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Beyond contested interests in Australia’s water crisis

Projects for Coexistence: The Future of Food

IPCS in partnership with the Mildura Writers Festival

Thursday 21 October, 7.30pm on Zoom

Please register here.

A deluge of recent books and reports provide just one indication of an escalating water crisis in Australia. While the causes of today’s contestation over water can be traced back through Federation and colonisation, the past two decades have brought new issues to the fore. From traditional owners’ demands for recognition and allocation of cultural water, to the de-coupling of water from land and pressures on irrigators to compete in a newly deregulated market, to the ecological impacts of over-extraction, to aggressive transnational trade in water for profit, to the broader impacts of climate change on water availability—it is clear that water is now ground zero in a supercharged battle over incommensurable interests and values.

In their new book Sold Down the River, Scott Hamilton and Stuart Kells describe the Australian water market as ‘the greatest public policy disaster’ in living memory. Addressing these fundamental issues for our times, this panel asks, how might water be governed differently—in the interests of communities, growers of food, the environment, life itself?

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Date: 21 October 2021
Time: 7:30 pm - 9:30 pm Location: Online via Zoom

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Future of Food Projects for Coexistence



Rene Woods

is a Nari Nari man from southwest New South Wales. He has had a long involvement in Gayini (water) for Aboriginal people across the Murray Darling Basin. He grew up on the Murrumbidgee River where the river was always central to his family, his community, and their way of life. Rene is a strong advocate for First Nations people in the Basin and has worked in communities in both the public and non-government organisation sectors of the Basin. He is currently employed by the Nature Conservancy Australia as a Conservation Officer and has seen the success for communities that have Gayini and land under their ownership and control.

Sue Jackson

is a cultural geographer with over twenty-five years’ experience researching the social dimensions of natural resource management. Her research is focused on the interaction between Indigenous customary and state environmental governance and planning systems, as well as the meaning of water, its symbolic significance and material value. In a number of recent publications, Sue has examined settler-colonial water relations in the Murray Darling Basin and the development of Australian water management institutions. She is a member of the scientific advisory panels to the Murray Darling Basin Authority and the Lake Eyre Ministerial Council. Sue was awarded an ARC Future Fellowship in 2014 titled ‘Recasting the solutions to the Murray-Darling Basin crisis: recognising and valuing the role of Indigenous peoples’. She leads an ARC Special Initiative Project on the Water Cultures of the Murray Darling Basin and a water values project within the National Environmental Science Program’s North Australian Hub.

Scott Hamilton

is an expert in public policy, natural resource management and climate change. A member of the Energy Transition Hub at the University of Melbourne, he writes regularly for The Mandarin and other publications. He is a senior advisor to the Smart Energy Council and is co-host of a weekly climate program at Ticker News. With Stuart Kells he is co-author of Sold Down the River: How Robber Barons and Wall Street Traders Cornered Australia’s Water Market (Text 2021).

Stuart Kells

has twice won the Ashurst Business Literature Prize and has been shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award, the NSW Premier’s General History Prize (twice), the Victorian Premier’s History Award and the University of Queensland Non-Fiction Book Award. Stuart’s shorter pieces have appeared in The Paris Review, The Times, Lapham’s Quarterly, Smithsonian, The Guardian, National Geographic Traveller, LitHub and The Daily Beast. He is Adjunct Professor at La Trobe University’s College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce. Along with Scott Hamilton, Stuart is co-author of Sold Down the River: How Robber Barons and Wall Street Traders Cornered Australia’s Water Market (Text 2021).

Howard Jones

is an ex-wine grape grower based in the Coomealla irrigation area of NSW. He grew up on the Wimmera River and has a deep passion for the preservation of rivers and the wetlands. Howard has extensive experience in water management and the irrigation industry, including as a chair of several ministerial water boards and board member of Western Murray Irrigation. Howard chaired the Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group for 21 years. In 2007 the group won the prestigious National Theiss river management prize for a project that saw Murray River water flows delivered to 200 wetlands. Howard is currently chair of Southwest Water Users, is a member of the Australian Floodplain Association, Menindee Lakes Sustainable Diversion Limit Stakeholder Advisory Group and patron of the Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group.

Jason Alexandra

loves rivers, but is concerned about their fate. In 1995, he co-authored a special edition of the Australian Conservation Foundation’s journal Habitat – “The Darling: A river running out of time”, which highlighted the dire consequences of unchecked expansion of irrigation and floodplain harvesting. Shockingly, much of what he wrote about then has since transpired, with massive fish kills and dry riverbeds. It’s a disgrace, but Jason is still hopeful for some redemption for the rivers and their people. For more adaptive governance of the Murray Darling Basin, Jason believes we need to ferment change. We need more productive negotiations about just and sustainable futures, and less excuses, delays, and blame shifting. Jason makes a living as an organic farmer growing apples and timber, and as a consultant and researcher on governing water and natural resources. In the past, Jason held senior roles in national and international organisations, including as a Senior Executive at the Murray Darling Basin Authority where his responsibilities included native fish, salinity, climate science, risks and ecosystem assessment. Jason was a director of Land and Water Australia and has coordinated national R&D programs on climate, water, vegetation and biodiversity. Jason has completed multiple water and river projects, including on climate adaptation in the Basin. For the past six years he has been assisting the Mardoowarra-Fitzroy River Council in the Kimberley on their water and strategic planning. Many of his papers and reports are available on his research page.

Lauren Rickards

is a Professor in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, where she leads the Climate Change Transformations research program, the Climate Change Living Lab and the Urban Futures Enabling Capability Platform. A human geographer, Lauren researches the sociocultural dimensions of environmental change, notably in agri-food systems, and is a Lead Author with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Working Group II on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Lauren is an IPCS member and part of the team working on the Future of Food project.