: Redressing Indigenous exclusion from water planning and management

Redressing Indigenous exclusion from water planning and management

Alistair Webster

The National Cultural Flows Research Project, a project of the National Native Title Council, has begun work on the first of an eight stage process aimed at incorporating Indigenous water values into Australia’s water law and policy.

Historically, Indigenous peoples’ rights to water have largely been excluded from Australia’s complex water planning and management regimes. Although the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) provides that water rights are rights and interests that may comprise native title rights, only rights to use water for domestic and personal purposes have been recognised by the courts. The Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) does not provide for a right to negotiate over water.

In 2004, the National Water Initiative was the first instance in which Indigenous rights to water had been formally recognised in national water policy. Today, the Draft Murray Darling Basin Plan requires states and territories to consult with Indigenous communities with respect to Environmental Watering Plans and Water Resource Plans, and to have regard to Aboriginal cultural values in water resource planning and management.

The National Cultural Flows Research Project seeks to redress previous exclusion from water planning and management regimes, and ensure the meaningful involvement of Indigenous communities in water management. This first component of the project seeks to draw on the existing literature — in Australia and overseas — to describe Indigenous water values and uses around Australia. Subsequent components in this four year initiative will see the project working with communities around Australia (focusing initially on the Murray Darling Basin) to describe their uses and values of water, before using hydrologic testing to quantify the water required to meet those cultural needs, and to evaluate mechanisms for securing water allocation for Indigenous communities. The project will then be in a position to recommend law and policy reforms aimed at meeting the water needs of Indigenous communities.

ALISTAIR WEBSTER is a Melbourne lawyer, researcher and project manager. He currently manages the National Cultural Flows Research Project for the National Native TItle Council.

(2012) 37(4) AltLJ 284
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