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Water Politics in the Murray-Darling Basin

Water Politics in the Murray-Darling Basin

By Daniel Connell

In January 2007 the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, announced a $10 billion plan to reform rural water management. Most of the effort will focus on the Murray-Darling Basin.

In this book Daniel Connell explains why there is a crisis in the Murray Darling. He highlights the disastrous consequences of a century of fitful, reluctant “co-operation” between the six governments responsible for the region.

Connell argues that a new institutional system is essential – but a Commonwealth takeover is not the best answer. Instead, the Commonwealth government should use its constitutional and financial power to force the States to adopt national policies – and stick to them, whatever the local politics. The States would continue to play a substantial role but the controls would be tighter, the framework more comprehensive.

He also shows how the National Water Initiative, the great blueprint for water reform, has stalled with many of its most important recommendations ignored.

So far the public debate about the future of the Murray Darling Basin has concentrated on new technical projects and increased water trading. Connell argues that unless institutional change is given priority, hundreds of millions of dollars of annual investment will be frittered away – and the crisis will continue.


Prologue – The danger of boredom
Conversations with Goyder’s ghost
(A context for talking about water)
Beyond sober thought
(Governments take control 1880s – 1920s)
Excluding lawyers from paradise
(Establishing a public policy framework 1900s – 1980s)
Alignment of the planets
 (Another attempt at basin-wide management)
Talking sustainability dreaming production
(Contradictions within contemporary water management)
The chariot wheels of the Commonwealth
(Responsibility for reform – what should be done?)
Epilogue – Pragmatism, a philosophy of despair



A groundwater table with its saline time bomb just under the surface, large-scale irrigation, lower rainfall, burgeoning development, ever-increasing agricultural production, a massive river system if not yet at death’s door, at the very least in the emergency ward…
Connell did not set out to produce an Australian version of Armageddon, but business-as-usual along the MDB is simply not an option.

Graham Clark, The Courier Mail, 9 March 2007


Launch Speech by Peter Cullen

This speech was given by Peter Cullen at the launch of Water Politics on Monday 12 March at Australian National University.


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Published 21 February 2007
Publisher The Federation Press
ISBN 9781862876330
Australian RRP $49.95
International Price $45.00
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Australian History / Studies
Agriculture / Farm Management

Land and Water Australia Environmental Solutions Series

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