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Shifting constructions of scarcity and the neoliberalization of Australian water governance

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  • Gareth A S Edwards

Abstract

This paper examines the discursive construction of water scarcity and its role in the establishment and ongoing legitimacy of Australia’s market environmentalist water reforms. It shows that climate was the dominant explanation for scarcity crises in Australia until the reforms commenced in the early 1990s, when it was overtaken by mismanagement. Since 2007 climate change has become increasingly prominent, particularly as a discourse explaining future water crises. Drawing on interviews with policymakers and analysis of water policy, it shows that the discourse of mismanagement has played a significant role in justifying the ongoing application of neoliberal policy mechanisms in Australia. Unlike in most accounts from other countries, in Australia neoliberalization has been facilitated by a discursive denaturalization of water scarcity. Yet, despite the reformers’ success in mobilizing scarcity in support of neoliberal agendas, collectivist goals continue to have traction, which is visible both in the failure of the National Drought Policy just before the reforms commenced, and particularly as climate change has become discursively prominent since 2007. This points to the utility of studying the neoliberalization of nature in Australia, confirms the dependence of market environmentalism on real or discursively constructed resource scarcity, and highlights the malleability and incompleteness of neoliberal natures. Keywords: Australia, water management, scarcity, neoliberalization

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  • Gareth A S Edwards, 2013. "Shifting constructions of scarcity and the neoliberalization of Australian water governance," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 45(8), pages 1873-1890, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:pio:envira:v:45:y:2013:i:8:p:1873-1890
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    1. Stephen Bell & John Quiggin, "undated". "The Metagovernance of Markets: The Politics of Water Management in Australia," Murray-Darling Program Working Papers WP6M06, Risk and Sustainable Management Group, University of Queensland.
    2. Joel Byrnes & Lin Crase & Brian Dollery, 2006. "Regulation versus pricing in urban water policy: the case of the Australian National Water Initiative," Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society, vol. 50(3), pages 437-449, September.
    3. R. Quentin Grafton & Michael B. Ward, 2008. "Prices versus Rationing: Marshallian Surplus and Mandatory Water Restrictions," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 84(s1), pages 57-65, September.
    4. Lin Crase & Brian Dollery, 2006. "Water rights: a comparison of the impacts of urban and irrigation reforms in Australia," Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society, vol. 50(3), pages 451-462, September.
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