Dr Tanya Howard does not usually engage in research relating to criminology, but the Turnbull murder case really piqued her interest. As a researcher in the Australian Centre for Agriculture and Law at UNE, she felt compelled to look more closely at the events both leading up to and following the murder of NSW Office of Environment and Heritage compliance officer Glen Turner.
To try and understand how this tragic event came about, Tanya undertook a discourse analysis of how the case was reported from the time of the murder to the sentencing two years later. This analysis suggested that there is a complex interaction underway between notions of civil disobedience, non-compliance and criminal activity in the context of environmental law and policy in rural Australia. For example, some commentators went on the record suggesting that Turnbull’s actions were justified due to unreasonable environmental regulations. Perhaps, this narrative suggested, the environmental laws were so harsh, it was only a matter of time before a landholder snapped.
The ramifications of the case and series of events are widespread. For example, how do we ensure people who take their environmental duties seriously are adequately recognised for their efforts? What about the safety of those public servants who are simply doing their jobs on behalf of the public good? For many environmental officers, casual threats of violence and harm have been part of their day to day work, however Glen Turner’s death has made the risks clear. How do we address the diversity of perspectives regarding land management? For many in the farming community, environmental regulations may be seen as counterproductive to managing land for both production and conservation outcomes.
Proceedings relating to these events are still ongoing. The son and grandson of Ian Turnbull are currently appealing the $300,000 fine they each received as a result of illegal land clearing. The NSW Coroner has also ordered an inquest into Turner’s death.
Thank you, Tanya, for providing us with your insightful perspective on these tragic events.