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Thursday, February 15 @ 4:45 pm - 8:00 pm

In 2017, four rivers have been given the status of legal persons: the Whanganui in NZ, the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers in India and the Rio Atrato in Colombia. This extension of legal rights to rivers is groundbreaking and largely unprecedented, and have fundamentally altered the legal status of rivers in law. There is a great deal of uncertainty about what this novel legal development will mean in practice. For instance, the rivers have received their legal rights in different ways (via legislation or judicial decision), for different purposes (environmental protection, religious beliefs, and indigenous values) and by using different legal forms as the basis for legal rights and personhood. How will these different mechanisms translate into new legal frameworks for managing the health of the rivers into the future?

Erin will give an overview of the way that legal rights and personality have been granted for rivers around the world, and the challenges and opportunities this is already creating for river management. She will present the results of her research on the use of legal persons to manage environmental water in Australia, which can both help and hinder long term river outcomes.

In Victoria, the new Yarra River Protection (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Act 2017 establishes a new policy and planning framework to improve protection and management of the Yarra River. Design of the Yarra River Act is influenced by the desire to achieve long-term, integrated management in a complex urban waterway. The Act sets out a broad range of legal tools, including strategic planning, alignment of the actions of public agencies, and a commitment to establish the Birrarung Council. This body will be the ‘voice’ of the Yarra River, and ‘advocate for protection and preservation’ of the river. The members of this Council will include two Wurundjeri representatives, reflecting the enduring relationship between indigenous Australians and the Yarra River.

Bruce will provide an overview of the new Yarra River Protection legislation, and the leading role of Environmental Justice Australia in building community engagement and support for a new way of managing Melbourne’s urban river.


Erin O’Donnell is an environmental water law and policy specialist. She has worked in environmental planning and management and water governance since 2002, in both the private and public sectors. Erin’s research explores the role of the new legal institutions and organizations in delivering efficient, effective and legitimate environmental water management in the context of water markets, and is informed by comparative analysis across Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Chile. Erin’s recently completed PhD examines how environmental water organizations construct the aquatic environment as a legal person, with responsibility to hold and manage water rights on behalf of the environment. Her research findings are broadly applicable to the emerging field of legal rights for nature, as well as corporate governance for environmental outcomes, and the use of markets as a form of regulation in other environmental and resource management areas. Erin is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Resources, Energy and Environment Law at the Melbourne Law School. More on Erin’s work can be found at her blog: http://linesonthewater.blogspot.com.au/

Bruce Lindsay is a lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia, where he has worked, since 2013, on various law reform projects and cases, especially relating to water, biodiversity, planning and Aboriginal rights. He is also currently teaching environmental law at the Australian Catholic University’s Thomas More Law School. He has a PhD in law from the ANU and a Masters in Environmental Science from Monash University.


Ross House Room 4.1

247-251 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Victoria 3000 Australia

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Date: February 15

Time: 4:45 pm - 8:00 pm

Event Category:

Organiser: River Basin Management Society


What an incredible occasion to bring together people from different places and perspectives with a shared caring for country and our catchments in Australia.

At the RBMS Awards Gala our community comes together in recognition of the outstanding contributions that have been made to waterways and catchment management in Australia.

Learn more about the RBMS Awards here

Australian Stream Management Conference

The Australian Stream Management (ASM) Conference is an opportunity to share knowledge and learning in stream and integrated catchment management. It provides a collaborative forum for discussion and debate on new and emerging issues, practical challenges encountered, experimental research findings, emerging trends and recent innovations.

Learn more about the ASM Conference here

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