From water supply to water governance

Godden, Lee and Ison, Raymond (2010). From water supply to water governance. In: Davis, Mark and Lyons, Miriam eds. More Than Luck. Ideas Australia Needs Now. Sydney: Centre for Policy Development, pp. 177–184.



Water is a perennial public policy issue in the sunburnt country. Australia has at last retreated from ‘making the desert bloom’ as a basic policy position.

Remnants of that dream remain, however, in a ‘supply-side’ approach that favours technological and engineering fixes to water supply and irrigation, and in water policy debates that focus more on the country than the city.

So far, political choices about water have been largely framed as the need to resolve water supply crises, to confront the over allocation of water, and to ensure sufficient water for food production and regional enterprises. Only recently has the political pendulum begun to swing in favour of environmental flows and the sustainability of aquatic ecosystems, rather than prioritising the consumption of water by people and industry. Much money and a great deal of effort has been spent to achieve water policy objectives in the face of pressing concerns such as climate change, but effective on-the-ground implementation still seems a long way off.

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