HDR Scholarship - Preventing Water Theft in the Murray-Darling Basin

Applications now open. A PhD scholarship is available to initiate and conduct research on the topic 'Preventing Water Theft in the Murray-Darling Basin'.

Project Supervisor

Additional Supervisors

Dr Laura Bedford (University of Melbourne)

Adjunct Prof Rob White (University of New England)

Dr Alexander Baird (Deakin University)


Melbourne Burwood Campus

Research topic

While some threats are undoubtedly climate induced the theft of water is playing an increasingly significant role in undermining and compromising Australia’s water security. In Australia, relatively little is known of the historical and contemporary context of water theft, and the parameters of the phenomenon remain under-researched. What is known is that ‘overuse and variable source replenishment’ has brought the problem of unauthorised water extraction to the national forefront.

This project will identify and critically examine water theft though a rigorous investigation of the key factors, scope, characteristics, motives and contexts of offending and compliance, resulting in a database of compliance and water theft offences in the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB). It will critically analyse the governance arrangements, the legislation, regulatory instruments, and policy related to freshwater management and distribution in the MDB; it will access the voices of stakeholders and communities impacted by water theft to understand the social, economic and environmental harms of water theft and, finally, it will develop a framework and policy recommendations of approaches for water theft prevention.

Project aim

This profiling of water theft will provide a foundation for conceptualising the prevention of water theft in the MDB and Australia more broadly. The project will identify water theft mitigation and prevention strategies that will benefit Australian industries, water providers, regulators and consumers. It will generate a compendium of data holdings across the various federal, state, territory, and local agencies related to water management and water theft in the MDB. The database will be developed to assist regulators, water permit users, and policy makers in decision making and practices that will enhance water security and compliance and prevent water theft. An online survey will capture experiences, attitudes and impacts of water theft from the Basin to give voice to and ascertain community perceptions. The project has a completion date of 30 June 2026.

Research questions include:

  1. What types of water theft are committed in different parts of the MDB?
  2. What are the drivers and motivations for water theft offending?
  3. What are the facilitating social, economic and political factors / enablers of water theft in the MDB?
  4. What are the impacts of water theft on humans, habitats and non-human species?
  5. Which theories and perspectives best explain water theft?
  6. How is water theft detected and prosecuted by Australian State and Federal agencies?
  7. What more can be done to prevent water theft and its impacts?

Important dates

Applications will remain open until a candidate has been appointed


This scholarship is available over 3 years.

  • Stipend of $33,500 per annum tax exempt (2023 rate)
  • International students only:  Tuition fees offset for the duration of 4 years. Single Overseas Student Health Cover policy for the duration of the student visa.

Eligibility criteria

To be eligible you must:

  • be a domestic or international candidate. Domestic includes candidates with Australian Citizenship, Australian Permanent Residency or New Zealand Citizenship.
  • meet Deakin's PhD entry requirements
  • be enrolling full time and hold an honours degree (first class) or an equivalent standard master's degree with a substantial research component.
  • be physically located in Melbourne for the start of the project

Please refer to the research degree entry pathways page for further information.

Additional desirable criteria include:

  • be familiar with the Murray-Darling Basin region/s
  • be interested in and passionate about the issues related to water policy and water justice

How to apply

Please email a CV and cover letter to Prof Reece Walters. The CV should highlight your skills, education, publications and relevant work experience. If you are successful you will then be invited to submit a formal application.

Contact us

For more information about this scholarship, please contact Prof Reece Walters

Prof Reece Walters
Email Prof Reece Walters
+61 3 924 46939