Water Journal : Water Journal December 2011
feature article water DECEMBER 2011 41 In addition to our rights to water as Indigenous peoples, as citizens we have rights to water for domestic purposes. As former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has said: "Access to safe water is a fundamental human need and, therefore, a basic human right". This right belongs to all and we as citizens have a right to enjoy it in addition to our specific rights to water as Indigenous peoples. Governments must also address the impediments our people face in accessing our rights and entitlements to water. These barriers can prove insurmountable where basic infrastructure and capacity to navigate bureaucratic pathways is limited or lacking. Where impediments exist, the mere recognition of our inherent rights and entitlements alone is not enough. Rights and entitlements that are given without practical support for accessing those entitlements are just symbolic gestures. At a time in Australia when the Commonwealth Government has allocated billions of dollars to water reform, we are asking that some of those funds be spent assisting Aboriginal peoples with access to their rightful water. We encourage the governments of Australia to listen and learn from our country's first peoples for the benefit of the Murray-Darling, other waterways and our environment. The Rio Earth Summit's Convention on Biological Diversity and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands both make it clear that Indigenous knowledge and participation in resource management is to be both respected and encouraged. Australia's own National Water Initiative includes similar stipulations. Good work has been done in this area. The NWC has established the First Peoples' Water Engagement Council and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority is consulting with the confederated bodies of both the Northern and Southern Aboriginal nations of the MDB. However, when it comes to opportunities for Aboriginal people to engage meaningfully in the management of water resources, there is sometimes a chasm between perception and reality. The Aboriginal people are committed to the cause. The data from the last Census clearly showed that non- Aboriginal people are leaving rural and remote communities, while Aboriginal people are staying. They are staying because these are our traditional lands and environments. The population shift makes it imperative that Aboriginal peoples be engaged as equal stakeholders to ensure the river systems are alive and well for our future generations. Water is critical to keeping rural economies alive. In NSW alone, outside the metropolitan regions, 76 per cent of Aboriginal employment is in the rural or primary industry arena. We need to ensure the long-term sustainability of these labour markets. Making us an equal stakeholder in water will only assist this process. The National Water Initiative In 2004 all Australian governments signed the world's best practice blueprint for water reform -- the National Water Initiative (NWI). The NWI explicitly recognises the need to identify Aboriginal water values, their water requirements and water provision for current or future native title claims. While NWI parties have made progress in identifying all water user requirements and values, significant opportunities remain to: • More effectively engage and consult with Aboriginal communities to better account for their water values and requirements in water planning; • Encourage greater Aboriginal leadership in water planning and management issues. Aboriginal communities and groups are often left out of the planning process, or not adequately consulted. As a result our needs, values and water uses are not being recorded and considered alongside others. This can erode confidence for both our people and other users, and undo all the effort that goes into making a water plan. Phil's grandfather, Leslie Duncan of Terry Hie Hie Aboriginal mission, standing in front of the tree he was born in, beside Terry Hie Hie Creek. A proud Gamilaroi/Gomeroi man, he is responsible for Phil's teachings. An intricately carved piece of bark.
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Water Journal November 2011