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 9: Informing Tough Trade-offs in the Murray–Darling Basin

Jeff Bennett

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


Jeff Bennett INTRODUCTION The harsh reality of life that we all (eventually) face as we grow up is that – in the words of the Rolling Stones – ‘you can’t always get what you want’. The tantrums of the two-year-old (mostly) give way to the recognition of constraints: Mum and Dad are not so generous that everyone in the family can have whatever they want whenever they want it. Parents inevitably face a tough time when demonstrating this ‘fact of life’. The process usually involves the imposition of rules and then enforcing those rules. A period of conflict often ensues: hence the tantrums. However, with consistency of application, the rules become well known and harmony within the family prevails. Society on a broader scale faces a similar context. The resources available are not so bountiful that all can satisfy their every desire. Choices have to be made that determine who gets access to which resources for what purpose. The coordination of people so that these choices can be made without disruptive and wasteful ‘tantrums’ is arguably the highest priority for society. Just as in the family context, the setting of rules and their enforcement is fundamental. The primary rules or ‘institutions’ that underpin the social coordination of resource use choice relate to the establishment and enforcement of property rights and the exchange of those rights between people. Some of these institutions are ‘external’ in that they are imposed on members of society by formalised organisations such as parliament and the courts that...

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