Murray Darling Basin water rights: the psychology of allocation


 Researchers at the University of Adelaide's Adelaide Law School are surveying Murray Darling Basin stakeholders about their beliefs regarding water trading and ownership of water rights to help inform future policy.

"There has been much consultation about the legal rights regarding water allocation and ownership but very little research has been done on people's views about the underlying principles," said the University of Adelaide's Professor Paul Babie, a property lawyer and principal researcher on the project from the Adelaide Law School.

"We are especially interested in finding out people's views about the nexus between the rights of an individual and the greater good of the community."

Stakeholders, either direct or indirect, are invited to respond to 29 questions, most of which are in the form of indicating the strength of their agreement or disagreement with statements about water rights. The survey takes about 15 minutes to complete.

"A primary source of conflict over water policy is a sense, among at least some stakeholders, that current arrangements represent some form of injustice."Professor Paul Babie

For example, stakeholders are asked if they strongly agree or disagree with statements such as:

  • It is good policy and good practice to separate water rights from land rights and allow water rights to be separately traded.
  • It is socially beneficial/overall better for the country to allow water rights to be traded independently of land.

Participants are also asked to choose statements that best describe their beliefs about the relationship between land rights and water rights, including:

  • Land and water rights should be permanently linked and not separately tradable.
  • There should be some limited flexibility to trade water rights independently of land rights.
  • There should be some limitation on the extent to which water rights can be traded independently of land rights but otherwise significant flexibility.
  • It should be possible to trade water rights completely independent of initial allocations of water to land.

"We expect to receive a range of diverse views and want to do so in a small window of time so that we have a consistent insight into people's beliefs," said Professor Babie.

"A primary source of conflict over water policy is a sense, among at least some stakeholders, that current arrangements represent some form of injustice.

"Unless stakeholders believe that policy conforms to some minimum level of justice, they will be extremely resistant to government interventions.

"Insights from our research will enable policymakers and lawmakers to develop water trading policies that better reflect the views and beliefs of all Murray Darling Basin stakeholders, leading to better policy and better outcomes for the Basin as a whole."

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