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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WATER POLICY WITHOUT A GUIDE: WHERE TO NOW? The inaugural UQ Water Policy Workshop brought together some of Australia’s leading researchers on water policy to examine The Guide to the Draft Basin Plan. It was hoped that the Basin Planning process would resolve many of the outstanding problems of water policy in the Basin, some of which had been debated for decades. Instead, the debate following The Guide raised new questions, and reopened some that had seemed to have been resolved already. Since the release of The Guide, and the strong opposition it engendered, the politics of water have been transformed. Earlier, the Water Act 2007 swept away the structures of cooperative federalism centred on the Murray–Darling Basin Commission and replaced them with a top-down process undertaken by a Commonwealth government agency, the Murray– Darling Basin Authority (MDBA). At times, the approach of the MDBA appeared similar to that of the examples provided in the foreword, where the Chinese government ‘just told the people how much water they could have’. Such an approach was never likely to be sustainable in Australia. Irrigators’ rights to water had been allocated many decades ago; and a market for trading water entitlements has reinforced the social validity of those rights (this volume: Chapter 1 and 2). For this reason, it had long been obvious that the only way to reduce the total allocation of water rights was through voluntary purchases from willing sellers. The unwillingness of the MDBA to make this explicit was...

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