Home News
Whose land is it anyway?

"If we want to achieve a balance, there has to be some give."

When acclaimed American folk singer Woody Guthrie penned This land is your land, this land is my land back in 1940, he might never have guessed it would have a resonance with present-day debate in Australia about land ownership.

There's a bright, committed academic at Deakin University with a passion for the legalities of ‘who can do what on whose land.’ Her ardent pursuit is helping foster a better understanding of one of the most challenging issues of our time – mining for energy resources and land access.

Professor Samantha Hepburn is Director of Research at Deakin Law School, and she's smack bang in the middle of a growing debate that stretches from Parliament House to farm gate concerning mining and energy law – and the ethics behind it.

Predicting that as land becomes more valuable, Australia might find itself in a crisis over private ownership rights, Professor Hepburn offers that, ‘A lot of my research is looking at how the development of emerging energy production is being regulated and the importance of… social licensing.’

‘Indeed, there may be a time in the not-too-distant future when we in Australia may be unable to support the private ownership rights we have come to expect.

‘I believe there will come a time when owners of land that has valuable resources will have great trouble saying a flat no to those wanting to access the resources.

‘If we want to achieve a balance – a reconciliation if you like – then there has to be some give. My view is that strident right to refuse language won't work anymore.’

This is why Professor Hepburn is so passionate about her research into how a regulatory framework for mining and energy needs to keep pace with a rapidly innovating energy sector that is seeking to meet growing demand for its product.

‘The new phenomenon of the climate change debate and, for example, unconventional gas mining needs more community engagement on issues like landholder consent, compensation, access and programs to re-inject royalties back into local communities.’

The intense conversations on renewable energy occurring right now among politicians is also a hot topic at Deakin, especially given it boasts the only mining and energy law course offered at undergraduate level.

‘The key debate that has to find a way forward is that, rather than cut the legs off efforts for greater reliance on energy from wind farms and solar, we as a country need to persevere with fostering the renewable industry before it's simply too late.’

While Hepburn feels privileged to have her job, her passion for the issue has led her to also write a book for Cambridge University Press about energy law.

All this while also providing expert opinion on mining and energy through media programs such as features on Radio National and ABC's Four Corners, and also getting involved in an ever-increasing array of conferences and think tanks such as The Conversation website.

Samantha Hepburn has a Master of Laws, a Bachelor of Law(s) and a Doctor of Philosophy and has published a range of scholarly articles in Australia and the United States.

Posted in News