Christine Freak

Christine Freak

Christine has a Masters of Environmental Law focusing on Water Law in the Murray-Darling Basin, and a Bachelor of Political, Economic and Social Sciences from the University of Sydney. Christine has worked professionally in environmental and agricultural water policy. Christine is currently the Portfolio Policy Manager for the NSW Irrigators’ Council, and has worked in the Land & Water Policy Branch of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. Christine’s research interests include the intersection of socio-economics, environmental management and water law. Christine has previously conducted field research in Laos and been involved with projects in Ghana and Tanzania.

Perceptions by Agricultural Water Users of Optimal Methodological Considerations for Socio- Economic Impact Assessment in the Murray- Darling Basin

In times of severe water insecurity, how do we achieve community resilience alongside environmental resilience?

Australia, as the driest inhabited continent on Earth, is currently experiencing the worst drought in recorded history. The largest river basin in Australia, the Murray-Darling Basin, is a multi-jurisdictional basin facing environmental, social and economic pressure from increasingly severe water insecurity.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan demonstrates a unique approach to achieving environmental, social and economic objectives. The Plan’s legal architecture is complex, primarily because the Australian Constitution does not give jurisdiction to the Federal Government for water management, so it remains with state/territory governments. Consequently, the Plan is based on the Federal Government’s “external affairs” powers obtained through international environmental agreementsThis results in a constitutionally necessary environmental focus to govern the multi-jurisdiction basin.

However, public support (and thus state/territory government cooperation) for the Plan requires social and economic outcomes to be neutral or beneficial. This results in a unique and largely untested approach whereby social and economic resilience becomes a necessary co-requisite to environmental resilience. How does this shape the dynamics of environmental, social and economic objectives of Ecologically Sustainable Development between cooperation and conflict?

This presentation asks the question: how do we assess socio-economic impacts of water reforms in a way that fosters unity towards a multi-objective and multi-jurisdictional basin-scale plan? There is significant precedence for legislated Environmental Impact Assessment, yet, Socio-Economic Impact Assessment remains less widely understood in this context.

This presentation will outline the preliminary findings of a pilot study into the ideal requirements of Socio-Economic Impact Assessment as perceived by agricultural water users in the state of New South Wales. The aim of this research is to guide policy development toward a valid and reliable methodology for Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of water reforms within the Murray-Darling Basin Plan’s legal framework.

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