The murray darling basin exorcizing the past
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The Murray-Darling Basin Exorcizing the past. NeWater Workshop – August 28 th 2007 Daniel Connell Australian National University. Past Present Future.

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The murray darling basin exorcizing the past

The Murray-Darling BasinExorcizing the past

NeWater Workshop – August 28th 2007

Daniel Connell

Australian National University

Past present future
Past Present Future

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living….

Karl Marx 1852 The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon

1990s 2000s attempt to make a fundamental cultural shift
1990s-2000s – attempt to make a fundamental cultural shift

  • Century old administrative system was based on close identification of interests between State govts and irrigation communities supported by wider public(ministerial discretion was/is central)

  • National Water Initiative 2004 - a rights and responsibilities system designed to manage a wide range of competing interests(courts meant to replace ministerial discretion)

National water initiative
National Water Initiative

  • Management of competing demands through water plans

  • Systems approach is fundamental

  • Political process to determine

    • Acceptable level of modification

    • then first priority is water to maintain sustainability-stability at that level

    • remainder is available for production


  • Long tradition of production first

  • Confusion re regional implementation

  • Conflicts between water quantity focus of the NWI and other public policy priorities

  • Widespread ambivalence re compliance

  • Monitoring and entitlement systems need to be redefined and redirected

  • Salutary fate of Gwydir water sharing plan

Positive factors but all contested at some level
Positive factors(but all contested at some level)

  • Significant cross-society agreement re aims

  • Acceptance major decisions are public policy

  • Institutional history re adaptation to climate variability

  • Tested forums for decision making

  • Strong institutional framework to build on

  • Idea of sustainability widely distributed

  • Long history of monitoring and data

  • Cultural values re fairness and equity reduce the heat of controversies

  • Robust political system and cohesive society


  • MDB is an example of the international dilemma

  • MDB crisis shows that major decisions re water are cultural and political

  • MDB reform debate highlights the importance of systemic institutional issues

  • MDB history reveals the power of the past to influence the future

Implications for future research
Implications for future research


  • past defines potential positively as well as negatively

  • strengths and weaknesses of socio-ecosystems are most clearly revealed under stress (eg droughts-floods, demand pressure)

    Societies in the northern and southern temperate zones have been managing climate variability for a long time.

    Can that experience contribute to future policy?