To First Peoples, water is the lifeblood that runs through Country, connecting Clans and Songlines while nourishing the land. We as First Peoples have never ceded our Sovereignty, and this includes our water Sovereignty.
We have distinct, enduring Sovereign rights and cultural obligations relating to the management and custodianship of our lands and waters. These rights are outlined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), to which Australia is a signatory but is yet to legislate (see here for more information on UNDRIP).
There is currently a bill before parliament to amend the Water Act 2007 (Cth) and update the Murray Darling Basin Plan, yet there is nothing in there for First Peoples.
This Bill as it stands represents the latest iteration of the colonial government’s exclusion of First Peoples from water management and the denial of our Sovereignty and rights to care for Country, which has had devastating impacts on the health of Country and water.
Throughout the Senate inquiry into the Bill, there was unanimous agreement from First Peoples and our representative bodies, environmental groups, irrigators, and legal experts, about what needs to happen to this Bill to strengthen our water rights and deliver outcomes for our people.
It is critical that the Albanese Government and Minister Plibersek do not miss this opportunity to fulfil some of the big commitments they have made promising water justice for First Peoples. I will not let this be another broken promise from the government, who talk big yet continue to exclude us and deny our Sovereign rights to manage Country.
I am currently working with the Government, and others in the parliament, to make sure that the Bill is improved, to embed First Peoples rights and ensure our knowledge and expertise are recognised as integral to water management and restoring the health of rivers and Country in the Murray Darling Basin. I am also consulting with a range of stakeholders to ensure that other aspects of the Bill, beyond the scope of First Peoples water rights, are amended to improve the health of the rivers and social, cultural and economic outcomes in the Basin.
There has been a clear message sent to the Albanese Government, Minister Plibersek and the Australian Parliament about what needs to be done to restore the health of Country in the Basin, strengthen First Peoples water rights, and ensure communities impacted by over-extraction and climate change are properly supported.
I will continue to fight to make sure they listen.
For more information about what needs to be done in the bill to address First Peoples water injustice, see my additional comments to the Senate Committee report on the Bill.
I will also continue to push the Albanese Government to make good on their other promises and begin a Treaty process immediately, so that each Sovereign language group can self-determine their own aspirations in relation to water access, use and ownership.