Sharing the Pain of Water Reallocation: Creating Consent by Taking Fairness and Justice Seriously

Document Type

Book Chapter


Faculty of Business and Law


School of Business and Law-Deans Office




Syme, G., & Nancarrow, B. (2005). Sharing the Pain of Water Reallocation: Creating Consent by Taking Fairness and Justice Seriously. In: Cryle, D., & Hillier, J. (eds) Consent and Consensus: Politics, Media and Governance in Twentieth Century Australia. Perth, Western Australia: API Network.


Increasingly water resource managers in Australia are becoming involved with reallocating water away from irrigation towards the environment. On some occasions it is becoming evident that both surface and groundwater resources have been greatly over-allocated and that current usage cannot be sustained. In either event this has meant clawing back water from irrigators. Sometimes this has posed a substantial threat to the viability both of individual farmers and the community as a whole. The problem then becomes how planners can re-allocate water downwards in a manner that is acceptable to the community. In this paper we examine two traditions of research in assessing how consent by the community can be attained for re-allocation. The traditional planning based public involvement literature identifies the need for partnerships between the community and planners. This is compared with the concepts for procedural and distributive justice and fairness from the social psychologically based social justice literature. The similarities in findings between the public involvement and the social justice literature are discussed. It is concluded that fairness principles can be defined by the community within a public involvement program and used to develop inclusive community lead solutions to allocation problems. Finally, it is demonstrated that prosocial as well as selfish motives are significant in encouraging community participation. It is concluded therefore that the potential for community led processes founded around justice principles to create inclusion and consent is high.

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