Water Policy Reform
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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.
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Chapter 3: Why the Guide to the Proposed Basin Plan Failed, and What Can Be Done to Fix It

John Quiggin


John Quiggin INTRODUCTION The problems of managing the water resources of the Basin have been the subject of political controversy since Federation, and have become steadily more acute over time. A long sequence of Agreements, Plans and Initiatives has emerged from the deliberations of state and national governments, but none has provided an enduring solution. In some ways, this is a surprising outcome, at least for economists. There is a widely shared consensus among economists regarding the broad outlines of a policy response that would benefit most stakeholders within the Basin. Since the announcement of the National Plan for Water Security in 2007 (subsequently renamed the Water for the Future program) the Commonwealth government has dedicated a $10 billion ‘bucket of money’ to water policy, more than sufficient to finance a policy response on the required scale. Finally, the Water Act 2007, passed with bipartisan approval, set in motion a process leading to the determination of specific goals for sustainable water allocation. The first output of this process, the Guide to the Proposed Basin Plan, was released in October 2010. Hopes that the Guide would represent the beginnings of a solution to the problems of the Basin have so far not been fulfilled. Rather, the Guide has met with a strong and largely hostile reaction. The document was publicly burned at meetings of farmers. Statements from the Commonwealth Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Burke, suggest that the government is contemplating abandoning the Proposed Basin Plan embodied...

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