Previous social science research has detected changes in ideas and practices of government in Australia from the 1980s, most notably in the shift from a welfarist mode of rule towards individualistic, market-based, programs and policies of neoliberalism. However, further changes have occurred since the late 1990s. Now, regional frameworks of participation and decision-making that exist outside current institutional arrangements are being assigned a role in coordinating development in Australia’s regions. These additional changes suggest a quest for ways to govern better, as embodied in Central Queensland A New Millennium (CQANM), a recent regional planning process in the Australian State of Queensland. CQANM represents an emerging conception of good governance as:
1. involving collaboration between a broad range of stakeholders from state and non-state sectors.
2. ensuring sustainable development and a balance of economic, social and environmental goals.
3. focusing on the regional scale despite the absence of any formal tier of government in Australia that is intermediate between State and local governments.
Drawing on a case study of CQANM, this research seeks to identify the characteristics and institutional form of this new mode of governance and explore the ideas about effective governance embodied in these arrangements. Diverse literatures from sociology, public administration, planning and political science focus upon the changing role of the state, new understandings of democracy, and issues of scope (or functional priorities) and scale (or spatial focus) as they relate to contemporary governance challenges. The investigation of CQANM, as reported in this thesis, was theoretically informed by such literature. It positions the new regional planning process as a form of networked, deliberative governance. It also draws on other currents of sociological thought, notably the Foucauldian ‘analytics of government’ framework. The latter provides an understanding of the multiple dimensions of contemporary discourses of governing. Specifically, it examines three elements: the questions authorities pose about the task of governing; the practices used to govern; and the rationales and justification for these. Together, these elements are understood to comprise a new (govern)mentality of rule. This framework provides an ideal analytical tool for this research with its aim of examining the purpose and operation of CQANM as a recent case of governance. More specifically, this thesis asks: How can we understand the mentalities of rule – or clusters of discourses about good governance – embodied in the specific arrangements and practices of CQANM?
Utilising a qualitative research methodology, this thesis has three findings. First, it established that there was not a single mentality of rule inherent in CQANM. Rather, three competing mentalities of rule coexisted and interacted in Central Queensland to shape the form of regional governance practiced there. These have been labelled hierarchical, market and networked governance. Each is a conception of good governance characterised by three distinctive discourses of democracy, development and planning. The regional planning process harnessed practices and ideas of these various discourses, incorporating them into a coherent system at multiple levels. Second, the research challenges notions of the state being the locus of political activity and supports findings of a more dispersed operation of governmental power. Finally, the study highlights the heterogeneity within the state, challenging portrayals of a unified and monolithic state. These findings illustrate the utility of an analytics of government approach for moving beyond institutional analyses. They also identify significant practical challenges for introducing an improved form of governance in a multi-discursive environment with dispersed power and considerable diversity. The thesis concludes that CQANM’s ambitious aspirations to govern democratically for sustainability were constrained by the persistence of entrenched, contradictory, discursive practices associated with alternative mentalities of rule.