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Environmental Justice Australia

  • Project: River Laws Program
  • Amount: $90,000 over two years
  • Year(s) Funded: 2019

Strengthening community voices in the governance of rivers and waterways

Water and waterways are key public assets for environmental, social and cultural reasons but they have been historically degraded and neglected. Environmental Justice Australia is working with community organisations to identify and implement legal and policy solutions that lift standards for waterway management, build capacity, and facilitate urban waterway community networks through practical support.

Kororoit Creek, restored by community groups over two decades. Credit: Colleen Miller

“EJA is collaborating with community groups for a new generation of ‘river laws’. Our work in this area aims to use the law not only to change how we manage and govern rivers but change how we relate to rivers and shift the stories law has to tell about waterways. Indigenous communities have done this since time immemorial. Now the rest of us need ways of treating waterways as living entities. The law can be part of that process.” Bruce Lindsay, lawyer, Environmental Justice Australia.

Actions and planning for Victoria’s waterways, including the outcome of the Yarra Strategic Plan, aim to be ambitious, robust and transformative. This project builds on several years’ work responding to the needs of communities for protection and restoration of waterways through improved governance and higher legislative standards (see Waterways of the West case study).


  • In a model based on sucessful past experience, the project will be delivered by a lawyer with relevant experience and a community organiser who will lead in the development of community engagement and network opportunities.
  • The project consolidates and extends a range of legal, policy and organisational tools adapted for protection and restoration of urban waterways. These tools strengthen community voices in the governance of rivers and waterways.
  • EJA will support a network of community-based water ‘protector’ organisations through skill-sharing, capacity building, collaboration and active participation by and with those communities including:
    • support to engage and lead policy and law reform processes for protection of Melbourne’s west;
    • engage in preparation of the Yarra Strategic Plan, the key legislative instrument for protection and restoration Melbourne’s iconic river;
    • brief relevant councils and government agencies, exchange views and ideas;
    • participate strategically in policy and law reform opportunities with community partners for land use planning and environmental protection outcomes, including systemic and individual (case by case) opportunities;
    • progress opportunities to work with communities on the Barwon River and the Gippsland Lakes for waterway reform through the ‘participatory design’ method.
  • EJA’s work on Waterways of the West has been influential on outcomes including recommendations for greater waterway protections, in particular their work on the Barwon River System.  The Action Plan from the Victorian State Government is due for release in September 2020.