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Issue #1707      October 21, 2015

Water changes spark concerns

Aboriginal groups in the Murray Darling Basin are concerned about water. As one of his first acts as Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull transferred responsibility for water from the Environment portfolio to Agriculture, meaning it comes under auspices of National Party minister Barnaby Joyce.

“Aboriginal people of the basin have every right to feel that irrigators and big business will control the roll out of the basin plan to suit their own needs and not the needs of the environment or the protection of Aboriginal values”.

The peak traditional owner group in the southern Murray Darling basin, the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN), has called for a comprehensive assessment of the affect of water allowances to irrigators on cultural impacts.

And Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN) chair Fred Hooper said he was concerned Aboriginal water interests would be overlooked. “It also needs to be noted that Aboriginal native title rights and interests have not yet been determined on water and a legal challenge to determine this issue has not been ruled out,” he said.

Mr Hooper said the Commonwealth Water Act requires federal and state authorities to consider Aboriginal native title rights and interests on water when developing and implementing the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

He said the Aboriginal people of the Northern Basin feel that this has not really happened and that the Commonwealth and states need to have a close look at the Native Title Act and how it relates to water.

“We have been working very closely with the Murray Darling Basin Authority during the development of the plan and now during the implementation of it,” Mr Hooper said.

“We have had some gains but we feel these gains will be eroded away under the decision of the Turnbull government and their deal with the National Party to move the water portfolio to the very people who destroyed the rivers in the first place.

“Is this about the protection of the environment of where we all live, or is it about winning votes?

“In this case Aboriginal people feel it is about winning votes and not about the protection of the environment and the protection of Aboriginal rights to water.

“Aboriginal people of the basin have every right to feel that irrigators and big business will control the roll out of the basin plan to suit their own needs and not the needs of the environment or the protection of Aboriginal values and uses within the Murray Darling Basin, given what we have seen over the past 227 years.”

MLDRIN chair Darren Perry, a Ngintait (SA) man, said that according to an independent stock take, state governments have submitted 36 projects that will include the construction of infrastructure at key points along the river, to reduce water recovery targets under the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

“These supply projects involve serious direct impacts on culturally significant landscapes and changes to the way water will be managed in the Southern Basin,” he said.

“The stock-take report is a valuable document, but it provides no further clarity on the way these supply projects, and the resulting reductions in real environmental flows, will affect traditional owners’ rights and cultural values.

“Already, we have seen major disturbance of cultural heritage. As these projects are rolled out across the basin, we need to know how they are going to affect our rights and obligations to care for country and sustain our traditions and knowledge.

“Assessing cultural heritage impacts on a site-by-site basis is important, but we also need to understand the collective impact of these projects, and cutting the water recovery target, across the scale of the Basin.

“The Commonwealth has invested in the National Cultural Flows Research Project, to document Aboriginal water-related cultural values in the Basin. We are concerned that these supply measure projects could jeopardise those values, before this important research is completed.”

Koori Mail

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