River Murray Water Justice: Does the Proposed Basin Plan Protect Our Water Rights?

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Podcast available HERE
  (MP3) 36Mb (or right click and select 'save target as' to download)

Water Action Coalition logoJointly presented by the Water Action Coalition and The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre

Allan Scott Auditorium, UniSA City West campus, rear Hawke Building, 50-55 North Terrace, Adelaide


The natural water resources of the River Murray are critical to the environment, economy and population of South Australia. Any Basin Plan that fails to ensure that South Australia receives a fair share of the water resources of the Murray-Darling Basin, for consumptive use and to sustain its precious environments, presents a significant threat to the rights of this state. In addition, South Australia's share will only be truly fair if it is sufficient to allow for the full range of natural variability of climate cycles, the projected impacts of climate change and the requirements of a growing population.

This forum seeks to discuss the legal matters of those rights at a community level, with an emphasis on South Australia, its history, the problems with sharing those rights and to discuss what can be done to achieve water justice for all South Australians.

The format for the Forum will consist of three keynote speakers (15 min each) with an opportunity for the audience to ask questions at the completion of the keynote speakers (20 minutes). The moderator for the Forum will be Associate Professor Wendy Lacey, School of Law, UniSA.

Forum Topics

  1. Brief History of Water Allocation & Creation of Property Rights as Water Shares - Professor Jennifer McKay, UniSA Professor of Business Law - presentation (pdf format)
  2. What are the Problems with Sharing Water between & within States? - Professor John Williams, University of Adelaide Dean of Law & Adam Webster, 2012 Fulbright Scholar winner
  3. What can be done to Achieve Water Justice for all South Australians, including indigenous Australians? - Shaun Berg, Berg Lawyers - written paper (pdf format)

Forum Key Questions

  • Given the consequences of water reform for South Australia during the Millennium Drought from 1997 to 2009, do South Australian's have a case for compensation when water use by upstream states is unreasonable?
  • What indigenous and citizens rights to water are being ignored by the Proposed Basin Plan?
  • Does the Proposed Basin Plan free trade and compensation provisions transform the state's natural water resources into private property and what are the implications given free trade agreements?
  • What laws can be used in the future to protect the public interest i.e. Common Law Public Trust Doctrine

About Water Action Coalition: WAC is a broadly based movement of community groups and environmental organisations seeking an informed and constructive debate on our water future. WAC supports policies that seek to ensure sustainable water supplies, without compromising the health of interdependent ecosystems. WAC submitted a comprehensive three volume submission to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority Proposed Basin Plan which is available from WAC's National Inquiries web page.

River Murray, Renmark        Goolwa Wharf Protext

Find out more about the fight for the River Murray.



Speaker biographies

Professor Jennifer McKay
Jennifer is the foundation director of the Centre for comparative water policies and laws which is a supported university research centre . The Centre Members have over 100 publications and have supervised 12 phd students in the last 10 years.  Currently Jennifer and centre members are chief investigators for the National Centres of Excellence in groundwater and desalination. Their research advises governments national and international on water laws and policies regarding the achievement of sustainable development in water governance.  Jennifer has been the divisional excellent researcher twice, she has had a senior Fulbright scholarship at UC Berkeley and has been recognized with awards from the Australian Water Association and the key to the city of Austin Texas. She has been a part time commissioner for natural resources on the Environment Resources and Development Court for 15 years.  Jennifer is a member of the editorial board of Water International and is the Asia Pacific coordinator for the International Water Law Association. Jennifer has been elected by the Australian Branch of the International Law Association to serve on the International Law on Sustainable Development Committee of the International Law Association. Jennifer also convenes the Water Management Law and Policy Interest Group for the Australian Water Association.

Professor John Williams
John Williams joined the Adelaide Law School in 1997 as a lecturer having completed his doctorate at the Law Program, Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University. Prior to his appointment as Professor in Law in 2006 he was a Reader at the Australian National University (2004-2005) and a Senior Lecturer (1999-2003) and Lecturer (1997-1998) at the Adelaide Law School. He has held visiting positions at the University of Victoria, BC (2007), the University of Cape Town (2001) and was the Menzies Foundation Fellow at Kings College London (2002).  John's main research interest is public law and in particular Australian constitutional law, The High Court of Australia, comparative constitutional law, federalism and legal history. In recent times he has developed his research to investigate water law and the regulation of the Murray-Darling. He has held a number of Australian Research Council and national competitive grants.  He has been co-editor and founder of the New Federalist, and editor of the Australian Journal of Legal History (now Legal History) and the Adelaide Law Review. He is a member of the Editorial Board of Legal History.  John is a member of a number of academic and government committees including the National Archives Advisory Council, Vice-President of the Australian Association of Constitutional Law, and the advisory committee of the Adelaide Festival of Ideas and chairs the South Australian Fulbright Committee. He has served as a member of the Advisory Board of the Don Dunstan Foundation and UniBooks Pty Ltd. Since 2009 he has been a consultant to the Good Offices Mission as part of the United Nations peace process in Cyprus.  In 2001 he was awarded a Centenary of Federation Medal.

Adam Webster
University of Adelaide PhD researcher Adam Webster has won a 2012 Fulbright Scholarship to research possible legal solutions to the dispute over the allocation of water from the River Murray.  The prestigious Fulbright Scholarship is the largest educational scholarship of its kind, created in 1946 to promote mutual understanding with the United States through educational exchange.  Adam will use his Fulbright Scholarship to examine the outcomes of interstate water allocation disputes in the US to see whether the legal solutions developed there could help with the resolution of similar disputes in Australia. "In particular, my research examines the dispute between the states of Australia over the allocation of water from the River Murray," Adam said.

Shaun Berg
Shaun Berg has worked as a lawyer in area of technology law for the last ten years. He has completed national and international transactions in the areas of biotechnology and software. His experience includes:
Commercialisation of FDA Approved Drug for Marataux Lamy Disease to US Pharmaceutical Company - market exceeding $2B.  Commercialisation of FDA Approved Drug for Hunter Disease to US Pharmaceutical Company - market exceeding $3B.  Commercialisation of new-born screening techniques to a US based institution, including consideration of IP issues, structuring of the licensing deal and supporting documentation - market exceeding $50M per year.  Management of patent portfolio for major public sector research hospital, including decisions to patent, shaping and structuring claims, prosecution and maintenance - number of patents exceeding 100.  Negotiation and Drafting of Production Investment Agreement, Completion Guarantee and other documents for the film 'Wolf Creek'.  Commercialisation of security application with Symantec including negotiation of term sheet, licensing arrangements and associated contractual arrangements.
Shaun Berg currently teaches 'Legal Issues in the Commercialisation of Technology' within the Master of Science and Technology Commercialisation Program at the University of Adelaide. This course is focused upon the creation of holistic strategies for control and use of Intellectual Property including Patents, Designs, Copyright, Trademarks and Trade Secrets.


While the views presented by speakers within the Hawke Centre public program are their own and are not necessarily those of either the University of South Australia or The Hawke Centre, they are presented in the interest of open debate and discussion in the community and reflect our themes of: strengthening our democracy - valuing our diversity - and building our future.

The copying and reproduction of any transcripts within the Hawke Centre public program is strictly forbidden without prior arrangements.