Concerted efforts are being made at state and federal levels to restore Australia's rivers and waterways to a healthy condition. Yet, there is little consensus on what constitutes a ldquo;healthy river” and even less on how to achieve this, or how far to go towards restoration. Some advocate removal of storages and weirs along rivers to revert to some natural state. Others, particularly water users, question the trade-offs involved in leaving more water in the rivers and how the costs of restoration are to be met. At present it seems that the major share of the costs is borne by irrigators, with the wider community essentially enjoying a “free-ride”. This situation is justified on the basis of the impactor pays principle whereby water diversions, primarily for irrigation, are held to have contributed most to degradation of the river systems. The alternative - beneficiary pays principle - is of more relevance where demands are made on resource users to mitigate environmental impacts or bring about environmental improvements, eg. healthy rivers, where the beneficiaries are the wider public and the general community. Many resource users are voluntarily undertaking action on private land to conserve biodiversity and achieve sustainability. In these circumstances, the cost-sharing principle should apply, with governments, interest groups and the community contributing to the investment required to attain the desired resource condition objectives.

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