Sharing Australia’s water resource management journey on a global scale

Published 25 September 2017

Australia has a lot to be grateful for when it comes to Water Resource Management however, there are many lessons which continue to be learned and a proactive response is required if the National Water Initiatives are going to be fully realised. These were the key takings from a variety of stakeholders from New Zealand who participated in a tour of the Murray-Darling Basin, facilitated by the Australian Water Association. 

The delegation consisted of representatives of the Waikato River Catchment, based in the upper North Island, and includes Lake Taupo, City of Hamilton and the Coromandel Peninsula. Their purpose was to understand the Murray-Darling Basin Plan as a worked example of effective water resource management and to spend time together in an informative manner. Representatives included that of the region’s largest hydro-electricity provider Mercury NZ Limited, local council representatives, local iwi (Maori) leaders, farmers, policy makers and other energy providers, all with invested interests in the future of their catchment. 

Water reform has remained limited in New Zealand until now, as the growing threat of climate change and population growth puts greater stress on water resources, building the need for a holistic solution. As a result, there was a desire to learn from Australia’s water resource management approach and the implications of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The delegation’s tour included visits to the following government agencies, organisations and people to understand the different perspectives around water management in the Murray-Darling Basin:

  • Department of Agriculture and Water Resources – Water Policy and Water Markets divisions and Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences
  • Murray-Darling Basin Authority (Aboriginal partnerships, River operations, socio-economics, trading)
  • Department of Environment – Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder
  • Australia National University – Centre for Water Economics, Environment and Policy
  • WaterNSW
  • Albury City Council
  • Wiradjuri  and Ngunnawal elders
  • Goulburn Murray Water
  • Russell Pell – Dairy farmer
  • Rubicon Water
  • Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (Water for Victoria, Victorian Water Register, Aboriginal Water Unit)
  • Frontier Economics
  • Australian Conservation Foundation
  • Victorian Environmental Water Holder
  • Bureau of Meteorology


The Australian Water Association acknowledges the contribution of all parties who provided insights to the delegation as to how water is stored, managed, purchased, traded, used, valued and monitored from the upper reaches of the Murray River down to the lower reaches of the Coorong and Murray Mouth. The time spent by the delegation allowed for an understanding of the different trade-offs that exist within the Murray Daring Basin Plan and the use of water trading systems to ensure social, cultural, environmental and agricultural objectives are achieved.

Initial discussions highlighted that water reform takes time and requires cross governmental agreement, which continues to remain an ongoing challenge in Australia. As an example, one of the significant components still to be achieved here in Australia is for each state to have developed accredited water resource plans by 2019. It was identified by many as well that developing a market and trading system in any situation needs effective monitoring to ensure what is being allocated is actually being received. But most importantly, before establishing any market system, an emphasis must be placed on establishing effective relationships to understand what is truly valued as the water management decisions being made today will have implications for the future. 

The New Zealand context, while slightly different to that experienced within the Murray-Darling Basin (concerns are greatest for polluted rivers rather than the quantity of flows along the river) has a similar challenge in that water remains to be seen as an economic, social, cultural and environmental good. The tour was able to receive great insights into how a complex system can be managed and the water reform challenges that continue to lie ahead. The delegation experience has empowered each participant to work together to enable effective long-term investment that delivers a benefit for all members within the Waikato Catchment region.

Welcome to Country by Ngunnawal elders
Welcome to Country by Ngunnawal elders
Presentations from Murray-Darling Basin Authority
Presentations from Murray Darling Basin Authority
Presentation from Aboriginal Water Unit, DEWLP
Presentation from Aboriginal Water Unit, DEWLP
Inspection of farming irrigation infrastructure in Goulburn Murray region
Inspection of farming irrigation infrastructure in Goulburn Murray region
Receiving Welcome to Country by Wiradjuri elders and welcome from Albury City Council while at Wonga Wetlands
Receiving Welcome to Country by Wiradjuri elders and welcome from Albury City Council while at Wonga Wetlands
Delegation tour Hume Dam while meeting with WaterNSW
Delegation tour Hume Dam while meeting with WaterNSW
A Dairy Farmer’s perspective, meeting Russell Pell
A Dairy Farmer’s perspective, meeting Russell Pell
Receiving presentations from The Bureau of Meteorology on their products and services
Receiving presentations from The Bureau of Meteorology on their products and services