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Essay Competitions Australia 2010

The topic for the 2016 John Ralph Essay Competition is:

Farm environmental stewardship programs are just subsidies in disguise and should not be adopted in Australia.

Australia and New Zealand are the only developed nations in the world that do not have farm environmental stewardship schemes, which are schemes under which governments pay farmers for providing environmental services that benefit the entire community. In the United States, for example, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) pays a yearly rental payment in exchange for farmers removing environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and planting species that will improve environmental quality. Under the CRP, there are currently almost 24 million acres enrolled for periods of up to 15 years, for which farmers are paid annual rentals which exceed US$1.7 billion per year.

There have been regular calls by farm groups to implement similar schemes in Australia, and several have been trialled (for example the Victorian Government’s Bush Tender program). However, many economists and some farmers simply see these programs as ‘subsidies in disguise’ that effectively pay farmers for managing their land and water resources in a prudent manner. Such schemes also have the effect of increasing land values, which limits opportunities for farm expansion or for new entrants to get established.

On the other hand, some farmers argue that the alternative to stewardship programs are government regulatory controls such as the various state Native Vegetation laws which place all the costs of public good conservation on farmers, and that the farm sector would be much better off with stewardship programs.

Entrants in the 2016 John Ralph Essay Competition are asked to argue the case for or against the proposal that is the topic of the 2016 competition.

In arguing a case, competition entrants will need to clearly explain, whether they support or oppose the above statement.

  • If you oppose this idea, you must explain why. What would be the benefits of an Australian environmental stewardship program for farm businesses and the wider community? What is a preferred model that should be adopted in Australia? What would be the likely impact of these models on productivity growth and environmental outcomes? Your response should also consider the payment mechanisms, compatibility issues with other environmental programs, likely impacts on farm management decisions, implications for land and water use planning, as well as any regulatory requirements.
  • If you support the statement, explain why you don’t see a future for environmental stewardship programs in Australia. Your response will need to clearly state the policy challenges that would be difficult to overcome. Your response should also discuss lessons arising from model/s in place overseas and why they may not be successful in Australia. Explain why you think such policies are undesirable and why it could be problematic to achieve both sustainable environmental outcomes and maintain farm productivity growth. In the absence of stewardship programs, you will also need to discuss the preferred model/s that will better achieve conservation and productivity outcomes for farmers.

Mike Smith Student Prize for History of Australian Science or Australian Environmental History


The call for submissions has now closed. The Academy expects to notify applicants of the outcome in mid-December 2016.


9 am AEST Tuesday 4 October 2016


The prize will be awarded for an essay based on original unpublished research undertaken whilst enrolled as a student (postgraduate or undergraduate) at any tertiary educational institution in the world.

The essay should be 4,000-8,000 words in length (exclusive of endnotes). Essays must be written in English and fully documented following the style specified for the Australian Academy of Science’s journal, Historical Records of Australian Science.

Essays may deal with any aspect of the history of Australian science (including medicine and technology) or Australian environmental history. ‘Australia’ can include essays that focus on the Australian region, broadly defined, including Oceania. Essays that compare issues and subjects associated with Australia with those of other places also are welcomed. The winning entry, if it is in a suitable subject area, may be considered for publication in Historical Records of Australian Science.


Cash prize of $3,000. Minor prizes may be awarded at the panel’s discretion.

Application process

Applications are to be submitted to by 9am AEST Tuesday 4 October 2016. Materials to be submitted (in the following order):

  1. Covering email, containing:
    • Full name
    • Contact details (postal and e-mail addresses and telephone number)
    • Title of submission
    • University course (and year of course if undergraduate)
    • Student number
  2. Essay in PDF format
  3. PDF letter or attached e-mail from applicant’s academic supervisor attesting that the essay meets the eligibility criterion set out above.

The judging panel will have three members:

  • Chair (or nominee), National Committee for History and Philosophy of Science (Chair of panel)
  • Editor (or nominee), Historical Records of Australian Science
  • Head of Research (or nominee), National Museum of Australia

The winner will be contacted by or e-mail and the prize will be presented and announced on the websites of the National Museum of Australia and the Australian Academy of Science in early 2017.

Judges’ decisions are final. The judges retain the right to split the prize, or not to award a prize. The Academy and the National Museum of Australia are not able to enter into discussion or correspondence regarding the reasons why a submission is or is not successful.

The Australian Academy of Science encourages applications from female candidates and from candidates from a broad geographical distribution.

For further information contact:

National Committees Office
Phone: 02 6201 9456

Past winners

  • 2013 winning entry: Christina Dyson of the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, Living fossils and mouth-watering stones: manipulating history in the post-WWII natural Australian plant garden
  • 2013 joint runner up: Alessandro Antonello from the Australian National University, Repelling the assault on the unknown: Australia and the International Geophysical Year in Antarctica
  • 2013 joint runner up: Sonya Duus from the Australian National University, Contesting coal: echoes through time
  • 2011 first prize: Christian O'Brien of the Australian National University's School of History, A brief history of the monsoon (PDF, 648 KB)
  • 2011 second prize: Sonya Duus of the Australian National University's Fenner School of Environment and Society, Buried sunshine, sacrifical lands and industrial slaves: an environmental history of coal in Australia
  • 2011 highly commended: Cameron Muir of the Australian National University with his essay, Wheat for a white world: social and ecological relationships on the agricultural frontier in the early 20th century
  • 2010 winning entry: Luke Keogh of the University of Queensland, Duboisia Pituri - A Natural History
  • 2009 joint winning entry: Jodi Frawley of the University of Sydney, Trans/Nationalising wattle from the Sydney Botanic Gardens
  • 2009 joint winning entry: Benedict Taylor from the University of New South Wales, It is curious how the convict loves a pet: animals in Australian prisons and penal discourse
  • 2007 winning entry: Coral Dow, A ‘Sportsman’s Paradise’: The Effects of Hunting on the Avifauna of the Gippsland Lakes
  • 2006 joint winning entry: Rachel Sanderson, Many Beautiful Things: Colonial Botanists’ accounts of the North Queensland rainforests
  • 2006 joint winning entry: Sara Maroske, Ferdinand Mueller and the Shape of Nature: Nineteenth-century Plant Classification