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Senator Thorpe strengthens Restoring Our River Bill, achieves crucial improvements for First Nations water rights

Following weeks of negotiations, Senator Thorpe has this morning reached an agreement with the Albanese Government to strengthen the Restoring Our Rivers Bill.

This Bill was a long-overdue opportunity to update legislation, policy and resourcing arrangements to ensure they address the enduring rights and aspirations of First Peoples in the Murray Darling Basin. While the deal with the Greens strengthened the plan, it did little to secure any of the substantive measures for strengthening First Peoples water rights  that were put forward by expert witnesses in the senate inquiry.

Senator Thorpe’s proposals aimed to embed the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), to which Australia is a signatory, into the Bill. While many of these requests remain unsupported, the agreement is a small step in the right direction. Disappointingly, the proposal to ensure that First Nations benefits can come through delivery of the 450 GL from WESA did not get support.

She has reached agreement to strengthen First Peoples water rights through the following measures:

  • $20 million in funding for a program to support Basin First Nations to undertake cultural flows planning, to be delivered through a First Peoples-led program and in a way that ensures equitable access to this funding for every Nation, while ensuring inclusivity, transparency, and accountability in the allocation of resources for cultural flows planning.
  • A mandate for the Water Act review to consider whether the Act is consistent with the principles of UNDRIP. Auditing legislation against the principles of UNDRIP is a crucial component of implementing UNDRIP, and this is a positive step towards achieving this.
  • The review of the Basin Plan will be strengthened to mandate reviewing how water resource plans adhere to the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent.
  • An additional Basin First Peoples representative on the MDBA board to bring it to  two representatives, with a view to ensuring men’s and women’s cultural water knowledge can be incorporated into advice.
  • The objects of the Bill will be further strengthened to take into account spiritual, cultural, environmental, social, and economic matters relevant to Indigenous people, including ‘in relation to their knowledge, values, uses, traditions and customs.’


These quotes are attributable to Senator Lidia Thorpe, Gunnai Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung woman and Independent Victorian Senator representing the Blak Sovereign Movement:

“This agreement will secure crucial funding for self-determined cultural flows planning and is a small step towards ending the continual exclusion of First Peoples from water management and respecting our water Sovereignty.”

“The original bill contained nothing for First Peoples, and the Greens deal did very little to strengthen First Peoples rights, despite calls from legal experts, environmental groups, community groups and irrigators that this work is long overdue.”

“While this represents a missed opportunity to update water laws to embed the principles of UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), I am pleased that the government has at least agreed to mandate that the upcoming reviews of the Murray Darling Basin Plan and Water Act will assess their compliance with the principles of UNDRIP, including Free, Prior and Informed Consent.”

“The $20 million for 40 Basin First Nations to undertake cultural flows work will allow over 40 First Nations in the Basin to undertake crucial cultural flows work to facilitate Nation building and strengthen their Sovereign rights and cultural obligations to manage water and keep Country healthy.”

“First Peoples in the Basin have enduring Sovereign rights and cultural obligations to manage and care for our lands of waters.”

“There is still a long way to go to properly strengthen the Sovereign rights and cultural obligations of First Peoples to care for our lands and waters, and I will continue to fight to make this happen.”


Quotes attributable to Brendan Kennedy, Tati Tati Millu Wudungi (Murray River man) and Deputy Chair of Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN):

“Cultural Flows and Cultural Flows planning by Nations is critical to the health of our people and Country. The Thorpe-ALP deal delivers what we hope will be the first instalment of funds to progress self-determined Cultural Flows work by Nations. Self-determination means priorities are set by us, and that our funds are managed by our Nations, or our self-determined First Nations’ representative bodies if we prefer. That’s our choice”.

“The Act is supposed to include the best available science. That includes our cultural flows’ science.” 


Quotes attributable to Grant Rigney, Ngarrindjeri man and Chair of Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN):

“On behalf of MLDRIN and our member Nations, we thank Senator Thorpe for her significant advocacy in securing Cultural Flows funding. This would not have been possible without Senator Thorpe doing the hard yards for Basin Nations.”

“The new provision listing First Nations in the Objects of the Act is a step in the right direction … however, we  continue to seek the full implementation of UNDRIP within the Act, and subsidiary instruments as an urgent priority.”  




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