Theory and Practice in Australia
New Horizons in Environmental Economics series
Edited by Jeff Bennett
Chapter 4: State Administration versus Private Innovation: The Evolution of Property Rights to Water in Victoria, Australia
Edwyna Harris INTRODUCTION Historically, securing adequate water supply has been one of the fundamental issues confronting every generation of Australians since European colonisation. Cyclical, crippling drought is a permanent feature of the continent. From the squatters adapting land use patterns to limit the effects of water supply variability in the 1830s to the current emphasis on changing urban consumptive habits the question of water supply security is never far from the surface of public debate and intellectual musing. Recent reforms have signalled an historical, atypical willingness on the part of the government and users to move toward more sustainable uses of a resource Australians have long taken for granted. Gone are the days of water shortages being tackled through engineering feats of brilliance with attention now being turned to the institutional framework within which water exploitation takes place with a corollary emphasis on pricing. As a result, reform has seen many states introduce water markets as a way to restructure water thirsty industries such as irrigation. Markets will provide a means by which structural adjustment can take place away from low valued output on marginal lands to higher valued production in more suitable areas. In effect, this may well mean the shrinking of some major industries but it can also provide the opportunity for the growth of a more appropriate industrial structure in some regions, states, and, indeed the country as a whole. It is the current reforms that are the first, decisive step toward establishing an institutional framework that...
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