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Effect of Power on Natural Resource Management of Coal Mines

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 3363 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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How power might play in Natural Resource Management based on Carmichael coal mine Queensland and the call for a relational approach of power using Foucault’s theories

If the management of natural resources goes wrong, everything else will become messy.


From current natural resource management involving power, it’s noted that managing natural resources sustainably isn’t a cinch task unless the understanding of power has a relational non-Eurocentric view. Resource management in Australia has undergone significant change since colonization, an aim to change from Eurocentric approach to a more systems-based approach using Foucault’s theories of power/knowledge for an adaptive governance and Ecogovernmentality. Power struggles are demonstrated through the ongoing case study of Carmichael coal mine in Queensland. The report aims to contribute to the visual effects of power and criticises the current governmental system of bribery, showing businesses to be powerful due to capitalism. This report calls for a relational understanding of power using Indigenous knowledges for better natural resource management policies.


Natural resource management (NRM) has evolved from ecosystem restoration to addressing social issues of resource allocation, benefit distribution and sharing power. Decentralizing processes characterize most of the developing world’s natural resources (NR). At the heart of decentralization processes comes the question of power which is generally addressed as property that someone can possess/accumulate or transfer authority from federal agency downwards to state/local governments, NGOs and divergent interest groups. The question thus arises, how power is reflected in various approaches of NRM. Federal/state organisations, NGOs and interest groups always strive to be involved in constructive conversation for resource management (RM) (Raik &Wilson, 2008).

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The purpose of this paper is to discuss how power might play a role in NRM; theory will be applied based on Carmichael coal mine in Queensland Australia by Adani group. A significant proportion of GDP comes from environmental assets, such as mining, agriculture and tourism, however natural resources are under pressure due to climate change, water availability, land practise, pollution, contaminations and invasive species. This study focuses on visual effects of power and questions whether governmental and civil power dynamics using Foucault’s understanding of power/knowledge are creating a more relational approach such as having an adaptive governance and Ecogovernmentality. This paper recognizes the importance of Indigenous People’s rights and knowledges and their attachment to land.


No primary data was considered, since there was no ethical clearance for surveys. Secondary data analysis was conducted on past and current literature such as documents and reports from governments, peer-reviewed articles, newspapers, videos and blogs. The information gathered was used to discuss governmental and civil power dynamics to analysis whether a relational approach is present within NRM.

Foucault’s understanding of power

RM approaches to power are focused on personal use of some actors and its constraining effects on others, where communities accept strategies. The elitism theory where decision making is concentrated with the most wealth/knowledge (governments, military and businesses followed by the rest) fails to produce social relations which is a foundation for many organizations.  Foucault’s understanding of power is not a privilege one possesses rather, it is social negotiating (Heizmann & Olsson, 2018) through which people create and organize the world. Foucault’s main aim was to move away from modes of production and towards modes of information (Valdivia, 2015).  “Hence his inversion of the famous dictum knowledge is power” (Van, et al., 2017). In figure 1 Foucault’s perspective of RM is always a product of discourse, you get culture with values driven by storytelling of what’s useful in their environment, economy with exchange and politics with power based within community context are all driven by discourse (Van, et al., 2017). Foucault also introduces Ecogovernmentality which involves political ecologists to examine nature-society relationships for better NRM policies.

Carmichael coal mine by Adani

Within power dynamics nothing is stable, power provokes its own resistance. Normalization provokes doubt and cynicism; extraction leads to scarcity creating doubts and the dependence of resource creates a change in the outlook of NRM. Carmichael coal mine in Queensland by Adani group has been under crucial scrutiny since the project started, it’s a $16.5 billion project and the largest mining project in Australia, its production starts from 10 million tonnes to 28 million tonnes of coal/year. The capital cost would be $2 billion (Hasham, 2018), therefore federal and state governments, stakeholders have focused on improving the economy rather than concentrating on the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, climate change, droughts, unprecedented bush fires and most importantly Indigenous and communities’ opinions for better NRM strategies. In Figure 3 the hierarchy diagram according to this study is shown. Large business corporations (Adani) are given same power rights as Ministers and the Cabinet. This is because national reliance on energy and mining has allowed resource companies to make contributions to political parties, influencing policies that relate to resource interests therefore leading state, federal governments to prioritise demands in mining.

Since its inception, the indigenous members Wangan and Jagalingou people possess native title claim over the mine site, while some members sought to negotiate a land use agreement with Adani and others completely opposed to the idea based on dialectical reasoning saying country “encompass… tangible and non-tangible which come together in a multidirectional manner to nurture the homeland” (Burarrwanga et al 2013). The ancestral land of traditions will be destroyed which means the water, land, species, culture, stories where Indigenous merged as one with the land will be negatively affected. Yet the government has the power to extinguish Indigenous land rights with or without consent to pave the way for development, later governments will be criticised as insensitive to Indigenous interests.

Adani has launched legal action against the argument in the Native Title Tribunal stating that NRM is a multi-functionality paradigm where the project will support economy, energy, climate. Queensland government (state) have the power to extinguish or give Indigenous members native title for 2,750 hectares of land, If the members are successful in achieving native title in the court hearing in May 2019, the state has the power to extinguish compulsory native title to support the mine (Lyons & Brigg, 2019).

To get approval over the years Adani has included monetary donations, personal gifts, private meetings, hiring of former government executives. There is strong link present between political donations and government decisions, over years mining industries have funded the government in return for favours. The Government has given energy and mining companies large subsidies for their developments and expansions. Adani has received criticism from several interest groups, and the refusal of banks such as ANZ, Westpac and Commonwealth, despite this opposition the Queensland government has continued to tender approvals. This raises the question whether controversial approvals are made independently or with equal consideration of minority groups that don’t have access to government, legal, energy and mining industries.

CSIRO and Geoscience Australia wrote two reports in 2019 to the federal government involving groundwater monitoring, management and modelling planned by Adani. The advice was limited in answering discrete inquiries. The document told Adani to reduce the mine plan, cut back on coal extraction and mentioned the predicted stream depletion from mining is ~1000 m3/d at the downstream gauge which is impossible from the river and overtime will deplete in groundwater (CSIRO,2019). Despite this the Environment Minister Melissa was under pressure from Queensland Senator James McGrath and colleagues calling for public resignation unless the plans for Adani weren’t approved before the election (Slezak & Long,2019). Therefore, plans were signed to access groundwater where 270 billion litres of groundwater can be extracted for the next 60 years. This means locals will have to share water, and facilities will be in shortage of water (Stop Adani, 2019). The only thing between the construction of Adani is the signatory of the Queensland government for the groundwater at Carmichael mine and the management of endangered Black-Throated Finch where the government has tried to stall the process as they need more time for decision making, assuming that Adani have pushed for faster approvals. On 3rd/May 2019 the Queensland government rejected the company’s proposal for Black- Throated Finch as there wasn’t enough information on population, less details on seed availability (ABC,2019), as this case is ongoing it is hard to see which way the tables will turn, but based on evidence and literature it is evident that the mine will be approved.

From Adani we can see how powerful government bodies are in terms of making decisions, the mining sector only contributes to 8 per cent of the nation’s GDP (Frydenberg, 2015). Australia’s weak lobbying laws have resulted in institutional corruption, the influence of energy and mining companies having more power over government decisions.

In the context of resource management, power always plays a crucial part. There is always a debate between doing the right thing for the community or the most accessible, feasible thing. In the example of Adani, doing the best for the environment and communities wasn’t in their best interest. The focus shifted from political parties feeding the economy to secure funds for development. The Australian government has shifted its views from public interest into personal interest.

Shift of power dynamics to a more relational approach

Foucault’s understanding of power and knowledge has been underdeveloped in NRM. The Australian power system in NRM must change to an Ecogovernmentality (relational understanding) to allow potential for critical thinking, shifts power relations and questions experts and economic outcomes. There are many levels within government that can intervene with the rise of capitalism. In the field of NRM power can be applied from a coercion perspective, this approach is more straightforward as it delivers information on how power changes (McDermott, et al., 2010).

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On a national level the aim is to maximise social, civil welfare and rigid policies to decentralize NR. In the case of Adani, if the decision-making process was decentralised with a relational understanding the outcome would’ve been sustainable and better for all interest groups. The current approach in Adani goes against Foucault’s theories and Indigenous understanding of everything being interconnected and follows an elitism theory where it’s divided into smaller hierarchy bodies of power. (Raik & Wilson, 2008).

The idea to introduce adaptive governance (AG) is vital in understanding the idea of power, knowledge and resource management as it delivers a reasonable pathway for resource establishment (Assche, et al., 2017). The forms of AG that can be introduced and their effects on social-ecological systems, depends on the governance path. Including Indigenous knowledges “are path dependencies that shape current interdependencies between various governance elements and embody obstacles for reform” (Van, et al., 2017) this knowledge can inspire a more adaptive governance.

When dealing with NRM policies, many areas of interest must be included such as ecosystem, people, species and governance systems. This sharing and retaining information allows a more diverse understanding, freedom of expressing thoughts while maintaining effective NRM plans.  Consequently, it becomes a learning process for all stakeholders involved, NGOs and local bodies that sustain resources with least conflict and doesn’t affect the system in a negative way like Adani (Klienschmit, 2012). Raik and Wilson 2008 mention the importance of high-power bodies (government) to be involved in initiating cross-cultural negotiation since they are the most influential bodies of NRM (Zhao, et al., 2017). In his power-based critique, Das (2016) mentioned that power differentials are embedded in social settings of many communities and get uncovered in NRM planning as demonstrated in Figure 2 that shows how power affects potential in the involvement of NRM. It is proven by power models that power dynamics have turned into a hybrid framework in many economies.


Organisations such as federal/state governments, non-profit organisations and local communities always strive to involve in a constructive conversation for natural resource management. Governments, defence and business sectors are the powerful players as they have access to resources/budget and are involved in the planning of natural resource management programs. According to the power elitism theory, most of the power is concentrated towards the group that has most of the wealth in a setting. If an age-centred view of power is applied in the resource management setting in Adani’s case, power can be used from a coercion perspective.

In the context of NRM in Adani’s case, power plays a crucial role because there has been a constant debate between what’s right and doing the easiest, profitable thing. At the end of the day the business receives approvals from bribery and minor negotiations, even if the environmental impacts are devastating.

This reports uses Foucault’s understanding of power/knowledge to allow planning for an adaptive governance and Ecogovernmentality in Australia for better resource management practices to allow ecosystems and the well-being of individuals to flourish.


  • ABC (2019) Adani mine delay after management plan for black-throated finch rejected: www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-03/adani-mine-environment-approval-black-throatedfinch/11075824?fbclid=IwAR1G1ABN5u8InQamzUR6CqPZRXEAqydX1qACpkoRXMB5DlnvcCw3lRw3tCg . Retrieved 3/05/19
  • Assche, K., Beunen, R., Duineveld, M. & Gruezmacher, M., 2017. Power/Knowledge And Natural Resource Management: Foucaultian Foundations In The Analysis Of Adaptive Governance. Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, 19(3), pp. 308-322.
  • Burarrwanga, L., Ganambarr, R., Ganambarr-Stubbs, M., Ganambarr, B., Maymuru, D., Wright, S., Suchet-Pearson, S., and Lloyd, K. 2013 Welcome to my Country. Melbourne: Allen and Unwin
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  • Das, R., 2016. Strategic Human Resource Management: A Power Based Critique. Benchmarking: An International Journal, 25(4), pp. 1-20.
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    Innovation and Science
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  • Heizmann, H. & Olsson, M., 2018. Power matters: the importance of Foucault’s power/knowledge as a conceptual lens in KM research and practice. Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 19 Issue: 4, pp.756-769
  • Klienschmit, E., 2012. Towards a European Forest Policy – Conflicting Sources. Policy Economics, 33(1), pp. 87-93.
  • Lyons, K., 2018. Securing territory for mining when Traditional Owners say ‘No’: The exceptional case of Wangan and Jagalingou in Australia. The Extraction Industries and Society, Volume 3, pp. 1-20.
  • Lyons, K., & Brigg. M., 2019. Traditional owners still stand in Adani’s way. http://theconversation.com/traditional-owners-still-stand-in-adanis-way-115454. The Conversation. Retrieved 25th April 2019
  • McDermott, C., Cashore, B. & Kanowski, P., 2010. Global Environmental Forest. 3 ed. London: Earthscan Publications.
  • Raik, D. & Wilson, A., 2008. Power in Natural Resources Management: An Application of Theory. Society and Natural Resources, 21(8), pp. 729-739.
  • Slezak.,M & Long., S. (2019) Adani did not ‘accept in full’ changes sought by scientists during approval stages, meeting notes show: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-04-18/adani-geosciences-approval-meeting-documents/11025724. Retrieved 24th April 2019
  • Stop Adani, 2019. What Is The Leading Cause Of Climate Change? The Mining And Burning Of Coal. [Online]: https://www.stopadani.com/why_stop_adani .Retrieved 26th April 2019
  • Valdivia.,G. (2015) “Eco-Governmentality” , in The Routledge Handbook of Political Ecology, Routledge Handbooks Online.
  • Van,A., Raoul B., Martijn D., & Monica G.,2017 Power/knowledge and natural resource management: Foucaultian foundations in the analysis of adaptive governance, Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 19:3, 308-322
  • Zhao, Z., Zuo, J. & Zillante, G., 2017. Transformation Of Water Resource Management: A Case Study Of The South-To-North Water Diversion Project. Journal of Cleaner Production, 163(1), pp. 136-145.


Figure 1: Interactions between the elements of the whole system containing social ecological system and governance systems. (Van, et al., 2017)


Figure 2: Table of Stakeholder Power Analysis high power leads to high potential to collaborate, and build, low power leads to low potential to monitor or ignore. (Jess Mclean GEOP340, Lecture 6)

Figure 3


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