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«Lukasiewicz, A. (2014). Fair water distribution. In: Opportunities for the Critical Decade: Enhancing well-being within Planetary Boundaries. ...»

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Lukasiewicz, A. (2014). Fair water distribution. In: Opportunities for the Critical Decade: Enhancing

well-being within Planetary Boundaries. Presented at the Australia New Zealand Society for

Ecological Economics 2013 Conference, The University of Canberra and Australia New Zealand

Society for Ecological Economics, Canberra, Australia.

Fair Water Distribution

Anna Lukasiewicz1*

MDB Futures Visiting Fellow, ANZSOG Institute for Governance, 22B12 Innovation

Building, University of Canberra, Canberra, ACT 2601 *Email: alukasiewicz@csu.edu.au Abstract The Millennium Drought in Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) has accelerated ongoing water management reforms, which have been marred by bitter confrontations between various user groups such as irrigators, rural communities and government officials. Accusations of unfairness and injustice abounded, however decision-makers have limited guidance of how to ensure fair water distribution. Previous work has identified that during the Millennium Drought, water distribution in the MDB was guided by three competing principles: need, equity and efficiency.

Drawing on data from the original research, this paper examines how these three principles have been implemented and what their consequences have been for different stakeholders (landholders, the environment, and Indigenous peoples) in one part of the MDB. The implementation of equity and efficiency has resulted in significant benefits to those who already benefitted from (and therefore contributed to) the agricultural system (irrigators more than croppers and graziers). This was balanced by the expressed recognition of basic needs for previously excluded stakeholders (like the environment and Aboriginal peoples), which potentially puts them in better stead for the future. Instead of determining which principle is fairest, this analysis explores the consequences of all three to illustrate the difficulty of achieving fair water distribution.

Keywords social justice, distributive justice, water reform, Murray-Darling Basin, drought Introduction Water governance in the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) becomes a salient political issue only during floods and droughts. It is currently the subject of ongoing reforms whose latest iteration started in the 1990s. The recent Millennium Drought (2000was a time of extreme water scarcity that exposed many conflicts over how we, as a society, use water in the Basin. In this paper, three principles of distribution evident in Australian water management are discussed: need, efficiency and equity.

Instead of suggesting which principle is fairest, the purpose of this paper is to explore the consequences of these three principles on different stakeholders (the environment, floodplain croppers and Aboriginal communities), and thus expose how our understandings of justice are affected by our point of view.

This paper starts with an explanation of the waterreform process during the Millennium Drought followed by a brief review of social justice concepts used in the analysis. The research methodology is then explained along with the case study, followed by a discussion of the results where the consequences of distributive justice principles are organised around the three stakeholder groups examined.

Water Reform

The current Australian water reform process started in the early 1990s and continues to this day with the implementation of the Basin Plan. Evaluations and descriptions of the reforms abound (Baldwin et al., 2009; Crase, 2008; Matthews, 2011) and a thorough description is beyond the scope of this paper. However several points most relevant to the MDB require emphasis. Historical water management focused on intensive irrigation as a way of developing the state (Hillman, 2008; Schofield, 2009).

This promotion of irrigation was seen to be in the public interest, with both the government and community supporting a growth ethic (Connell, 2007). In the 1970s and 1980s focus began to change from production to conservation (Godden, 2005) as community support for the environment came to the fore (McKay, 2002), prompting water managers to consider environmental and social policy objectives.

There was a move away from engineering works to catchment conservation and restoration (Hillman, 2006), highlighting the role of local communities as stakeholders.

The Millennium Drought started in the late 1990s in some parts of the country and broke in 2009 or 2010, depending on the location. It influenced the 2004 National Water Initiative (NWI: Australia’s blueprint for water reform) and spurred on the water reform process. The severity of the Millennium Drought was compounded by the growth in development, over-allocation of water licences in the MDB and climate change (Kendall, 2010). Engagement of diverse interests (such as environmental or local community interests) became recognised as important, and managers had to incorporate social and environmental considerations into a process that was previously purely technical. Following the launch of the NWI in 2004, access to water and water management for Aboriginal people became an important part of reforms.

The environment also emerged as a water stakeholder with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder acting on its behalf.

The two main government programs operating during the Millennium Drought were ‘Restoring the Balance in the Murray’ (the water buy-back) and ‘Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure’ (upgrades). The water buyback and infrastructure upgrade programs were designed to redress the over-allocation of water licenses for agricultural producers (especially irrigators) and return water to the stressed river systems. The water buy-back involves the permanent purchase of water licenses from agricultural producers, which are then used environmental purposes (Robinson, 2010). This program particularly affected NSW, with 72% of all water licenses sold coming from that state (NWC, 2009). The infrastructure program is meant to promote both efficiency and sustainability (Harwood, 2010; MDBA, 2009). It aims to assist the rural sector to adapt to water security by improving the efficiency and productivity of water use (Robinson, 2010). The upgrade program is essentially another way of buying water since the Commonwealth government invests in irrigation infrastructure in exchange for some, or all of the water savings, which are then used for environmental purposes (Productivity Commission, 2009).





Social justice

Social justice as described by social psychologists is a type of justice that looks at the allocation of benefits, like bargaining power, resources or fundamental rights and duties, in a society (Prilleltensky and Nelson, 1997). The two most researched components of social justice include distributive justice, which deals with how resources are distributed in a group (Kymlicka, 2002); and procedural justice, which focuses on the decision-making processes (Wendorf et al., 2002). The distributive and procedural components of social justice have been used previously to analyse fairness and justice of water management (Baldwin and Ross, 2012; Gross, 2011;

Howard, 2010; Syme et al., 2000; Syme et al., 1999). More recent work by Lukasiewicz et al. (2013a; 2013b) developed a Social Justice Framework to comprehensively identify and describe social justice principles evident in the MDB water reform during the Millennium Drought. While this framework has three components of distributive, procedural and interactive justice, which analyse the resource distribution; decision-making processes and interactions between decisionmakers and stakeholders respectively, this paper focuses solely on an exploration of the distributive justice principles.

Deciding what is fair is complicated since evaluations of justice are subjective and tied to underlying beliefs, morals and values (Beierle and Konisky, 2000; Peterson, 1994; Rasinski, 1987). Social justice thus lies in the eyes of the beholder, meaning that an assessment of what is fair or unfair can change overtime within a society or significantly differ between societies and cultures (see Finkel, Harré, & Rodriguez Lopez, 2001 for an example). Furthermore justice evaluations will be affected by the scope of factors included, such as the timeline being considered, the scale at which an evaluation is made and the subject of the evaluation. A common example of how different timelines can affect justice evaluations is the debate over the rights of present generations over future ones. In this case the timeline is extended into the future. However the timeline can also be extended into the past; for instance when evaluating the justice of actions towards Indigenous peoples. Similarly, the scale at which justice evaluations are made is important as actions deemed fair at a national, or industry scale can be deemed unfair at a local level (Patrick, 2014). Indeed this has been the case with evaluations of the water buyback during the Millennium Drought, with government reports estimating the impacts of buying water from irrigators at a Basin-level, industry-wide scale judged them to be relatively low (NWC, 2010). However evaluations at this scale masked the significant impacts at a local level in a number of locations (Commonwealth of Australia, 2011). Justice evaluations are also dependent on who is the subject of justice (Sikor, 2013). An action that achieves justice for one group may leave another group worse off or unaffected. These considerations depend on how the evaluator decides their ‘moral community’ (Wenzel, 2004), i.e. those to whom justice is owed. A famous argument is provided by Stone (2010) who pondered what would happen if trees were given legal standing (and therefore be owed justice) the same as humans.

Different distributive principles can be followed in any decision (see Table 1) and while none is inherently fairer than any other, they are not all entirely compatible.

Equity is one of the oldest justice criteria, the definition of which remains elusive. All of its definitions imply some sort of proportionality – that the reward is proportional to input, contribution or deservedness (Deutsch, 1975; Diekmann, et al., 1997; Nadler, 1999; Syme, et al., 1999). Distribution based on need refers to the minimum requirement necessary for survival (Harding, 1998). Efficiency can be described as distribution that produces the most gains in production or consumer satisfaction without imposing losses (Whitley et al., 2008). Implementation of efficiency was meant to be achieved through efficient water markets that will reveal the value of water to existing and potential users, and create incentives for users to seek improved technical productivity, innovate and improve water use efficiency (ACCC, 2009; Robinson, 2009). Distribution based on any one of these principles will thus benefit different sets of stakeholders; be they the most deserving, efficient or needy.

Therefore following one or more of these principles is going to have justice consequences, especially if stakeholders evaluate decisions using a different principle.

Table 1. Definitions and empirical examples of three distributive justice principles

–  –  –

Source: based on Lukasiewicz et al. (2013a) Research Method This paper is a continuation of work done by Lukasiewicz et al. (2013a), who analysed ongoing water reform from a social justice perspective. The original research applied a justice framework (developed by the authors through compiling justice principles from existing literature) to an actual policy process to establish the social justice principles which guided water reform.

This paper builds on the original research by exploring the consequences of implementing competing principles of distributive justice on three different subjects of a justice evaluation: the environment, floodplain landholders, and floodplain Aboriginal communities. Data used for this paper comes from a larger study, on which the orignal research of Lukasiewicz et al. (2013a;b;c) is based. The original study used a content analysis of key water reform documents and semi-structured interviews about water reform with government and non-government respondents. It has been supplemented with updated references from the web to clarify the current situation.

Content analysis



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