In 1998, the Yorta Yorta people called for a gathering of First Nations from along the Murray River. Yorta Yorta people had been engaged in a years-long Native Title case, pursuing recognition of their rights over land and water in Northern Victoria.
Sadly, the Native Title claim was unsuccessful, and First Nations saw the need to unite and build solidarity for the protection of land and water.
That first gathering of the Nations along the Murray resulted in the establishment of the MLDRIN Confederation.
The original membership included delegates from ten First Nations along the Murray and Lower Darling Rivers.
During the height of the ‘Millenium Drought’, MLDRIN worked to establish a voice for First Nations in the growing national debate about water reform and restoring the health of the Murray-Darling Basin.
In 2006 MLDRIN was registered as a not-for-profit company with the Australian Securities and Investment Corporation (ASIC).
The MLDRIN Constitution outlines the Company’s objectives and the rights and responsibilities of the First Nation delegates, who make up its membership.
An initial membership of ten Nations had grown to twenty-five by 2017, with representation from all three States in the Southern Basin as well as the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
Throughout the early 2000’s MLDRIN developed greater strength as a united voice for First Nations connected by the rivers and waterways of the Murray Darling Basin.
MLDRIN’s advocacy resulted in recognition by key government agencies including the then Murray Darling Basin Commission (MDBC).
MLDRIN argued for greater First Nations’ involvement in plans and activities focussed on restoring river health in the Basin. This advocacy led to the creation of the Indigenous Partnerships Program, as part of The Living Murray initiative.
In 2007 MLDRIN Delegates developed the Echuca Declaration, a groundbreaking statement that asserts the inherent rights of Rivers and the Traditional Owners as custodians.
The Echuca Declaration also formalized the concept of Cultural Flows: water entitlements that are owned and managed by First Nations for a range of cultural, social, environmental and economic purposes.
The ideas contained in the Echuca Declaration have contributed to important research and ongoing reform of water management in Australia.
In 2012, the Murray Darling Basin Plan was signed into law.
It included new requirements for governments to identify Indigenous people’s objectives and outcomes and consider First Nation’s values, including Cultural Flows.
From its inception, MLDRIN has worked to advance the rights and interests of First Nations in the management of Australia’s Murray-Darling river system.
This advocacy has contributed to the recognition of Aboriginal interests in legislation and policy including the Murray Darling Basin Plan, Victoria’s Water for Victoria policy.
MLDRIN continues to work with Member Nations and key government agencies to progress Aboriginal rights in the implementation of these plans and policies.
In 2017, MLDRIN secured an agreement with the Victorian government to deliver Aboriginal Waterways Assessments, which allow First Nations to document their water-related cultural values.
These on-ground projects support ongoing advocacy as we work towards achieving water justice.
In 2018, MLDRIN secured a major, bi-partisan shift in policy with the commitment of $40 million from the Australian Government to support the purchase of water entitlements for First Nations economic and cultural needs.