Conference Papers, Publications and Articles

These are abstracts of recent conference pepers, papers and articles.

Sustainability and Sustainable Development : philosophical distinctions and practical implications,  Environmental Values; 23 , February 2014, 7-28.  (Co-authored with Emeritus Prof J.G. Petrie, School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Sydney and Dr C. B. Christensen, Dept. of Philosophy, Australian National University).

The terms "sustainability" and "sustainable development" have become established in the popular vernacular in the 25 years or so since publication of the report of the Brundtland Commission. Often, "sustainability" is thought to represent some long-term goal and "sustainable development" a means or process by which to achieve it. Two fundamental and conflicting philosophical positions underlying these terms are identified. In particular, the commonly-held notion that sustainable development can be a pathway to sustainability is challenged and the expedient view that both terms ultimately serve holistic development is questioned.  Furthermore, it is argued that to perpetuate the unclear and misleading way of drawing the distinction between the two positions will limit the development of efficacious policy, as it will not resonate with the broadest possible gamut of beliefs and value systems.

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Towards a practical philosophy of engineering : dealing with the complex problem from the sustainability discourse; Forum on the Philosophy of Engineering and Technology (fPET-2012); Beijing, 1-4 November 2012

This paper attempts to characterise the current philosophical approach to engineering and identify the limitations of the profession in coming to terms with the highly complex, socio-economic-technological problems, such as those that emerge from the sustainability discourse. By comparing this with the development of the philosophy of science and philosophical approaches to scientific knowledge that have been the subject of vigorous discussion for the last 70 years or so, a set of philosophical principles are developed to enable the engineering profession to engage with the highly complex problems of the sustainability discourse.

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Towards a modern engineering ethical framework : the foundations of Western engineering ethics; Forum on the Philosophy of Engineering and Technology (fPET-2012); Beijing, 1-4 Nov 2012

Western approaches to ethics originate in Greek philosophy, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. First, the development of Western ethics is explored, from the thinking that developed in Athens, in particular contrasting the approaches of Plato and Aristotle, through the Renaissance and the stimulus of humanist thinkers such as Petrarch, the influence of Locke, Descartes and Berkeley, and to the Enlightenment and the emergence of the deontological ethics of Kant and subsequently, the utilitarian philosophy of Bentham, Mills and Moore. Then the attempt is made to broaden the discourse around engineering ethics and to extend the thinking of engineers in particular, to consider approaches outside the traditional rule-based paradigm. The questions considered are: what are ethics? where do with Western ethics originate? how have Western ethics involved? how do beliefs and values influence our ethical stance? In answer to answer these questions, the paper proposes the adoption of an ethical and axiological framework that is consistent with modern cognitive psychology and the way in which we think and arrive at our belief and value systems.

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How to revive Australia’s manufacturing sector; Engineers Australia; 84, 11, November 2011, 36-37.

The manufacturing sector employs less than 8% of Australia’s workforce, down from nearly 30% at its height in 1974. Today the majority of manufactured goods, particularly the more sophisticated ones, are imported. Nonetheless, there can be a future for manufacturing in Australia and it is of vital importance that as a nation we create one. This paper outline the changes revolutionising manufacturing technology and how Australia can take advantage of them.

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Big city, big challenge; The Chemical Engineer; 845, November 2011, 44-46

Urbanisation poses a huge challenge to global water supplies. In 1800, when the industrial revolution was gaining momentum, only 3% of the world’s population lived in urban areas. By 1900, 14% of the population was urbanised and in 2008, for the first time in human history, the proportion passed 50%. Today, there are more than 400 cities with a population greater than 1m and 19 ‘megacities’ with a population greater than 10m. Demographers predict that by 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be urbanised. One of the biggest challenges of this concentration of people is the provision of safe water and sanitation. The provision of water and sanitation infrastructure cannot be defined in purely technological and engineering terms Rather, the challenge is the development of a highly complex and dynamic economic technological, ecological and social system – a messy problem indeed, typical of those that emerge from the 21st century sustainability discourse.

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A review of the philosophy of engineering; Engineers Australia; 84, 9, September 2011, 50-51.

A review of the philosophy underlying modern engineering practice and a call to establish a firmer philosophical foundation to deal with the enormous challenges of the 21st century.

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A review of the philosophy underlying modern engineering practice and a call to establish a firmer philosophical foundation to deal with the enormous challenges of the 21st century.

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Sydney’s water, sewerage and drainage system, Journal & Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, 144, 439 & 440, 3–25

This paper traces the development of Sydney’s metropolitan water, sewerage, and drainage system and considers the underlying arrangements of the institutions responsible for the construction, operation, and maintenance of the system as the city grew over the last two centuries or so into a substantial metropolis.

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A problem-structuring method for complex societal decisions : its philosophical and psychological dimensions, Hector, Christensen, & Petrie, European Journal of Operational Research, 193, 3, 693-706, 16 March 2009, [doi:10.1016/j.ejor.2007.06.058]

A novel approach to problem-structuring for decisions relating to the sustainable development of large-scale infrastructure is presented. The philosophical (a critical realist ontology and epistemology), psychological (implications of behavioural and cognitive psychology), and systems dimensions (dynamics and emergent properties) of the problem are discussed, and form the basis of the approach. The problem is structured as a system of ‘‘trilemmas’’ (a means of representing and criticising sets of three competing forces), representing different aspects of the problem and considered in the context of a number of problem dimensions. A case study relating to the development of a sustainable water system for a major Australian metropolis is developed to test the value of the approach.

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New perspectives on governance structures : judgement and ethical decision-making for boards, Ethical Excellence in the Public Sector, Sydney, Australia, 19–20 February 2009

This conference workshop advances three propositions:
Proposition 1 – Four important themes emerge that society wants to see addressed in the way its corporations are governed and directed: most corporations have some form of economic contribution expected of them; business ethics are important; corporations should consider environmental and social issues as well as economic performance; and the statutory and regulatory framework should reflect society’s desire for these issues to be addressed.
Proposition 2 – Consider the corporation to be an artificial, moral person in which the board is the mind of this artificial  person.  The principal role of the board is to determine and to establish the moral position of the organisation.
Proposition 3 – The board should consider and discuss the existence of different values and value-systems in the community and recognise the richness which can be gained from diverse experience.  In order for this to have maximum effectiveness, there needs to be a critical, self-reflective approach which acknowledges and considers the aspects of human knowledge and interrelationships of importance to the institution.

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Towards a New Philosophy of Engineering : structuring the complex problems from the sustainability discourse; Donald Hector; Doctoral thesis; University of Sydney; March 2008

The dissertation explores the development of philosophy of science, particularly in the last 70 years.  It is noted that, unlike the philosophy of science, the philosophy of engineering has not been influenced by developments of critical theory, cultural theory, and postmodernism, which have had significant impact in late 20th-century Western society.  This is seen as a constraint on the practice of engineering. Thus, a set of philosophical principles for sustainable engineering practice is developed.  Such a change in the philosophy underlying the practice of engineering is seen as necessary if engineers are to engage with and contribute to the resolution of the high complex problems from the sustainability discourse.  A novel problem-structuring approach is developed on three levels.  A set philosophical foundation is established; a theoretical framework, based on general systems theory and established behavioural and cognitive psychological theory, is devised; and a set of tools is proposed to model Type 3 complex problems as a dynamic systems.  The approach is different to other systems approaches, in that it enables qualitative exploration of the system to plausible, hypothetical disturbances.  The problem-structuring approach is applied in a case study, which relates to the development of a water subsystem for a major metropolis (Sydney, Australia).  The technique is also used to critique existing infrastructure planning processes and to propose an alternative approach.

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Invited Green Paper, The Start of the Road : Sustainable Metropolitan Water Systems, A report to the Institution of Chemical Engineers, October 2008 [Read at Chemeca 2008, Newcastle, Australia – 29 September 2008 and ChemEng08, Birmingham, UK, 30 October 2008]

A novel approach to problem structuring for decisions relating to the sustainability of public infrastructure is presented.  The philosophical (a critical realist ontology and epistemology), psychological (the effect of biases and heuristics on decision outcomes), and systems dimensions (dynamics and emergent properties) of the problem are discussed, and form the basis of the approach.  This is structured as a system of “trilemmas”, representing different dimensions of the problem.  A case study in the Australian water supply industry is developed to demonstrate the value of the approach.

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A Problem Structuring Method for Complex Societal Decisions : its Philosophical and Psychological Dimensions, (Co-authored with Emeritus Prof J.G. Petrie, School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Dr C. B. Christensen, Dept. of Philosophy, Australian National University), Euro XXI, Reykjavik, Iceland, 2—5 July, 2006  (This paper is abridged from the author's PhD research program.)

A novel approach to problem structuring for decisions relating to the sustainability of public infrastructure is presented.  The philosophical (a critical realist ontology and epistemology), psychological (the effect of biases and heuristics on decision outcomes), and systems dimensions (dynamics and emergent properties) of the problem are discussed, and form the basis of the approach.  This is structured as a system of “trilemmas”, representing different dimensions of the problem.  A case study in the Australian water supply industry is developed to demonstrate the value of the approach.

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Sustainability, Risk, and Corporate Governance, The Safety Conference, Sydney, 26—28 October 2005 (This paper is abridged from the author's PhD research program.)

The focus of corporate governance over the last 20 years broadly has been in two areas: the growing awareness of risk and uncertainty and the need to manage it; and a recognition that globalisation, rapid economic growth, and ecological impact of modern industry has the potential to cause major problems to our current way of life.  This paper traces the development of these two trends, concluding that they are essentially manifestations of the same problem.  Consideration is then given to the modern approach to corporate governance, proposing that this has the potential to make substantial progress on both fronts.

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Problem Structuring for Complex Sustainability Decisions : the case of Sydney’s water supply, (Co-authored with with Emeritus Prof J.G. Petrie, School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Dr C. B. Christensen, Dept. of Philosophy, Australian National University), 7th World Congress of Chemical Engineering, Glasgow, Scotland, 10—14 July, 2004

Problems encountered in sustainable development can be complex “messes”, requiring the engagement of multiple stakeholders in the decision-making process.  Often, the stakeholders have widely differing perspectives and interests, based on diverse beliefs and values.  This paper explores ways in which complex problems of sustainability may be approached and introduces a novel means of capturing and ordering information from a wide spectrum of interested parties, with a range of agendas, based on widely differing belief and value systems.  An example of this problem-structuring approach is presented in the context of considering the water supply to metropolitan Sydney.  Population growth in Sydney has been relatively high over the last 20 years, with the greater city now having a population of over 4 million people.  Australia’s climate is prone to extended periods of drought and Sydney is currently experiencing a prolonged dry spell.  For the first time in nearly 50 years, Sydney is subject to major water restrictions and there is an emerging concern about the long-term viability of its water supply.  The case study considers the history of the provision of water infrastructure in Sydney, the evolution of the decision-making processes and the implications for determining how Sydney’s water needs may be satisfied over the next 50 years, in particular ways to engage the widely varying, in some cases, conflicting interests in providing a reliable, high quality water supply.

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Complex problem-solving in major sustainable development projects : philosophical and psychological influences,  Chemeca 2004,  Australian Technology Park, 27-29 September, 2004  (co-authored with Emeritus Prof J.G. Petrie, School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Sydney).

Many sustainable development projects on which engineers work require the engagement of multiple stakeholders, often with quite different views of the world.  In today’s society, where there are many different interests and points of view demanding to be heard, the engineer’s role in finding successful solutions to major projects can be daunting.  This paper explores some of the philosophical and psychological influences which determine worldviews and the nature of the “meta-problems”, which chemical engineering in the 21st   century is likely to encounter.  Further, it attempts to identify some of the challenges for the chemical engineering profession in entering into a dialogue with interest groups and proposes some principles which may be useful in resolving complex problems.

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Sydney’s Water Supply : how should engineers take the leadership role in solving complex, technological problems?  Engineering Leadership 2004, Sydney Convention Centre, 23—24 September, 2004.  (Co-authored with Dr C. B. Christensen, Dept. of Philosophy, Australian National University)

Sydney potentially faces an extremely serious water crisis.  The aim of this paper is not to identify solutions to the water problem, rather it is to use the problem as an example of the kind of large-scale, complex problem whose solution cannot be determined in isolation by engineers (or any other group).  Rather, there needs to be a process of involving the community,  which addresses the interests of all affected parties with an extremely wide and diverse range of perspectives and values. This throws up the central question for discussion: what kind of process involving the community?

[To request the full article, click Article Request.  Please include your name and the article title.] [Also see background paper below.]

Sydney’s Water, Sewerage, and Drainage :  A Brief Historical Overview and Background; Engineering Leadership 2004, Sydney Convention Centre, 23—24 September, 200

This paper traces the history of Sydney's water supply from the early days of the colony until the present day, outlining the lurches from crisis to crisis that have occurred.  This is a background paper for the discussion held at Engineering Leadership 2004 (see paper above).

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Engineering Practice in the 21st Century : Philosophical and Social Challenges; Engineering Leadership 2004, Sydney Convention Centre, 23—24 September, 2004

Engineering, as it is practised today, is a product of the so-called “modern” era.  Based on scientific foundations, engineers seek to identify complex problems, understand them, and using rigorous analytical techniques, find innovative solutions.  This approach has been extremely successful, confirmed by a glance at the technological artefacts of the last two centuries.  About 60 years ago, some disquiet started to emerge, questioning the foundations of the modernist approach.  In the last 30 years, “postmodernism” has gained momentum, questioning the validity of scientific and technological progress.  Engineers have seen public confidence in their profession eroded, often with little apparent rational basis, other than unease with accepting complex technologies, which are not readily understood.  It is unrealistic to expect to recreate the unquestioning public confidence and respect which the engineering profession enjoyed in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  However, by changing the way in which the engineering profession engages with the community, and being sensitive to the changing values of the last 50 years, engineers can regain much of their original status.  This paper traces the influences of modernism and postmodernism on the engineering profession and identifies challenges and issues which engineers need to consider, if they are to be regarded as valuable contributors to society in the 21st century.

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Successful Business Succession — client briefing paper

Retirement is looming for a significant group of small business owners.  31 percent of small business owners in Australia are over the age of 50.  Many do not have adequate superannuation and face a bleak retirement if they cannot access the value they have built in their business.  To implement effective succession arrangements requires a relatively long planning period – often up to five years or more.  This article examines the issues of planning business succession in small- and medium-sized businesses, particularly those which are family-owned.

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Beyond Corporate Social Responsibility :  Corporate Citizenship — client briefing paper

In the last 25 years, there has been considerable discussion in literature as to whether corporations are moral persons.  This paper considers why companies should be treated differently to other collections of individuals and examines some of the arguments relating to "moral personhood" as it might apply to companies.  An argument is proposed that a concept of corporate citizenship framed around the moral responsibilities which might be associated with a corporation considered to be a moral person is a better approach than the recent notion of corporate social responsibility.  Some consideration is given to the types of problems which directors of corporations face and how they might approach them, based on a moral approach of citizenship, rather than more the traditional reductionist problem solving methodologies.

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Approaches to Corporate Governance : a comparison of corporate governance policy in some Western countries — client briefing paper

Since the spate of corporate collapses which ushered in the new millennium, there has been no shortage of regulations and guidelines relating to corporate governance.  This article compares approaches taken in the United States, Europe, Australia, and the OECD more generally and draws conclusions regarding the direction of public policy relating to governance.

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Sustainability : an overview — client briefing paper

In recent years, there has been growing concern about the long-term sustainability of the economic development that has emerged during the past 200 years, largely as a result of the Industrial Revolution.  This paper examines sustainability in its broad context, with some examples of organisations and institutions which are among the oldest in the world.  It also looks at sustainability in the modern industrial context, particularly as it relates to corporations, using the relatively simple model of the “triple bottom line”. There is an examination of the issues of sustainability, in particular the challenges relating to uncertainty, risk and implications for strategy and decision-making.  In many cases, this involves situations where scientific data are inconclusive, there are different ways of interpreting the evidence, or there are widely differing views on social and economic issues.

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Decision-Making, Judgment and Governance — client briefing paper

In the last decade, there has been an ever-increasing momentum behind making directors ever more accountable for the decisions they make on the boards of companies and other organisations.  Two of the most critical skills that directors require are the ability to make good decisions and to use sound judgment.  This paper explores a number of the influences which directors should be aware of which can profoundly affect situations they might encounter and how they can manage the risk this entails.

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Sustainability, Planning and Strategy for Not-For-Profit Organisations — client briefing paper

Recently, there has been much attention given to the concept of corporate sustainability.  Although this has application to many companies, it is even more relevant to not-for-profit organisations.  The oldest institutions in the world, from hospitals to universities, schools to professional associations, have mostly been not-for-profit organisations. If not-for-profit groups are to be successful in the long-term they need to develop sound strategies to ensure their financial health but not at the expense of achieving the benefits for the communities for which they were established.  Application of relatively simple strategic planning techniques can be of great benefit to most not-for-profit organisations.

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Due Diligence in Venture Capital Financing — client briefing paper

“Due diligence” inspections are a key part of any investment transaction made by venture capital providers.  Due diligence inspections can be thought of in two parts: business due diligence, and legal due diligence.    Business due diligence looks at the risks specifically as they relate to the venture and business environment and whether the venture capital investor is likely to be able to gain the relatively high rates of return required.  Legal due diligence is ensuring that there are no unexpected problems relating to the legal structure, existing equity participants, existing financial liabilities, and security of both real and intellectual property.    Adequately preparing for due diligence inspections can save a considerable amount of time.  This paper gives an overview of the two processes so entrepreneurs can prepare for due diligence inspections.

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Venture Capital Investment in Australia : an overview and key issues for entrepreneurs — client briefing paper

In last decade in Australia, there has been a substantial increase in the amount of capital invested in the venture capital market.  Although venture capital is used to fund only a small proportion of businesses, it is an important part of the capital market, particularly for the funding of both start-up companies and buy-outs.  This paper gives an overview of the venture capital market in Australia and outlines some of the key issues that entrepreneurs need to consider if they are to be successful in attracting venture capital investors.

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Profiting from Uncertainty : increasing board effectiveness through controlling and reducing risk, Local Government Human Resources Conference, Port Macquarie, NSW, November 2002

The traditional approach to risk management followed by many boards is to develop the accountabilities, strategies and policies for the organisation and then use some form of risk assessment process to determine the risk exposure. This paper argues for an alternative process which reverses the approach.  It starts with the assessment of risks and opportunities which face the organisation and then develops plans which optimise "upside" opportunity and limit "downside" risk.  Board structure is then adjusted to ensure optimal board involvement in areas of critical risk, with the appropriate membership and skills to optimise the impact of uncertainty.

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A Model for Assessing the Sustainability of Organisations; 9th Asia Pacific Confederation of Chemical Engineering Congress; Christchurch, NZ, September 2002

There are many approaches to the issue of corporate sustainability.  One of the most quoted is the concept developed by John Elkington, the "triple bottom-line".  The triple bottom-line refers to maintaining a balance between profitability, environmental responsibility and social responsibility.  This approach has the advantage of simplicity but has limitations. A model is under development to describe the sustainability of organisation, as a means of identifying areas of where sustainability is compromised and ways to improve long-term sustainability.  This paper considers a number of the issues relating to the triple bottom-line and how organisations can determine and measure their long-term sustainability.  It will provide a means for benchmarking against other organisations and industries.

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The Future of the Chemical Engineering Profession in Asia/Pacific; 9th Asia Pacific Confederation of Chemical Engineering Congress; Christchurch, NZ, September 2002

Chemical engineering as a profession started about 100 years ago.  In that first century the chemical industry as a whole grew very dynamically for the first 70 years.  In the last 30 years, parts of the industry showed signs of reaching maturity, becoming heavily commoditised.  Even the specialty segment became far more competitive and less profitable than in the previous 70 years.  In the most recent decade, there has been massive restructuring of the industry, particularly in Europe, resulting in much of the traditional high-volume commodity business moving to developing countries, mainly in Asia, and to the United States.  The traditional European chemical companies, along with their competitors in United States have invested very heavily in life sciences. The period of restructuring of the industry has presented the profession of chemical engineering with its greatest challenge.  This paper draws upon recent history, together with some projections about the direction of the industry and how this will impact upon the profession of chemical engineering in Asia/Pacific, in particular how the profession needs to reinvent itself to maintain its relevance in the 21st century.

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Principles of Crisis Management — client briefing paper

This article examines the principles of crisis management.  Of particular importance is the need to prepare, so the likelihood of crises emerging is substantially reduced.  Having a sound crisis management plan is a good way to prepare for a crisis and possibly avoid it but is also an essential element of good corporate governance.  This is becoming particularly important for directors of organisations, where having a crisis management plan reasonably could be considered to be a part of a director’s duty of care.   Failure to have acted can result in directors being held personally liable.  If a crisis does occur, there are a number of principles to follow.  In particular, admitting the problem and being as open in its resolution as possible, isolating management of the problem and broadening the issue will normally improve the outcome.

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The Specialty Chemicals Industry in Australia and New Zealand, 6th World Congress of Chemical Engineering; Melbourne, September 2001

Rationalisation of the global chemical industry that has taken place in the last decade has to some extent marginalised the specialty chemical industry in Australia and New Zealand.  Many small private and public companies have been bought by multinational companies and all have had increased profit pressure from imports.  As the industry has globalised and rationalisation of the local industry has forced consolidation of resources, much manufacturing has closed and moved to larger economies in Asia, North America and Europe.  This phenomenon has been a major force, both within the industry and with its customers. This has brought some unique forces into play which will have a lasting effect, both on the local industry, which has not been negatively influenced by the phenomenon of globalisation and also on the practice of chemical engineering in the region.  This paper examines the brief recent history of consolidation of the specialty chemical industry in Australia and New Zealand; the challenges and opportunities for the Australian and New Zealand industry to remain viable in the Asia-Pacific region and also to develop niche markets globally, and the implications for the practice of the chemical engineering profession in Australia in a business environment which has now changed permanently after deregulation of the Australian and New Zealand economies.

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Responsible Care and Product Stewardship, 2nd Australian Chemical Summit, Melbourne; July 1999

The Responsible Care programme has been active in Australia for 10 years and has delivered a major benefit to the Australian community, through improving the focus on the management of the risks associated with the chemical industry.  This paper will focus on the background of Responsible Care, a brief explanation of the Responsible Care codes and the benefits of the Responsible Care programme to the community and to business.  It will then explore implications of the decline of chemical manufacture in Australia on Responsible Care and effective Product Stewardship.

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Minor Product – Global Headlines : a case study of the gel-filled silicone breast implant issue, Conference of the Australian Chemical Industry Council, Leura, NSW, February, 1994.

This paper gives an overview of the silicone breast implant litigation as it was developing in the mid-1990s. This turned out to be one of the largest commercial insurance claims in history, impacting not only Dow Corning Corporation but other major medical device manufacturers.

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