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Water—the ‘oil’ of the 21st Century?

Water—the ‘oil’ of the 21st Century?

Two hundred years after Coleridge penned his famous line—Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink—the state of water supplies in New Zealand and Australia will be the focus of a one-day conference at Victoria University.

The Conference, organised by Victoria’s Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies, with the support of the Australian High Commission, will be held in the Hunter Council Chamber on 27 October.

Centre Director, Associate Professor Lydia Wevers, says the aim of the multidisciplinary conference is to learn from the experience of New Zealand and Australia in dealing with water issues.

“Because Australia is a naturally ‘dry’ country, Australians have always known that they had a ‘water problem’ but because New Zealand is a naturally wet country we have assumed that it wasn’t an issue for us. But with regular headlines in New Zealand about river pollution, Treaty of Waitangi claims and droughts, we’re increasingly realising that the issues each country is facing are very similar and there is much we can learn from the other’s experience.

“While the world’s attention has often focused on oil as the resource in greatest demand, many scholars believe it is the demand for water that will be the defining issue of this century. Factors that will drive that demand include climate change, population growth, pollution and the growth and industrialisation of countries such as India and China.”

Issues to be canvassed in the Conference include the role of rivers in history, water as a resource and customary rights. Speakers include: New Zealand conservation historian, David Young, author of the award-winning book, Woven by Water—Histories from the Whanganui River; Dr Paul Sinclair, Director of the Healthy Rivers Campaign at Environment Victoria; Dr Marion Savill, Environmental Microbiology Leader at Environmental Science & Research (ESR); Dr Melita Stevens, Principal Scientist and Manager of Water Quality Research in Melbourne; Tony McAvoy, Barrister and Adviser of the Aboriginal Lands Council; and Andrew Erueti, Lecturer at Victoria’s School of Law.

The keynote speaker is Wayne Ngata (Ngāti Ira, Te Aitanga a Hauiti, Ngāti Porou) who will speak about Tolaga Bay’s Uawa River and its significance. Mr Ngata is a lecturer at Tairawhiti Polytechnic in Gisborne and a great-grandson of Sir Apirana Ngata.

Associate Professor Wevers says the Conference is the fifth in the Trans-Tasman States of Mind series held since 2001.

“Conferences about the New Zealand and Australia relationship invariably look at defence and economic issues. While they are important, with this series, and with the support of the Australian High Commission, we are attempting to spread the net more widely to look at other issues we have in common. Last year we looked at the place of indigenous peoples in both countries and this year the focus is on water.”


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