Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations

What do we do at MLDRIN?

The Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations as an advocacy body performs a number of functions for Traditional Owners in the Murray-Darling Basin.


Water Rights

MLDRIN’s core work involves advancing our First Nations members rights to protect, manage and own water resources on their traditional Country.


United Voice

MLDRIN speaks up as one collective voice to defend the right and interests of the First Nations members’ traditional country and its people.



MLDRIN facilitates and advocates for the participation of Nations with different levels of government to influence decisions on Natural Resource Management.

Advocating for Aboriginal Water Rights in the Murray Darling Basin

MLDRIN’s core work involves advancing our member’s rights to protect, manage and own water resources on their traditional Country.

First Nations have inherent rights to use and manage waterways, in order to sustain our cultural traditions and build sustainable livelihoods for our communities. These water rights have been articulated by MLDRIN through the concept of cultural flows.

These rights are recognised in international agreements and protocols, as well as in Australian domestic laws and policies. The Australian Government is a signatory to The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). UNDRIP recognises Indigenous peoples’ rights to own, use, develop and control their traditional lands, territories and resources. It also recognises our right to maintain and strengthen a distinctive spiritual relationship with our lands and waters.

Australia has also ratified the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which requires governments to respect and preserve the knowledge, innovations and practices of Indigenous communities relating to sustainable management of biological diversity.

At the National level, Australian government water policy recognises the rights of First Nations to access water on their Country. The National Water Initiative (NWI), Australia’s flagship National water policy requires all jurisdictions to provide for Indigenous access to water resources and inclusion of Aboriginal people in water planning [1].

However, Australian governments have consistently failed to meet these commitments.

Reliable estimates of Aboriginal water ownership in the Basin are hard to find, but a 2010 study commissioned by the Murray Darling Basin Authority found that Aboriginal people had ownership rights over just 8,237 megalitres (ML) of water [2]. That’s just 0.00007% of the total Basin Sustainable Diversion Limit! [3]

Australian Aboriginal people are marginalised from the modern water market.

Likewise, Indigenous people face challenges having their voices heard in decisions about how water should be managed.

MLDRIN consistently advocates for reform and resourcing to support Aboriginal access to water for a range of cultural, environmental and economic outcomes. Achieving these goals will mean building principles of justice and equity into decisions about how Australia’s water resources are allocated.

There are some exciting opportunities and projects underway, including the National Cultural Flows Research Project and commitments from State governments to support Aboriginal participation in water markets.

Speaking up as a Collective United Voice for the Murray Lower Darling River Indigenous Nations 

MLDRIN’s founders recognised the need for a strong, united voice that would make sure First Nations’ concerns and aspirations around water are heard.

MLDRIN provides a unique forum for diverse Traditional Owner groups to connect, share ideas and speak up for the river systems of the Murray-Darling Basin. As a Peak Body for Traditional Owners in the Southern part of the Basin, MLDRIN can assert First Nations interests and push for improved outcomes at the highest levels of government.

MLDRIN’s representative structure means that First Nations, through their Delegates, have a direct influence on the projects, lobbying and advocacy we undertake. It also means that, when our Chair and Directors address Water Ministers, Senators and other key-decision-makers, they are genuinely representing the interests of thousands of Aboriginal people across the Southern Basin.

Some of the work MLDRIN undertakes to represent Traditional Owners include:

  • Lobbying Ministers and decision makers at all levels of government
  • Preparing detailed submissions and reports on a range of matters
  • Presenting to Senate Inquiries and reviews of key legislation
  • Presenting at conferences and workshops
  • Liaising with other key stakeholders in government and the private sector
  • Making media statements and communicating First Nations interests to the general public

Capacity Building

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 contributed to the recognition of Aboriginal interests in legislation and policy such as the Murray Darling Basin Plan. A critical step in building First Nations’ power in this process is to increase the capacity and capability of Aboriginal people and organisations.

Water management and ownership is a complex business. To be able to participate on an equal footing, First Nations need to build ‘water literacy’, technical skills and networks.

MLDRIN supports progress through key activities including:

  • Providing important information directly to member Nations
  • Running training workshops and programs
  • Engaging Traditional Owners in the roll-out of tools such as the Aboriginal Waterways Assessment
  • Advocating for funding and opportunities that allow Nations to build their capabilities
  • Employing Traditional Owners on projects and in our day-to-day business

Check out our MLDRIN’s key projects page for more information on current capacity building activities.



[2]  W.S (Bill) Arthur (2010) The Murray-Darling Basin Regional and Basin Plans: Indigenous water and land data. Murray Darling Basin Authority, Commonwealth of Australia. MDBA Publication No 20/12

[3] Murray Darling Basin Plan S. 6.04 (2) Note. p. 28