With debate swirling around the controversial Murray-Darling Basin Plan, the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) organisation, the peak body representing First Nations from the Southern Basin, has warned that scrapping the plan could damage culture and marginalise vulnerable communities that live along the river system.

The Berejiklian Government has called for adjustments to the 2012 plan to enable more flexibility during drought. This would be through pausing water resource plans until the drought has broken.

MLDRIN Chair and proud Nari Nari man, Rene Woods said that Government must listen to all people they are representing.

“Campaigns led by irrigators and the NSW National Party to derail the Basin Plan do not represent the interests of all communities across the Basin. Governments must listen to all voices in this debate, not just the loudest and most belligerent,” Mr Woods said.

Rivers are an integral part of the wider Australian ecosystem and environment and a major part of the success of regional and remote communities.

“Rivers are our lifeblood, sustaining our culture and bringing sustenance, health and wellbeing to our communities. Without healthy, flowing rivers, all communities and livelihoods in the Basin are at risk,” Mr Woods said.

“Today, rivers like the Baaka (Darling) and Macquarie are in a state of emergency. First Nations People have been marginalised from ownership of land and water. Now our communities and culture are suffering as we watch our waterways in terminal decline.”

Mr Woods said current conditions are not a result of the Basin Plan and states MLDRIN’s dismay at the NSW Government.

“No one pretends the Plan is perfect, but it is better than no Plan at all. We need an ambitious Basin Plan to restore our rivers to health, with strong targets for recovering water for wetlands, billabongs and iconic red gum forests,” he said.

“We are dismayed that the NSW Government wants to stall the progress of Water Resource Plans, a key State responsibility under the Basin Plan. This is a smack in the face for Traditional Owners who participated in consultation in good faith to help develop these plans over the last two years.”

“Water Resource Plans provide for recognition and protection of Aboriginal cultural values related to water. We need to see them accredited and implemented to stop devastating impacts like the Lower Darling fish kills.”

MLDRIN Deputy Chair and Ngarrindjeri man Grant Rigney agrees.

“The NSW Government’s proposal to remove the barrages on the Lower Lakes would be an environmental disaster and would devastate an area of deep cultural significance to the Ngarrindjeri people,” Mr Rigney said.

“Fresh water flows into the Lower Lakes, flushes salt from the entire Basin system and provides base-flows for water delivery and environmental benefits along the entire river. NSW should focus on addressing the drastic ecological decline on the rivers under their control rather than pursuing illogical, quick-fix solutions in other States.”

Chief Executive of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Phillip Glyde said in a statement in response to the convoy to Canberra, a protest aimed to ‘can the plan’; that whilst everyone has the right to protest peacefully and voice their opinion, it is important that all voices are heard.

“We know communities across the Murray-Darling Basin are battling against one of the worst droughts on record and it’s taking its toll on our landscape, people’s businesses, mental health and morale.

“We’re seeing widespread dust storms and bushfires, towns are running out of water, and our native fish are under threat. Some First Nations are telling us they’re concerned about the quality of drinking water and the cultural wellbeing of their communities. There is no one this drought hasn’t touched,” the statement read.

“Pausing or ditching the Basin Plan wouldn’t turn the taps or pumps on – and it wouldn’t alleviate the pain being felt in these communities during drought … In these times, remaining committed to restoring the health of the Basin is important.”

For more information on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, visit: https://www.mdba.gov.au/basin-plan/plan-murray-darling-basin.