Providing for social equity in water markets: the case for an Indigenous reserve in northern Australia

Providing for social equity in water markets: the case for an Indigenous reserve in northern Australia Book Section

Water Resources Planning and Management

  • Author(s): William Nikolakis
  • Secondary Author(s): R. Quentin Grafton, Karen Hussey
  • Published: 2011
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • ISBN: 9780511991059

Abstract: Across tropical northern Australia there is a signifi cant Indigenous population which suffers from chronic socio-economic disadvantage. Against a backdrop of federally led national water reform, Indigenous peoples in jurisdictions across the region are seeking to have their social, cultural, and economic aspirations recognised and supported in water-sharing and market frameworks (Lingiari Foundation, 2002 ; Armstrong, 2008 ; NAILSMA, 2010 ). Currently there are no exclusive Indigenous rights to water, but rather what has been made available is a bundle of non-exclusive rights which seek to support non-commercial subsistence and customary activities (O’Bryan, 2007 ). There has been a lack of recognition of Indigenous rights to commercial access to water to address their economic aspirations (Jackson and Morrison, 2007 ). Only the state of Queensland provides statutory recognition for an allocation of water to Indigenous groups for cultural, social, or economic purposes (Jackson, 2009 ). Jackson and Altman ( 2009 ) argue that a heightened focus is required on equity issues to reduce the potential for unequal allocation of water resources in this period where a ‘new’ form of water property rights is being created. The authors go further to state that there is a pressing need to consider ‘the adverse socioeconomic impacts arising from the exclusion of a large and disadvantaged sector of the community from commercial opportunities arising from water trading’ (Jackson and Altman, 2009 : 41). Recognising Indigenous rights to water for commercial purposes in emerging market regimes will require governments to make a decision to provide for this as there are no legal directions compelling the executive to do so. This chapter argues that there are important social equity arguments to support an Indigenous reserve or entitlement in water market frameworks. This reserve or entitlement in emerging water market frameworks could help to meet the diverse aspirations of Indigenous people in northern Australia and support a broad range of initiatives to address chronic Indigenous socio-economic disadvantage. Jurisdictions have considered this as a policy direction. Furthering this to include Indigenous interests in emerging forms of water property rights builds on the philosophy of Fredrickson ( 1990 ), a seminal work on social equity which contends that public administration should aim to advance the interests of socially and economically disadvantaged groups (balanced against the needs of the market economy and democratic principles). This chapter examines literature on water markets, social equity issues associated with water markets, and initiatives to support Indigenous access to water in northern Australia.

Cite this document

Suggested Citation
William Nikolakis, 2011, Providing for social equity in water markets: the case for an Indigenous reserve in northern Australia, Book Section, viewed 07 August 2022,

Endnote Mendeley Zotero Export Google Scholar

Share this page

Search again