Delivering First Nations water ownership in Murray Darling Basin

The Federal Government has launched a world-leading water ownership program for First Nations peoples in the Murray-Darling Basin, delivering on an election commitment.

Under the Aboriginal Water Entitlements Program, the government has made $100 million available to buy water in the Basin, with First Nations representatives determining how that money is spent.

An interim governance body has been set up to purchase water entitlements before establishing a permanent body. The directors and advisory group members were independently selected from First Nations groups in the Basin.

A strategic purchasing framework has also been released that outlines the types of water entitlements that may be bought and the different purchase methods available, including water brokers, expressions of interest, market-led proposals, and gifts.

The program has been developed in close partnership with First Nations representatives from across the Basin to ensure it supports the cultural, economic, social, and environmental needs of First Nations Peoples.

The program was announced in 2018 with a $40 million commitment that the former government never spent. The Federal Government has reversed this, increasing the program’s funding to $100 million as part of a broader effort to strengthen the Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Act 2023.

Quotes attributable to the Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek MP:

“First Nations communities have cared for Murray–Darling Basin rivers for thousands of years but have been largely excluded from accessing, managing, and owning water.

“Across Australia, First Nations Australians own and control less than 0.2 per cent of our surface water entitlements.

“The Federal Government’s $100 million Aboriginal Water Entitlements Program begins to reverse that legacy and recognises First Nations peoples’ lasting and deep connection with water.

“We are also committed to buying entitlements – to ensure the investment can deliver the best value for money for our Basin First Nations communities.

“I thank our new advisory group members and directors for stepping forward to represent Basin First Nations communities and provide guidance on directing this investment.

“Together, we can take crucial steps towards delivering the Basin Plan in full in a way that values and supports First Nations communities.”

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