Australian water policy reform: lessons learned and potential transferability

Lin Crase, Jeff Connor, Sarah Michaels, Bethany Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


This article sharpens consideration of aspects of policy transfer to address climate change and gives greater attention to the context that might support efficient adaptive resilience. Using the example of Australian reforms to water policy, we evaluate how different elements of policy proved more (less) successful in facilitating efficient adaptation to climate variability and thus expose elements that might be more (less) attractive as candidates for policy transfer. Overall, we find that Australian policy reforms in the water sector provide useful guidance in some instances and not others. Establishing caps on extraction, flexible water markets and individual carry over rights generally facilitated flexible and efficient adaptation, and could be transferred. Related policy concepts, like formulating clear water planning rules and entitlements, are worth considering for implementation elsewhere, even if the groundwork on governance is a prerequisite. We also note the importance of shaping drought responses from government in such a way as not to distort the incentives for individual adaptation, and there is some evidence of this working in the Australian setting. Achieving transferability of these policies, however, may be a challenge. Australian policies around ‘hard infrastructure’ investments have generally proved less desirable and ideally should not be considered as a roadmap. These relate specifically to: (1) extravagant augmentation of urban supply; (2) using infrastructure to supposedly improve irrigation efficiency for environmental water provision; and (3) governments’ infrastructure responses after flooding. None of these approaches is consistent with the aim of fostering adaptation to a more variable climatic future. Key policy insights Australian water policies that have focussed on capping water extractions, development of flexible markets and specifying rights to allow greater flexibility have generally worked well against a changing climate, and could be transferred. The development of clear planning rules and entitlements also proved important, although the conditions to favour transfer are difficult to engender. Policies dealing with hard physical infrastructure have proven problematic and their adoption elsewhere is discouraged, even if transfer is more amenable. Encouraging more individual adaptation to flooding is a particularly significant challenge, even in a country renowned for drought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)641-651
Number of pages11
JournalClimate Policy
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 27 2020


  • adaptation
  • drought policy
  • flood policy
  • policy transfer
  • water policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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