Intensified Calls For Indigenous Voices In Australia’s Water Management

4 Dec 2020 by Staff - Water Diplomat
SYDNEY, Australia

The position earmarked for a permanent Australian Indigenous representative on The Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s board remains vacant more than a year after it was announced.

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that Indigenous representatives in the Murray-Darling Basin, federal politicians and irrigators are all demanding the Australian Government deliver on its overdue promise of a First Nations representative to lead national water management.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is the principal government agency in charge of managing the Murray-Darling basin in an integrated and sustainable manner.

Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations vice-chairman Grant Rigney told The Sydney Morning Herald that the delay in making the appointment was unacceptable, which has been attributed largely to a hold-up in New Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt getting states to sign off on the changes.

“I find that an unjustifiable excuse, something should've been done earlier,” said Rigney who represents First Nations people in the southern basin.

National Irrigators Council chief executive Steve Whan told The Sydney Morning Herald that he recognised there had been difficulties during interstate consultation and recent changes of water ministers, but said that “even with all those things it’s taken far too long”.

Independent senator Rex Patrick added to calls for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to speed up the process.

“This was supposed to be an inclusive action by the government but it is fast becoming a slap in the face for Indigenous river communities. The time has come for the Prime Minister to intervene,” Senator Patrick told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Recent research by Griffith University shows that, while Aboriginal people in the New South Wales area of the Murray-Darling Basin make up almost 10 Percent of the total population, they hold only 0.2 Percent of the available surface water. In addition, almost one fifth of Aboriginal water holdings by volume were lost between 2009 and 2018, which is at least 17.2 Percent in standardised terms.

The research also finds that "neoliberalism" has had a significant effect on water and natural resource management in Australia, with “the most obvious” example of this being the creation and proliferation of water markets by the state.