213 21 Water governance in Queensland implications for Wild Rivers declarations in the Lake Eyre Basin Poh-Ling Tan Introduction Governance is often mistaken to mean decision-making solely by governments. Today, water governance refers to transparency of processes, clearly defined responsibilities and accountabilities, and multi-level and multi-party participation in decision-making. Internationally, it is accepted that the process of making decisions needs to be broadly inclusive of public institutions but also the private sector, stakeholders, the general community and marginalised groups. Good governance stresses the importance of hearing many voices, particularly those often not previously heard. This emphasis on effective public participation is not new it is an internationally accepted principle for management of natural resources. At its core, those directly affected by decisions or development initiatives (stakeholders) should have the opportunity to influence and meaningfully contribute to decisions. Australia’s National Water Initiative 2004 endorsed public participation as a priority principle in water planning (Council of Australian Governments 2004a). While the type of engagement under the National Water Initiative was open to interpretation, the objectives of public participation are undisputed: it provides confidence in reform processes and ensures openness and transparency. Public participation constrains arbitrary decision-making by requiring the decision-maker, the executive or the Minister or his or her delegate, to consider the views of the community. In Queensland, the Water Act 2000 and Wild Rivers Act 2005 (now repealed) both contain processes to implement public participation in water governance and management. Three principles of governance relate to the current debate over the Lake Eyre Basin rivers (Fig. 21.1). The first is getting the voices of the community heard, particularly those of the Aboriginal community, the Traditional Owners of the land (see Chapters 8 and 9). The second is the principle of transparency how decisions get made, the data used, the information underpinning the decision, the ‘trade offs’ made (see Chapter 18), effective documentation, and public availability of the reasons for the decision. The third principle, not often talked about in Australia because we often take it for granted, is the upholding of the rule of law. A key aspect is that law should not change at someone’s whim or fancy. There should be a stable legal framework that citizens understand and can utilise to plan the community’s affairs, while allowing for adaptive management. Such change should be managed well and based on transparent reasons that are acceptable to the broad community.
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