The ‘discretionary principle’: understanding the implications of government policy for developing unconventional gas and oil in Australia and the UK

Mrs Bridie Meyer-Mclean1

1University Of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia


Mining unconventional resources is increasingly fraught with conflict. People are at odds with the exploitation of natural resources when the intensive and controversial processes of extraction cross over into other land uses. Concerns range from the broader risks to climate change to direct risks to the local environment, agricultural land, local economies, livelihoods, and public health. The anti-fracking movement in Australia and the United Kingdom (UK) are social grass-roots movements part of a broader, global anti-fracking movement and anti-fracking discourse. This paper presents a finding from a critical discourse analysis; the anti-fracking discourses in Australia and the UK consistently dispute discretions governments use to advance the unconventional gas industry over and above existing mechanisms to protect public health, the environment, and local economies, and national and international climate change agreements. In doing so, anti-frackers argue that the ‘precautionary principle’ is not used. This paper proposes that governments use a ‘discretionary principle’, justified by ideological and political tenets, exemplifying a broader discourse, which positions the unconventional gas and oil industry as powerful and outside of otherwise legislated, regulated and democratic processes. Consequently, the use of the discretionary principle acts as an obstacle for resolving tensions and problems related to the industry.


Bachelor of Environmental Policy and Management (Hons)

PhD student – Department of Geography, Environment and Population

Research Assistant


The Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) is the principal body representing geographers and promoting the study and application of geography in Australia. It was founded in 1958 and since then has promoted, supported and defended Australian geography.

IAG Website

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