Rural water

The Federal Government has announced an investment of $9.2 million to design an enduring arrangement for First Nations peoples to own, access, and manage water in the country.

First Nations have been calling for enduring water holding arrangements for more than a decade.

Currently, First Nations peoples hold rights to about 40 per cent of Australian land through native title – yet own and control less than 0.2 percent of Australia’s surface water entitlements.

Federal Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, said water runs through the heart of many First Nations. And it’s central to First Nations development and economic self-determination, particularly in rural and remote Australia.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have told me that the current arrangements for water holding isn’t always appropriate for First Nations, who have their own cultural and economic needs and aspirations,” Ms Pilbersek said.

“It’s important we get this right. It’s a crucial step in reversing the legacy of Indigenous dispossession and under-representation in water ownership and decision-making.”

This lack of water has robbed First Nation Australians of economic opportunities, particularly in rural Australia, while disrupting important cultural practices.

Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, said as a government we have heard loud and clear that it is time to get on and deliver First Nations water access and ownership

“Both Minister Plibersek and I are fully committed to working across government and with First Nations peoples to make this happen,” Ms Burney said.

“I recognise that all progress towards commitments will need to be achieved in line with our commitment to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full.”

The Federal Government will consult and design an enduring arrangement for First Nations peoples to own, access and manage water in Australia.

This work will be in close partnership with First Nations groups, to ensure that communities are leading discussions around what the arrangements will look like, where they will sit and how they will work.

Coalition of Peaks member, Jamie Lowe, welcomed the announcement and said they are happy that decisions will be made in partnership with our people as outlined in the National Agreement Closing the Gap.

“It is important to remember that all water once belonged to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. These waterways sustained our communities for millennia and we know how to best care for them,” Mr Lowe said.

“Greater ownership of water for our people will not only mean greater economic opportunities but it will improve our health, education and well-being; as the Cultural and social determinants of health are all interconnected.”

The Federal Government will work with the committee on Aboriginal Water Interests, the Coalition of Peaks, the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation and other stakeholders to develop a model that is considered fit-for-purpose by Australia’s First Nations people.

Committee on Aboriginal Water Interests Co-Chair, Rene Woods, said, “Australia has the opportunity to lead the world and to develop water holding arrangements in partnership with First Nations peoples that meet the needs of today and can meet tomorrow’s ambitions.

“CAWI looks forward to providing advice to the government about the sort of arrangements that will best provide the economic, Cultural, social, spiritual, and environmental outcomes First Nations peoples want to achieve.”

Committee on Aboriginal Water Interests Co-Chair, Grant Rigney, said, “We have encouraged governments to support our efforts to access, own and manage water for many years to meet our cultural and economic requirements. Establishing national water holding arrangements is long overdue and I welcome the announcement.”

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