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New thinking on water policy

By Victoria Kearney - posted Tuesday, 14 February 2006

When I was a child I remember enjoying playing with “dot to dot” drawing books. It fascinated me that you had to follow a set of progressions in mathematics before you could see the big picture on the page. If you failed to follow the correct path of numbers the picture never looked quite right.

Today, I am reminded of this exercise while reviewing and analysing our different positions and progress to effective management of national water policy in Australia.

Why is it that we persist in doing things one way, when it seems simple to do it another?


In this article, I offer a reason for this inappropriate and outdated approach to policy management of issues critical to our human health and survival.

We continue to operate while ignoring the interdependence of natural resources and the ongoing health of our human environment. It is this lack of understanding and awareness of this interdependence that remains our barrier to progress. It is not about building mega departments or having cross political boundary “round table” agreements.

This approach only adds pressure to an already failing way of achieving positive outcomes. This approach just increases the workload of bureaucrats. It does not improve the overall management across different policy areas which may require us to work with many different stakeholders: particularly those who have very different ideologies or political positions to ourselves.

Water policy requires us to move across boundaries, across borders and across disciplines in a way that we have never worked before. This way of functioning requires a cultural and attitudinal change.

We need to view others not as competitors but as co-operative connections in improving the outcome of a resource which is essential for all.

Water is a shared resource. It is a natural resource, which has a role in the health and well-being of all in sustainable communities. It is also an economic commodity for some, and is essential for the production of our food. Water is viewed differently depending where you sit on the page of life in this country.


Water management crosses over many disciplines including the social, physical, business, philosophical and political arenas. It also crosses over the borders of our states and flows to the sea. However we still manage it in compartments separated by man-made cultural and political boundaries.

Water is essential for all life. Water is not separate from the:

  • capitalist shareholders in corporate agricultural companies;
  • banking business managers for family farmers; or
  • physical environmental outcomes of environmentalists protecting river flows.
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About the Author

Victoria Kearney is currently completing a Doctorate of Philosophy in Human Geography at Macquarie University. She has previously spent several years teaching and working in public health promotion and local government livability planning.

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