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Abstract

Regional universities can contribute to the capacity of regional governance by providing an important source of specialist knowledge that can be used to aid problem-solving and engage communities more actively in decision-making. This paper reports a case of a partnership between a regional university and a local government authority (LGA), in a situation where the local government authority chose to run a referendum-style poll on a regionally important environmental and industrial issue; the development of the coal seam gas industry in a rural area. The partnership was adopted to produce an independently developed question for the poll. The poll question was developed by university academics who having consulted with stakeholders, provided advice to the LGA, which took responsibility for the final wording of the poll question. An evaluation of the processes involved in developing the poll question included reflection on the collaborative relationship between the university and the LGA. While the independence implicit in the university staff role was acknowledged as important, the importance of a university-LGA collaboration was also highlighted. The value of a more formally-structured process was noted, as were the importance of emphasising the university’s role as an advisory body only, and the LGA’s ownership of the final decision. Implications for policy include (1) the important role that regional Australian universities can play in enhancing governance and decision-making processes, (2) the potential for independent input to policy development processes for local and regional governance, and (3) the poll process which provides a robust method for ascertaining social acceptance of a controversial land use issue.