A new project has been launched to find out exactly how the values of people in rural areas are affected by land use conflicts caused by CSG drilling, wind farms, irrigation and agriculture.

Researchers at the University of Canberra have been awarded a $150,000 research grant by the Australian Research Council, tasked with finding how the deeply-held beliefs of rural residents play into their policy preferences.

Professor of Australian public policy at the University, Linda Botterill, says they hope to ascertain the true values of people in agricultural areas, which are generally ignored or misrepresented.

“The values that are being considered, for example in the Murray-Darling Basin, are values around the environment, agriculture and broadly agrarian values about the importance of agricultural activity, and also around economic activity,” Prof Botterill says.

Interviews and focus groups will be undertaken as part of the project, aimed at picking apart the facets of land use disagreements.

“We suspect that the people who oppose wind turbines have more deeply held agrarian values about the aesthetics of rural landscapes, particularly tree-changers who've come into rural communities looking for the rural idyll and escaping the city.

“[They may be] likely to feel that their rural environment is being spoilt by the erection of wind farms, but we don't know... we won't know until we go and ask these questions,” Prof Botterill added.

She says it is part of a bigger movement to re-assess public policy, informed by contemporary views.

“If public policy makers start thinking about what values are relevant to a particular policy debate, we may avoid a lot of major disputes.

“By going into rural communities where people's livelihoods are potentially on the line, where people care deeply about agriculture and have been in farming for many generations, to go in and run a meeting that's all about the environment is not exactly going to endear the public servants from Canberra to rural Australia.

The Professor says this kind of approach led to the various conflicts around the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in 2010, which sought to protect environmental assets at virtually all costs.

“If the policy makers had perhaps thought in terms of values and thought; ‘Well what matters to people in rural Australia?’ and they'd gone and said; ‘We collectively have a problem...what do you think we should be doing?’, they would have got a better response than simply coming in and saying; ‘You're using too much water’,” she said.