institution of private property itself. Paradoxically, while place-protective resistance may appear to conflict with conservation, potential for resolution to this ongoing legal and geographical crisis in biodiversity conservation may be found through highlighting the common ground of place connection and inter-dependence, and by rephysicalising law to better articulate shared interests in healthy environments beyond the narrow prism of individual property rights. This endeavour may be best achieved through a multi-scalar and poly-vocal participatory process, to ensure such narrow and monological interests do not hold disproportionate sway and address path dependency and legacy issues.
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