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More emphasis on First Nations water connection as Labor, Greens strike deal on Murray-Darling basin plan

Callan Morse -

The Commonwealth Government has committed further funding to the Murray Darling Aboriginal Water Entitlements program after striking a deal with the Greens.

The $100 commitment came as part of the Strengthening the Restoring Our Rivers Bill, which was jointly announced by Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek and Greens Spokesperson for the Environment and Water, Sarah Hanson-Young on Monday.

The proposed bill is set to be debated in parliament this week after previous negotiations stalled.

In a joint statement, Ministers Plibersek and Hanson-Young said the Basin Plan acknowledges and adequately outlines First Nations people's connection, history and water needs.

Ms Hanson-Young said the funding will protect water rights of Indigenous peoples in the basin.

"The Greens have secured $100m for First Nations water and the Aboriginal Water Entitlements Program to protect Country and culture from greed and over-extraction," Ms Hanson-Young said.

"For the first time, the laws governing the Murray-Darling Basin will recognise the unique connection First Nations people have with the river system."

The proposed $100 million commitment, and increase from the previously earmarked $40 million will be available to buy water entitlements for the benefit of First Nations Peoples across the Murray–Darling Basin, with the program to be delivered in partnership with Indigenous people in the Basin.

The plan laws aim to recover 450 gigalitres of additional water by December 2027. (Image: Dean Lewins/AAP)

The plan also includes mandatory reporting, requiring environmental water holders to demonstrate how they have considered First Nations values and uses and involve First Nations people in environmental watering decisions.

Ms Plibersek said the proposal addresses amendment to ensure the Basin Plan acknowledges and adequately outlines First Nations people's connection, history and water needs.

"Not delivering this is simply not an option. We want to make sure we have a healthy and sustainable river system for the communities, industry, First Nations groups and environment that rely on it," Ms Plibersek said.

"We're talking about the largest inland river system in Australia, supporting threatened plants and animals and delivering drinking water for 3 million Australians. We have to get this right."

The $13 billion plan had aimed to return 450 gigalitres of water to the environment by June 2024, however the proposed legislation moves the deadline to the end of 2027.

Without the support of the Greens, an end of year deadline would be missed, and government would have been forced to commence water buybacks for approximately 300 gigalitres of water next year.

"The Greens have secured a guarantee in law that the environment will finally receive the 450GL of water needed to protect our precious river system," Ms Hanson-Young said.

This breakthrough agreement will deliver more water for the river across the entire basin, north and south."w

The proposal also increases accountability, with the Commonwealth Government give the power to withdraw State Government infrastructure projects that are deemed unviable and the undertaking of an independent audit of water allocated to the Commonwealth Environment Water Holder.

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