Indigenous groups call for water justice in Murray-Darling Basin

A section of the Murray Darling Basin.

An alliance of 46 Sovereign First Nations from across the Murray Darling Basin has proposed a new partnership between government and traditional owners to ensure key reforms on Aboriginal ownership and management of water entitlements are fulfilled.

The Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) Board and the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN) have written to Parliamentary Secretary to the Environment Minister Bob Baldwin and, Murray-Darling Basin Authority chair Neil Andrew to call for reforms that will secure key water reforms for the Basin’s growing Aboriginal population.

NBAN chair Cheryl Buchanan said: “We are asking Mr Baldwin and Mr Andrew to join with us as partners to actively progress a reform agenda that will secure the rights and interests of Aboriginal people in water.

“So often, the public debate about water management is framed as a contest between irrigators and the environment. Many Australians may not be aware that the Sovereign First Nations are the traditional custodians of the Basin’s water resources. We have rights, recognised at the international and domestic level, to manage and access these resources,” she said.

MLDRIN chair Darren Perry said: “The degradation and loss of our rivers, wetlands and groundwater — our cultural landscapes — has been an absolute disaster for us and it is time for a new start.

“We are not trying to take the water away, we are asking for a fair share of the resource that our people nurtured for thousands of years.”

“More than this, we are not just a stakeholder in basin water with private interests, we are sovereign First Nations with a cultural heritage in the water and land, with legal rights and interests and a deep commitment to manage for the benefit of our peoples as well as the environment and economic well-being of the Australian community.

“Aboriginal populations in the basin are growing. We have continuing rights and aspirations to access water resources to sustain our cultural identity, care for our ancestral homelands, support community development and build sustainable enterprises. We are ready to collaborate with government to achieve these aims and objectives.”

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