The agreement between the Federal Government and Labor over the Murray-Darling Basin is one step forward and one step back, according to the peak body for traditional owners in the southern Murray Darling Basin.
The Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations, an organisation made up of 25 different member nations, welcomed new cultural water research and also the allocation of $40 million for Aboriginal cultural and economic water entitlements.
But it said the decision to cut 605 billion litres from the water recovery target in the southern basin was concerning and could put the environment at risk.
“The Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations welcomes the government’s commitment to a package of funding and measures to improve outcomes for Aboriginal people in the basin,” MLDRIN acting chairman Grant Rigney said.
“Unfortunately, cutting 605 billion litres from the water recovery target in the basin risks undermining some of the very outcomes the package seeks to protect.”
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan, signed into law by former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2012, is an agreement about how to use the water flowing down what is the nation’s longest river system.
The basin spans New South Wales, Victoria, the ACT and parts of Queensland and South Australia.
MLDRIN executive officer Will Mooney told NIT they were seeking more information from Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud.
Funding for investment and development
The amendments to the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin plan, which passed through Federal Parliament last week, provide for $40 million over four years to support Indigenous basin communities to invest in water.
A further $20 million will be spent over four years on grants for economic development projects in the communities affected by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Two full-time staff will also be appointed for three years to support the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations and the MLDIN.
They will work with the Aboriginal nations and government agencies to translate the findings of the National Cultural Flows Research Project, which aims to provide knowledge on Indigenous water interests for the benefit of Indigenous people, the agreement said.
A $1.5 million fund for the workers’ activities will be set up and will be on top of $635,000 paid to the north and south Aboriginal nation organisations each year.
“I’m extremely pleased to have reached agreement with Labor which means we’ll deliver the entire Murray-Darling Basin Plan, including the Northern Basin Review,” Mr Littleproud said.
‘Big irrigators have betrayed Australia’
But NSW Greens water spokesman Jeremy Buckingham said the Labor Party had betrayed the basin by agreeing to support the government’s move to cut environmental water by 605 gigalitres in the southern basin and 70 gigalitres in the northern basin.
“Labor have capitulated to the National Party and big irrigators and have betrayed Australia and the health of the Murray-Darling Basin,” Mr Buckingham said.
Mr Buckingham said the basin needed water returned to its rivers, lakes and wetlands.
Under the agreement, less water would be returned to the environment in the southern basin in a move the Murray-Darling Basin Authority says will balance improving the river’s health with the need to protect jobs in irrigation-dependent communities.
Meanwhile, the legality of the plan has been questioned by the royal commissioner in charge of investigating the alleged misuse of water across the river system, the ABC has reported.
Brett Walker SC said there was a “real risk” all or parts of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan were unlawful, the broadcaster reported.
Mr Walker is conducting a royal commission into alleged water theft by irrigators at the request of the previous South Australian Government.
The Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations could not be contacted for comment.