Neil Gunningham has degrees in law and criminology from Sheffield University, UK, is a Barrister and Solicitor (ACT) and holds a PhD from ANU. Although initially trained in law, his subsequent post-graduate work was in interdisciplinary social science, and for the last fifteen years he has applied that training principally in the areas of safety, health and environment, with a focus on regulation and governance.
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The world-leading scholar in environmental and energy law, environmental regulation and governance was recognised for the work he and Professor Darren Sinclair have conducted over the last 25 years.
“The award was about the quite diverse work that my colleague Darren and I, have done on compliance and enforcement over many years,” the highly respected regulatory expert says.
Image: Neil Gunningham - personal collection
The two scholars, who conceived the ground-breaking concept of ‘Smart Regulation’, have published widely on safety, health and environment, with a focus on regulation and governance and have made numerous significant contributions to environmental policy.
“Many think that you just enact laws and people naturally do what they are told. In fact, this is not the case, particularly when dealing with businesses, so if you don’t get compliance and enforcement right, the law is completely ineffective.
“Over the years Darren and I, have spent a lot of time trying to work out why organizations behave the way they do. Why some comply and why others try to avoid compliance all together.
“A lot of it comes down to what we call ‘social licence pressures’ he explains.
The AELERT-INECE award, apart from being a testament to Professor Gunningham’s and Professor Sinclair’s many years of research and numerous contributions, also embodies their formidable collaboration.
“I have greatly enjoyed working with Neil for over two decades,” Professor Sinclair says.
“It was Neil who gave me my first academic job, for which I am forever grateful, and we have completed many research projects and publications together.
“I have met very few people with Neil’s drive, energy and focussed approach to research and writing.
“While some may find this a little daunting, I have always found Neil to be congenial, caring and accommodating, and most importantly, a highly supportive colleague.”
In turn, Professor Gunningham responds: “Darren and I have collaborated for over 20 years. We have co-written books, articles and much besides”.
“He has been a joy to work with. Wise and insightful but remarkably modest and understated. What more could you want!”
In fact, together the two scholars have produced numerous important scholarly works, including the highly acclaimed “Smart Regulation: Designing Environmental Policy” and “Leaders and Laggards: Next-Generation Environmental Regulation”.
Professor Gunningham’s many achievements include co-founding the “Australian Centre for Environmental law”, being a member of Australian Panel of Experts on Environmental Law, consulting for the Victorian Enquiry on the Environment Protection Authority and international organisations such as the OECD and the United Nations Environment Program.
Similarly, Professor Sinclair has served as a consultant to government and industry, producing many policy reports.
During the United Nations International Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Geneva in ‘93 and ‘94, he represented Australia and co-designed the self-regulatory and trading scheme to phase out the use of ozone-depleting gases, and from ‘91-’96, he served as Assistant Director in the Sustainable Development Section at the Department of Industry, Science and Tourism, Commonwealth of Australia.
Despite their many achievements, when asked about receiving the award, the two Professors respond with a genuine modest quality.
“I don’t think anyone enters academia with the intention of winning awards, and I certainly didn’t,” Professor Sinclair responds.
“I was only interested in researching issues that I thought were important to the world, principally how societies and economies can minimise their destructive impact on the natural environment, and hopefully transition to a more sustainable footing.
“Having said that, it was a nice surprise to receive an international award in recognition of a body of work over many years, particularly as the award is given by your colleagues and peers.”
Professor Gunningham added “I am pleased that RegNet’s many achievements in relation to compliance and enforcement are being recognised”.
“What is striking is that at the same event that Darren and I received an award, there were multiple references to the work of our colleague John Braithwaite and the ‘regulatory pyramids’ he has made famous, and numerous references to the work of our colleague Rod Broadhurst about the dark web.
“So it was good to see many people at RegNet being recognized at the same time”.
When asked if he could leave one mark in his line of work, Professor Gunningham says simply:
“I would like to think that the insights we developed about regulation, compliance and enforcement under the banner of Smart Regulation have percolated through and become embedded in regulatory practice.
“This is because I think Smart Regulation was probably my most important contribution and I put my heart and soul into writing it.”
In turn, Professor Sinclair highlights the impact of regulation.
“When we think of some of the great challenges confronting the world, such as climate change, the clean energy transition, water scarcity and even misconduct in the financial sector, regulation is fundamental to our capacity to address them.
“Regulation can be used creatively as a powerful driver to not only overcome market failures, but also to spur the development of new practices, technologies and industries.”
Professor Gunningham currently leads the Climate Finance Initiative which aims to play a leading role in research, policy engagement and capacity building on its two core streams of research: climate finance regulation and climate finance governance within the region.
He is also part of the Australian Sustainable Finance Initiative comprised of 130 people from 90 different organizations, which is tasked with developing a blue print for climate finance in Australia. His focus is finding which regulatory mechanisms could encourage and facilitate a low carbon transition.
Professor Sinclair worked alongside Professor Gunningham and other researchers at RegNet for a little over two years. He is currently working on innovative approaches to water regulation, particularly groundwater, with his colleague, Professor Cameron Holley at UNSW with a particular focus on the role of technology and network compliance.
He and his colleague are involved in an international comparative study and collaborating with researchers in France and the United States. He is also co-Convenor with Dr Larissa Schneider DECRA Fellow at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific of the ANU Mercury Australia research network, conducting research on mercury emissions, including their regulation and governance.