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Aboriginal partnership programs

The health of the Basin benefits from meaningful, equitable, inclusive and respectful partnership with Traditional Owners and their involvement in water planning and management is a key priority.

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) recognises and pays respect to the Traditional Owners, and their Nations, of the Murray–Darling Basin, who have a deep cultural, social, environmental, spiritual and economic connection to their land and waters. Traditional Owner knowledge and perspectives are invaluable in water planning and management and vital to achieving a healthy working Murray–Darling Basin.

The MDBA is committed to working together with Basin Aboriginal Nations and supports the belief of the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN) and the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) that cultural flows will provide beneficial outcomes for Traditional Owners.

Cultural flows are water entitlements that are legally and beneficially owned by the (First) Nations and are of a sufficient and adequate quantity and quality to improve the spiritual, cultural, natural, environmental, social and economic conditions of those Nations. These are our inherent rights.

MILDRIN, Echuca Declaration, 2007

Basin Plan roll-out

Throughout the Plan’s implementation, we are working with our partners to ensure the Basin continues to support communities, the environment and industry.

Water resource planning

Water resource plans (WRPs) are an integral part of implementing the Basin Plan and the MDBA works closely with Basin state governments to ensure they meet both Basin Plan and local water resource management requirements.

The Plan requires that Basin state governments involve Traditional Owners in identifying First Nations objectives and outcomes based on First Nations values and uses.

A series of water resource plans tools were developed to assist Basin state governments in developing their WRPs. The 14A Position Statement sets out the requirements of the Basin Plan 2012 Chapter 10, Part 14 – Aboriginal values and uses.

The MDBA’s application of the WRP requirements in Part 14 seek to ensure that, at the very least, the concerns of Traditional Owners (i.e. their stated objectives and outcomes based on their values and uses) are taken into account in the water resource planning process, and the level of protection of First Nations values and uses are maintained in the WRPs.

To help ensure the right Traditional Owners are involved for each water resource plan area, we have produced a map identifying Traditional Owner groups for each water resource plan area.

Want to know more about water resource plans?

Watch this animation to find out how WRPs came to be, who creates them, who accredits them and how First Nations people can be involved.

The animation is a collaboration between Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations, Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations, the Basin states and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

Grandma Cod's Big Splash from Murray-Darling Basin Authority on Vimeo.

First Nations Environmental Water Guidance (FNEWG) Project

The First Nations Environmental Water Guidance (FNEWG) Project aims to develop a defined and transparent methodology for First Nations’ environmental watering objectives to be incorporated in environmental water planning. This project is co-funded with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office (CEWO). This project sits within the Basin Plan’s obligation to have regard to First Nations cultural values and uses when setting Basin wide annual environmental watering priorities.

By engaging First Nations in a collaborative design process, the MDBA and CEWO hope to foster a partnership with NBAN and MLDRIN and establish an enduring mechanism for inclusion of First Nation objectives into Basin environmental water planning. The project will also have a focus on knowledge sharing and building capacity within the federal and First Nation agencies.

Cultural flows

Water is vital to First Nations culture, spirituality, identity and wellbeing.

First Nations people have a spiritual obligation to care for surface water and groundwater resources, as part of their commitment to caring for Country. Cultural flows offer a mechanism to achieve this.

Cultural flows are water entitlements that are legally owned and managed by First Nations to improve the spiritual, cultural, environmental, social and economic conditions of these Nations.

Dedicated cultural flows are not consistently part of the water management system in Australia, and achieving this will take time. The MDBA is committed to supporting their establishment and exploring ways of integrating cultural flows as part of water management in the Basin.

The National Cultural Flows Research Project, a project driven by and for First Nations people has, over 7 years, sought to establish a national framework for cultural flows. This project concluded in 2018.

Project officers commenced with MLDRIN and NBAN in early 2019, to work with First Nations to translate the findings of the National Cultural Flows Research Project into practical and effective ways forward. In particular, the project officers are working with First Nations people to implement the cultural flows assessment methodology developed in the project. The MDBA continues to provide advice and support to NBAN, MLDRIN and other organisations with respect to cultural flows.

Reporting on First Nations participation in water for the environment

In June 2018 the Commonwealth Minister responsible for water issued the Water (Indigenous Values and Uses) Direction 2018, under Section 175 of the Water Act 2007.

Following that directive, at the end of each watering year, the MDBA will report how when planning for environmental watering, the holders of held water for the environment have considered Indigenous values and uses and involved Aboriginal people.

The Living Murray Indigenous Partnerships Program

The Living Murray (TLM) Indigenous Partnerships Program provides the opportunity for First Nations people to have a meaningful role in the management of icon sites. More about the progress and outcomes of delivering water for the environment at the icons sites.

Through the program, First Nations knowledge, cultural values and goals can be heard and included in environmental planning for icon sites.

Program goals

The objectives of the TLM Indigenous Partnerships Program are to:

  • provide opportunities for First Nations involvement in icon site planning
  • incorporate First Nations knowledge and values into environmental water management through collaboration with management agencies
  • offer support and resources for First Nations people to manage water in the future
  • ensure that the cultural values of First Nations people are respected throughout the planning and management process for icon sites.

Lake Victoria Cultural Heritage Program

Lake Victoria is an important cultural heritage site for the First Nations community whose occupation of the region dates back to at least 45,000 years ago. In 1994, the discovery of Indigenous human remains and cultural artefacts in the Lake prompted the largest single cultural heritage conservation project in the Basin.

This project involves consultation with numerous stakeholder groups, including the Lake Victoria Advisory Committee and the Barkindji Maraura Elders Council, and incorporates a Cultural Landscape Plan of Management to protect cultural heritage within the landscape, the water storage operations and the re-establishment of native vegetation.

Updated: 23 Nov 2021