Disaster in the Murray Darling Basin: Explanations and Consequences

Thursday, 9 May 2019,
6.30pm - 8.00pm

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Old Geology Lecture Theatre, Science Road, The University of Sydney



Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law (ACCEL)

In 1994, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to a major reform of water resource management, a key component of which was the principle of ecologically sustainable development. This recognised the fact that past practices of over-allocation had impacted heavily on species, river health, ecosystems and wetlands. The instrument which COAG adopted to achieve these goals was the water trading market. The reform project has been reinvigorated each decade including by the Commonwealth government intervening to take control of the Murray Darling Basin in 2007 under the Water Act 2007 (Cth). The 2012 Murray Darling Basin Plan is a consequence of that. How is it then that after 25 years of so-called reforms the Murray Darling Basin is in such a state of crisis – as evidenced by the Menindee Region Fish Kill in the summer of 2018-19? What strategies are in place to deal with the existing ecological crisis while meeting the growing challenges of climate change?

This forum examines the origins of the challenges and the state of the rivers, the legal frameworks and socio-economic ramifications.

The Speakers

Professor Sarah Wheeler (University of Adelaide)“What are the Facts about the impacts of Water Recovery on Rural Communities in the Murray-Darling Basin?”
Professor Richard Kingsford (UNSW)“Fixing the state of ecosystems in the Murray-Darling Basin – are we on track?”
Dr Emma Carmody (EDO NSW)“When nature revolts: advocating for an environmental rule of law in the Murray-Darling Basin”

Professor Rosemary Lyster (Chair), Professor of Climate and Environmental Law and Co-Director of the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law, The University of Sydney Law School


Sarah Wheeler is the Associate Director of Research with the Centre for Global Food and Resources, University of Adelaide. She was an Australian Research Council Future Fellow from 2014-2018, and is an Associate Editor/editor of three water and economic journals and on five editorial boards. She has currently published over 115 papers on issues associated with water, climate change and farmer adaptation behaviour and was a member of the Australian Academy of Science’s Investigation of the causes of mass fish kills in the Menindee Region NSW over the summer of 2018–2019 and is an expert on water policy in the Murray-Darling Basin

Richard Kingsford is a river ecologist who has worked extensively across the wetlands and rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin. He also worked with many different communities and governments across this region. His research has influenced the policy and management of the Murray-Darling Basin, including through involvement on state and federal advisory committees. He is the Director for the Centre for Ecosystem Science UNSW, Sydney.

Emma Carmody is an environmental lawyer with particular expertise in water law. She is a senior solicitor at Australia’s oldest public interest environmental law centre, EDO NSW, where she advises farmers, Traditional Owners and conservation groups about water laws at all levels of government. She also serves as legal advisor to the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in Switzerland, is a visiting fellow in the Faculty of Law at the University of NSW and on the board of the Alliance for Water Stewardship International. In 2018, Emma won the Dunphy Award for “most outstanding environmental effort of an individual” at the NSW Environment Awards. The award was made in recognition of her efforts to enforce water legislation and expose alleged non-compliance and maladministration in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Rosemary Lyster is the Professor of Climate and Environmental Law in the University of Sydney Law School and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law. Rosemary’s special area of research expertise is Climate Justice and Disaster Law. She has published two books in this area: Rosemary Lyster and Robert M. Verchick (eds.) Climate Disaster Law (Edward Elgar: 2018) and Rosemary Lyster Climate Justice and Disaster Law (Cambridge University Press: 2015). Rosemary has been selected by the Australian Financial Review as one of the 2018 ‘100 Women of Influence’in the Public Policy category and in 2015, Rosemary was appointed by the Victorian government to a three person Independent Review Committee (IRC) to review the state’s Climate Change Act 2010 and make recommendations to place Victoria as a leader on climate change.