The Torres Strait: A Case Study Analysis in Multi-level Governance
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This research project’s central proposition argues the nature of governance within the Torres Strait region has undergone major change since the introduction of the Torres Strait Treaty. As a result, the region now exhibits a dynamic set of governance structures that rest beyond the normal tenets of federalism and require multi-level governance (MLG) of a form not yet identified elsewhere within Australia. Moreover, the explanatory powers of existing theories of inter-state relations employed within Australia now prove inadequate for examining the numerous complexities and tensions that continue to emerge from within the various multi-level and multi-jurisdictional political-administrative structures and relationships currently presenting in the Torres Strait area. By contrast, despite Australia’s specific set of underlying constitutional circumstances, the particular analytical framework being facilitated under an actor-centered institutional MLG approach gives purchase to far greater explanatory powers and insights into the dynamism driving this emerging MLG phenomenon, both within Australia and elsewhere. Hence, the concept now merits serious consideration by the political science discipline within this country. To sustain this argument, while bring understanding and a comparative element to the analysis, two central tasks of the project are to examine the provenance of its theoretical underpinnings and to historically progress the development of previous governance arrangements within the Torres Strait region. The chronology of events surrounding the so-called Torres Strait ‘border dispute’ detailed in Chapter Four also helps to overcome a major gap in historical writings on the region. In addition to theoretical and historical enquiry, this work also conducts interaction-oriented policy research within the logic of empirical institutional analysis utilising an actor-centered institutional MLG framework to perform a critical analysis of the contemporary management of the common maritime boundary region between Australia and Papua New Guinea. In particular, it seeks to discover what form governance structures in the Torres Strait region have metamorphosed into under the guiding influence of the Torres Strait Treaty. Using the overarching governance regime as its basic unit of analysis, the project first breaks down all factual policy formulation and implementation processes involved in border management practices in the region into three broad embedded subunits of analysis: the border protection, fisheries and environmental management regimes. It then exploits a mix of primary and secondary data, along with the dispersal of authority as its dependable variable, to determine the extent to which authority (power or competencies) is being dispersed across the multiple jurisdictions and levels of governance now presenting within the Torres Strait region. It is found that a new phenomenon in governance in Australia may now be identified within the Torres Strait region. This new and emergent form of cooperative multi-level governance pragmatically incorporates the dynamics of MLG and federal logic. It also exhibits highly coordinated and consultative modes of interactions, and to a lesser degree, elements of both hierarchical and competitive linkage structures. It is largely being facilitated by the overarching administrative framework provided under the Torres Strait Treaty and can be found wherever the bi-lateral agreement’s terms and provisions are being observed. This latter phenomenon generally tends to occur wherever the Treaty’s requirements are enacted in enabling domestic legislation. This research project also makes two original contributions to knowledge. It provides the first comprehensive analysis of the set of contemporary overarching governance structures found within the wider Torres Strait region. It further represents the first application of an actor-centered institutional MLG approach to solid empirical research within an Australian context. Another significant outcome of exploiting the work to test the validity of an actor-centered institutional MLG framework has been to highlight the critical need for political analysts to distinguish between two distinct sets of processes, structures and outcomes. The first involves exploiting the MLG concept as a system-wide management arrangement for organising and explaining differing types of complex political-administrative organization and systems. The second involves utilising the notion of MLG as part of an overarching analytical framework designed specifically for organising complex diagnostic enquiry and providing compelling descriptions of what actually happens to decisions taken once they depart the domain of intergovernmental bargaining processes and central government policy control and enter into the real-world, day-to-day, post-decisional policy implementation phase at an operational level. The insights provided in ‘On Community’ in Chapter Six also offer a glimpse inside the internal workings of Australian frontier governance architecture within the Torres Strait region.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Department of Politics and Public Policy
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