EVENT: Identifying links between disaster and rural crim

University of New England

Behind the headline destruction and distress caused by disaster is a less visible cost: crime, and other forms of injustice that flourish in chaos.

An international symposium being held at UNE on 29 November will consider various forms of harm that emerge when disaster suspends society’s normal checks and balances.

Rural Crime, Justice and Disaster: Impacts, Response & Recovery is hosted by the UNE Centre for Rural Criminology. Speakers will range across a wide range of subjects, including the changing nature of policing in response to more frequent disaster; domestic and family violence; ideological clashes in rural areas over issues like green energy; and access to justice in disaster-affected rural areas.

“We were pulled into this because we found that disaster and emergency management overlaps with every research theme we’re working with,” says Dr Kyle Mulrooney, the Centre for Rural Criminology’s Co-Director.

“Crisis changes patterns of harmful behaviour like drug use and domestic violence, and it can change rural community dynamics for the worse.”

“We work closely with the police, who are telling us that rural policing is increasingly being pulled off traditional duties to attend to disaster-related issues. Police are also finding they’re dealing more with social conflict in rural areas over ideological clashes around issues like climate change and renewable energy.”

Agriculture, the primary activity of many rural communities, is particularly susceptible to increases in the frequency and intensity of climate-related disasters. This can lead to increased economic hardship in agriculture-dependent communities, and a subsequent lift in crime rates.

“The symposium’s focus is on the connection between disasters and crime, with an emphasis on preventing, responding to, and recovering from them,” says fellow Centre Co-Director, Dr Alistair Harkness.

“We absolutely must be proactive in addressing rural vulnerabilities, environmental changes, and potential crime hotspots. Only then can we ensure the resilience and well-being of rural communities.”

The Symposium is not only an opportunity to advance thinking and discussions around these key issues, but also to pay homage to the emergency service personnel and police who respond to disaster and the multitude of issue it causes.

“Hats off to of our hardworking first responders,” says Dr Harkness, “as well as those behind the scenes, who strive – often in very tough conditions – to improve outcomes for community members.”

“It’s terrific that so many rural police from across Australia and New Zealand will be able to join these important conversations.”

The central aim of the Symposium is to bring together thought leaders and practitioners to share knowledge and contemplate the best steps forward to better deal with serial crises.

The Rural Crime, Justice & Disaster Symposium will be held at the University of New England’s Lewis Lecture Theatre on Wednesday, November 29, from 8am-7pm.


Speakers include:

Deputy Commissioner (Emergency Management), Peter Thurtell, NSW Police Force, will deliver the keynote address at 8.50am.

Emeritus Professor Joseph F. Donnermeyer of The Ohio State University who will examine how disasters change access to justice in rural areas

Associate Professor Bridget Harris of Monash University, on the links between rural geography, family violence and animal cruelty

Distinguished Professor Rob White of the University of Tasmania (and UNE Adjunct), on the challenges for law enforcement agencies of dealing with the cross-over crimes that emerge in times of emergency.

Dr Alistair Harkness and Dr Kyle Mulrooney will address growing political conflict in rural areas, with particular attention to ideology surrounding environmentalism, sustainability and conservation, launching a discussion on ‘rural green policing’.

The symposium will be introduced (via video recording) by the Federal Minister for Agriculture and Minister for Emergency Management, Senator The Hon Murray Watt, who will outline the national challenge for emergency management. (The Minister’s video presentation can be provided on request).

The Centre for Rural Crime has worked closely with three co-hosts to create the event.

The International Society for the Study of Rural Crime brings an international perspective to the symposium. UNE’s Australian Centre for Agriculture and Law specialises in the interplay of laws, institutions, and rural communities. The Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology is also a sponsor.

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