Mining coal seam gas: an exhibition in the Divine Art Gallery : how an Australian theology of land can inform the public debate surrounding the Coal Sea Gas industry

Christopher Dalton

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The growth of the Coal Seam Gas (CSG) industry has led to passionate and
polarising debate within Australia. On the one hand, the mining of CSG can
generate economic development benefits, employment opportunities and export
earnings, and provide new energy sources; on the other hand, it can lead to
environmental pollution and health problems, adversely affect water quality, and
negatively impact on the livelihood and lifestyle of landowners, farmers and
local communities.

This thesis explores how theology can contribute to the development of CSG
policy in a way that adds value to the professional and expert inputs of the
business community, economists, environmentalists, landowners, lawyers,
politicians and scientists.

The central theological narrative of the thesis is that Land is a fellow traveller
with humanity in Creation. This leads to public theology praxis that is informed
by the parable of the Good Samaritan. It finds a precedent in the debate about
the abolition of the slave trade, which led to a fundamental shift in the ethical
outlook of society at the time, which had held slavery to be acceptable.

The thesis adopts a transdisciplinary approach with two theological streams.
The first focuses on a theological reading of Land in Australia. It identifies
anthropocentric utilitarianism as a key shortcoming in CSG public policy
development in Australia, with Australians treating Land as a commodity rather
than as Beloved in God‘s Creation. As a part of this, the thesis hears the Voice
of Land in Australian landscape art, poetry, experience, community input to the
policy debate, spirituality and a plethora of government inquiries and reports. It
is a voice that pleads for the scope of the policy debate to be broadened.

The second stream develops a public theology strategy in response to this
shortcoming. Its core element is the establishment of a dialogue across faith
and secular boundaries to consider the interests and rights of Land and how
they might be recognised and incorporated into public policy. It generates
consideration of alternative worldviews and accepts that, in a post-secular
society like Australia, the Christian faith cannot expect privileged treatment. It
therefore presents a range of different insights into matters relating to CSG –
metaphorically, by hanging paintings in a Divine Art Gallery on the theme of
CSG mining – to stimulate the establishment of common ground upon which to
build a policy framework that serves the interests of Australians and Land.

Research undertaken for the thesis informs a discussion of insights provided by
ecotheology and the relationship between justice and law, the identification of
the key features of the CSG industry and a description of the evolving CSG
regulatory framework. It analyses these developments against the backdrop of
how Australian attitudes to Land have changed since European settlement.
This leads to the development of a public theology strategy that draws on
imagination and experience as well as scientific research and economic
analysis. It concludes by advocating that a conversation be commenced about
incorporation of the rights of Land into legislation.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Drayton, Dean, Principal Supervisor
  • Pearson, Clive, Co-Supervisor
Award date01 Aug 2015
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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