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Issue #1679      April 1, 2015

Murray Darling Basin people call for reform

First Nations people from across the Murray Darling Basin are calling for a new approach to the region’s growing Aboriginal population. Representatives from the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) board and the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN) gathered recently in Canberra to propose a partnership between government and traditional owners to secure key water reforms.

NBAN chair Cheryl Buchanan said the group had written to federal Parliamentary Secretary for Water Bob Baldwin and incoming Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) chair Neil Andrew detailing their position.

“So often, the public debate about water management is framed as a contest between irrigators and the environment,” Ms Buchanan said. “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.”

MLDRIN chairperson Darren Perry said the group was seeking a new partnership on water that would benefit the whole community.

“The degradation and loss of our rivers, wetlands and groundwater – our cultural landscapes – have been an absolute disaster for us and it is time for a new start,” he said.

The alliance, which includes representatives of 46 Aboriginal Nations, pointed out that a recent independent review of the Commonwealth Water Act and the National Water Commission’s 2014 National Reform Assessment report both highlighted the need to address First Nations’ rights and implement reforms.

“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 wellbeing of the Australian community,” Mr Perry said.

Key measures being called for include obtaining water entitlements – cultural flows – as well as communities being supported to manage water in their own right.

“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,” Mr Perry said.

The alliance is calling on Queensland’s new Labor government to engage with First Nations people to properly consider water resource plans as well as the impacts of coal seam gas and large-scale coal mining.

“Aboriginal populations in the basin are growing,” Mr Perry said.

“We have continuing rights and aspirations to access water resources to sustain our cultural identity, to 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.”

Koori Mail

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