Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Law and Justice


Business and Law

First Advisor

Professor Geoff Syme

Second Advisor

Professor Pierre Horwitz


Water allocation is a fundamental part of water resources management. Water allocation is often a contested process because it involves multiple uses and users of water. Issues of justice arise when resources are, or are perceived to be, in short supply. When water is allocated the rules for the distribution of the resource may result in just outcomes for some stakeholders but may create injustices for other stakeholders. Issues of scale thus form an important component of water allocation. This thesis draws from an amalgam of ideas on justice, scale and water management and aims to present a conceptual framework that explicitly utilises an understanding of scale and levels as a means to enrich the concept of justice in the context of the water allocation. The discovery that there was no existing conceptual framework described in the literature that explicitly addressed and defined water, scale and justice simultaneously and in sufficient depth revealed the necessity to develop such a framework hence providing the primary impetus for this study.

Two scales – a regulatory and an institutional scale – were identified using a specific issue facing water management within the Murray-Darling Basin in Australia, namely Domestic and Stock (D&S) dams. The management of D&S dams currently falls outside the formal water entitlement framework for the Basin and presents a scenario of perceived injustice in that water share holders pay for their water and rely on it for their livelihoods while those accessing water for D&S use do not pay for it and often it is for aesthetic purposes. Five levels within the regulatory and institutional scale were found to be relevant to this issue and comprised the federal, basin, state, regional and local levels. These levels described the boundary of the system under investigation and they defined the scope of the study. They also provided the means to identify the relevant legislation, strategy and policy documentation at each level within the regulatory scale and the relevant institutions and key decision makers that were interviewed at each level in the institutional scale.

Content analysis techniques were used to examine five regulatory documents and ten interview transcripts; one document from each of the five levels within the regulatory scale and two interviewees from each of the levels within the institutional scale formed the primary data source for the study. The texts were coded, categories were identified, ideas were clustered and three themes were developed. These themes were entitled: Broadening the Scope of Justice; A Continuum of Justice and The Dynamics of Justice. Each of these themes provided a different perspective of justice and contributed to the development of a conceptual framework entitled The Cycles and Spirals of Justice.

This study explored justice through the lens of the issue of Domestic and Stock (D&S) dams. The issue of D&S dams was taken up by a number of institutions and addressed via a number of policies and regulations. As it moved through the various levels of the regulatory and institutional scales it was perceived to be dealt with justly by some and resulting in injustices by others. Justice is in the eye of the beholder! Politics and power shifted the D&S issue around the system; it was reframed by institutions along the way to suit their mandates and their cause. What was deemed as a just way of dealing with D&S dams at one level was deemed unjust at another.

Three justice for whom categories were identified and explored through the case study, namely justice for social, economic or environmental concerns. They were found to vary between the levels of the regulatory and institutional scale and their positions on each scale shifted under extreme water scarce conditions. The case study illustrated the interdependency of social, economic and environmental concerns, the need to be fully inclusive of all three concerns within a scope of justice.

Striving for or managing for justice is not a static act; if justice is achieved at one level, it might not be at another. What is often perceived as a just outcome at one level of one scale could result in injustices at another level or scale. It is important to recognise that there exists at each level a cycling continuum of justice and injustice, and that because we are dealing with issues in a complex system we need to be cognisant of the relationship between justice and injustice in the decision making process. There exists a distinct possibility that we might be unaware of the injustices that our actions at one level might have at another. I have developed a conceptual framework entitled the Cycles and Spirals of Justice that helps make sense of the relationship between justice and injustice in the context of the water allocation decision making by explicitly utilising an understanding of scale and levels.

This is a transdisciplinary study so it is hoped that the findings of this research will contribute to building bridges between disciplines, enhance the current understanding of the concepts of justice and scale in the context of water allocation and ultimately contribute in some small way to water being used and distributed more justly and sustainably in the future.