First Nations groups unite to call for Murray Darling Royal Commission

As hundreds of water activists gather in Canberra to demand action on rivers and climate change today, three peak Aboriginal organisations have issued a united call for a full federal Royal Commission to uncover the truth about the declining health of rivers in the Murray Darling Basin.

‘First Nations are the original custodians of our iconic inland rivers. For 60,000 years, our knowledge and management maintained a sustainable, productive ecosystem. Now, catastrophic fish deaths, toxic blue-green algal blooms and unsafe drinking water are causing distress and hurting our communities,’ said MLDRIN Chairperson Rene Woods.

‘First Nations across the Murray Darling Basin have borne the brunt of decades of declining river health and mismanagement. Sadly, despite billions poured into water reform, we can only see the situation getting worse,’ Rene Woods said.

Value Traditional Ecological Knowledge

‘The recent findings of the South Australian Royal Commission have shown that the Basin Plan does not give adequate respect to First Nations water rights, values and uses. Over 60,000 years of Traditional Ecological Knowledge of how water operates and ecosystems respond in the Murray Darling must be valued and employed in the understanding and management of the system,’ said Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations CEO Marcus Stewart.

‘The Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has failed to engage with First Nations’ people sufficiently, to address Article 8(j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). There is a requirement in the CBD to fully engage with First Nations people and to acquire their full prior informed consent with respect to biodiversity and planning for ecosystems in the Murray-Darling Basin,’ said Acting Chair of Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN) Michael Anderson (Eckford).

Only a full federal royal commission can get to the bottom of serious questions about the determination of Sustainable Diversion Limits, use of taxpayer funding and the recognition of First Nations water rights,’ Michael Anderson said.

Time for Action

‘Today we stand together to call on Prime Minister Scott Morrison and opposition leader Bill Shorten to put politics aside and establish a federal Royal Commission to provide the transparency this issue so urgently requires,’ Rene Woods said.

Collectively, the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations, Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations, and Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations provide a representative voice for many thousands of Traditional Owners across the Murray Darling Basin. We have taken the step of standing together on this issue as it is of grave concern to our collective membership,’ Rene Woods said.

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