Is the environment getting its fair share? An analysis of the Australian water reform process using a social justice framework

Document Type

Journal Article


Springer New York LLC


Faculty of Business and Law


School of Law and Justice / eAgriculture Research Group




This article was originally published as: Lukasiewicz, A., Syme, G. J., Bowmer, K., & Davidson, P. (2013). Is the environment getting its fair share? An analysis of the Australian water reform process using a social justice framework. Social Justice Research, 26(3), 231-252. The final publication is available at Springer here


Australia is currently undergoing fundamental and far-reaching reforms in water management that have been prompted by wide-spread environmental degradation caused by past water management practices. This paper is an extract of a wider study that explores how governments incorporate social justice into water reform policies and how that effort is perceived by non-government stakeholders. Using a comprehensive Social Justice Framework, we used a mixed methods approach that combines a quantitative content analysis of key water reform documents with a qualitative semistructured interview process to identify and analyse three principles of social justice that apply to the environment as a water stakeholder: need as a distributive justice principle, representativeness and accuracy as procedural justice principles. We found that the environment is identified as a legitimate water stakeholder whose needs are meant to be assured through the water reform process. However, the environment suffers from a crisis of identity. Other water stakeholders claim to speak for the environment but say different things. Thus, due to a diversity of voices, strong government intention to satisfy environmental needs is diluted in practice. Furthermore, the prerogative to define and measure environmental needs through science, while deemed to be fair and objective, leads to unintended consequences that complicate management and disenfranchise less scientifically capable stakeholders. Overall, we believe that the formal recognition of the environment as a stakeholder in water reform is a significant forward step but its crisis of identity must be resolved before the environment can fully utilise its new role as a stakeholder.