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First Nations partnership programs

The health of the Basin benefits from meaningful, equitable, inclusive and respectful partnership with Traditional Owners.

Their involvement in water planning and management is essential.

Water resource planning

The Basin Plan requires Basin state governments involve First Nations in the development of water resource plans.

Governments must identify First Nations objectives and outcomes, based on their own values and uses. The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has published guidance to help state governments do this. As a minimum, First Nations’ objectives and outcomes must be taken into account in the water resource planning process, and protection for First Nations values and uses must be maintained in water resource plans.

A map identifying Traditional Owner groups for each water resource plan area has been made available to support state governments to engage with First Nations and prepare consultation reports as they develop their water resource plans.

Want to know more about water resource plans?

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

The animation was a collaboration between Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN), Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN), 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

As part of the Basin Plan, the MDBA must consider First Nations’ values and uses when making decisions about water for the environment across the Murray–Darling Basin. The First Nations Environmental Water Guidance (FNEWG) Project was developed to ensure First Nations people are involved in decision-making and their outcomes and objectives are included in environmental water planning. The FNEWG project originated in discussions with the First Nations representative organisations MLDRIN and NBAN and was co-funded by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office (CEWO).

The MDBA hopes to foster strong relationships with First Nations of the Basin and work together to respond to their interests in water for the environment. Through these relationships, and projects such as FNEWG, it is hoped a robust and long-term approach that accounts for First Nations views can be achieved.

Cultural flows

See Water for First Nations people.

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

The MDBA is exploring ways of integrating cultural flows into Basin water management and planning.

Reporting on First Nations participation in water for the environment

In June 2018 the Australian Government Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources instructed the MDBA to report annually on how First Nations were being considered in the planning and delivery of water for the environment in the Murray−Darling Basin.

This reporting recognises that the health of the Basin benefits from meaningful partnerships with First Nations and their involvement in water planning, coordination, delivery, and monitoring. From influencing site-scale, real-time decisions to Basin-wide strategic policy, engaging with First Nations is a priority for environmental water holders.

More information can be found on First Nations people participation in environmental watering.

The Living Murray Indigenous Partnerships Program

The Living Murray (TLM) Indigenous Partnerships Program provides the opportunity for First Nations to have a meaningful role in the management of the 6 icon sites along the river. There is more information on our website about the progress and outcomes of delivering water for the environment at the icon sites.

In addition, you can read important stories of First Nations delivering benefits to Country and communities.

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

The objectives of the TLM Indigenous Partnerships Program are to:

  • ensure First Nations people have a meaningful role in planning and managing the icon sites
  • ensure this process incorporates First Nations knowledge, cultural values, perspectives, and aspirations
  • offer technical support and resources to build capacity for First Nations people to contribute to the management of the icon sites
  • provide the opportunity for First Nations involvement and assistance in ecological monitoring and research.

Lake Victoria Cultural Heritage Program

Lake Victoria is an important cultural heritage site. In 1994, the discovery of human remains and cultural artefacts in the Lake dating back at least 45,000 years 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. It 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.

For further information see Lake Victoria: a special place.

Updated: 10 Nov 2022