WIT Press

The Cultural Politics Of Environmental Water Management In Australia


Free (open access)





Page Range

29 - 41




291 kb

Paper DOI



WIT Press


S. E. Jackson


Australian water policy is a world leader in the area of environmental water management, having established a legal requirement to provide environmental flows in all jurisdictions. Indigenous advocates are closely examining the various policy options developed to acquire water for the environment for their social justice potential. In the pursuit of opportunities to secure water for Indigenous use, they argue that instruments that deliver water to the environment could serve as model institutions through which to redress the historical neglect of Indigenous water rights and the transparently inequitable distribution of water. Deploying a political strategy that is seen by some Indigenous groups as analogous to the struggle for recognition of the rights of aquatic ecosystems to water, considerable effort is going to the development of water entitlements to protect ‘culture’ (termed ‘cultural flows’) and tradeable entitlements under the control of Indigenous communities. In water scarce and over-allocated regions, market-based water buy-back programs are perhaps more politically feasible than claims to water based on human-rights norms. This paper will describe the Indigenous water rights strategies developing in Australia under neoliberal environmental governance regimes, showing how influential the discourse of environmental flows and marketization have been on attitudes to water, water distribution, definitions of water rights and notions of justice in water governance. Grounded in political ecology, the analysis will reveal cultural biases in the environmental water management sector and the consequences for minority groups seeking to have their water needs met and their distinct ontological perspectives on water recognised.


Indigenous water rights, cultural values, water governance, environmental water management, environmental flows