Water Policy Reform

Water Policy Reform

Lessons in Sustainability from the Murray–Darling Basin

Edited by John Quiggin, Thilak Mallawaarachchi and Sarah Chambers

Agriculture in the Murray–Darling Basin of Australia represents a controversial ‘policy experiment’ comprising large capital investments, innovation and enterprise across a hundred-year period. This book, which contains contributions from some of Australia’s foremost economic, social science and public policy researchers and writers, examines the evolution of public policy frameworks that transformed water management from initial exploitation for irrigation as a dominant single use to a dynamic multiple use resource system.

Chapter 5: Variability and Uncertainty: Implications for Water Policy Impact Analysis

Thilak Mallawaarachchi, David Adamson, Sarah Chambers, Peggy Schrobback and John Quiggin

Subjects: development studies, development studies, environment, environmental geography, management natural resources, water


Thilak Mallawaarachchi, David Adamson, Sarah Chambers, Peggy Schrobback and John Quiggin INTRODUCTION Complexity, instability and variability are terms often associated with descriptions of natural systems of which the behavioural understanding is considered incomplete. By contrast transparency, stability and consistency are essential attributes of policy design. The evidence-based approach to policy design, the stated basis of The Guide (Murray–Darling Basin Authority, 2010), requires that the best available information is used, supported by ‘good science’ to fill in the gaps and ‘robust socio-economic analysis’ to justify the decision. Implicit in this is a process to construct a reliable information set to determine that the policy is in the best interest of society. In relation to the Basin Plan, the questions here are: how accurately does the behavioural understanding (data sets and the underlying scientific and economic assumptions of the natural resource issue) allow decision makers to determine the net social benefits from reallocating scarce water resources between competing uses. More importantly, does it really matter, if the process is a learning experience? Hydrological and socio-economic analyses, the two primary sources of knowledge informing water policy, are characterised by a high degree of uncertainty arising primarily from the data sets and underlying assumptions. The uncertainty associated with the information generated for water policy decision making is well acknowledged (Preston and Jones, 2008). This uncertainty arises from inconsistent time periods to which data refer, the purpose and methods used in primary data collections, the methods used in compilation and how the models that...

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