First Nations propose changes to Australia’s Water Act

The Water Act is ‘substantially inconsistent’ with Australia’s commitments to international conventions, a Traditional Owner group will today tell the South Australian Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN), which represents Traditional Owner organisations across the Murray-Darling Basin, will today give evidence to the Royal Commission.

MLDRIN’s submission to the Royal Commission asserts that the Water Act is inconsistent with Australia’s international obligations under the Biodiversity Convention and the Ramsar Convention, in that the legislation establishes weak procedural standards for Indigenous participation in water resources decision-making and falls short of the ‘robust involvement’ required by the conventions.

Real World Impacts

‘We are witnessing the real world impacts of excluding First Nations knowledge, cultural and law from water planning,’ said MLDRIN Chair and Nari Nari man Rene Woods.

‘The tragic state of the Baarka (Darling River) is a stark example of what happens when First Nations values, knowledge and interests are marginalised in water policy and legislation.

‘The Royal Commission represents an important opportunity to air our concerns and present proposals for change to Australia’s national water legislation.

‘The Water Act needs to be reformed to recognise and promote First Nations’ distinctive attachment to and authority relating to waters of the Murray Darling Basin.

‘Governments must be obliged to undertake serious negotiations with First Nations and deliver tangible outcomes.

‘That approach would help deliver river health based on First Nations’ knowledge as well as economic and restorative outcomes for First Nations’ communities,’ Mr Woods said.

International standards should be met

‘After decades of advocacy, Basin governments are beginning to acknowledge First Nations’ rights and interests in water,’ said Environmental Justice Australia lawyer Dr Bruce Lindsay.

‘Yet Australia’s Water Act and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan fall far short of international standards of recognising Aboriginal people’s unique connections to waterways.

‘The recognition of First Nations rights and interests in the Commonwealth Water Act is weak and falls short of international best practice.

‘As a wealthy, developed country and self-avowed global leader in water management, Australia can and should do better,’ Dr Lindsay said.

MLDRIN and EJA have collaborated to produce submissions and develop proposed amendments that will align Australian water management with international standards.

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