Support for water reallocation to indigenous communities

A study of public attitudes about water management policy has found strong support for the reallocation of water from irrigators to Indigenous communities in the Murray-Darling Basin region of Australia.

Of the 2700 survey respondents living in the region, 70% said they would back the reallocation of 5% of irrigation entitlements to Aboriginal communities.

The study was led by Professor Sue Jackson from the Australian Rivers Institute (Griffith University) and co-authored by Associate Professor Darla Hatton MacDonald (University of Tasmania, pictured left) and Dr Rosalind Bark (University of East Anglia).

Professor Jackson said the research was the first of its kind to investigate public support for improving access to water for Indigenous people in Australia.

“Indigenous Australians have been historically excluded from water rights and now have very little control over water use. This new study showed firm support for redressing that injustice by reallocating water to Indigenous people,” Professor Jackson said.

“It also showed that around one-fifth of respondents were willing pay to improve the equity of water distributions, while almost a third wanted to see governments buy water for Indigenous communities.”

Associate Professor MacDonald, an environmental economist from the Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, said the study quantified what respondents were prepared to pay for the water reallocation.

“We estimated that households were willing to pay approximately $22 to see a more equitable distribution of water. If you aggregate that household response to the basin level, we can say that people are willing to pay about $74.5 million to reallocate water to Indigenous communities,” she said.

“This is almost double what the Federal Government has recently set aside to buy water for Indigenous nations in the Murray-Darling basin. These results can inform water policy, allocation processes and public debate about equity in water rights distributions.”

Professor Jackson added that “overall levels of support for reallocation in our context suggest that there is a reasonable prospect that a considerable number of Australians would endorse Indigenous advocacy for policy mechanisms to buy and hold water for Indigenous uses, irrespective of the purpose to which such water is directed”.

The study ‘Public attitudes to inequality in water distribution: Insights from preferences for water reallocation from irrigators to Aboriginal Australians’ has been published in Water Resources Research.

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