The federal opposition says any plan to redirect government funding promised to Aboriginal Australians to buy water would be “incredibly paternalistic.”
- First Nations groups want Commonwealth to deliver pledged $ 40 million in 2018 to buy water
- Opposition says it would be “paternalistic” to spend funds on something other than water
- Government says it is working with Indigenous groups to seek consensus on program
Speculation has grown that the government might spend the money on initiatives other than water ownership, such as employment programs.
When asked earlier this year if the government would consider spending the funds on non-water assets, Water Minister Keith Pitt said: “I’m a practical guy. let’s look at all the opportunities. “
Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said First Nations people across the basin were angry and frustrated at the suggestion that the funding could be spent on non-water assets.
“Aboriginal people are perfectly capable of managing the finances that flow to them,” she said.
“They are very organized in the basin, they probably understand the importance of the basin more than anyone.
“The government should answer questions about where the funding is going, if it still exists and why it has not been provided.”
This week, Mr Pitt was not available to speak with the CBA, but in a statement he said: “We continue to consult with major indigenous groups to finalize a deal and seek consensus.”
“The government fully intends to keep its commitment,” he said.
The 2018 pledge was announced as part of a deal with Labor to gain opposition support against a disallowance motion, which would have helped to recover more water for the environment in the basin plan Murray-Darling.
Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations President (MLDRIN) and Ngarrindjeri man Grant Rigney said returning water to First Nations would allow traditional owners to “heal the country.”
“The traditional owners have never ceded our sovereignty over the waters, nor given their consent or authorized anyone to manage and make decisions regarding the waterways,” said Mr. Rigney.
As part of NAIDOC week, MLDRIN released a report, developed with Griffith University, that shows First Nations own 0.2 percent of surface water rights and 0.02 percent of available groundwater. in the Murray-Darling Basin.
“First Nations have a vision for a healing country by activating our rights and our knowledge systems. We need ownership and agency over land and water to realize this vision. said Mr. Rigney.
MLDRIN estimates that five percent of the basin’s population identifies as a First Nation.
Northern Basin Indigenous Nations (NBAN) spokesperson Fred Hooper said it was unacceptable that the government had yet to keep its promise to fund First Nations to buy water.
“This prevents us from self-determination and also prevents us from being competitive in the market,” Mr. Hooper said.
“We have never had the opportunity to participate in the commercial water element in the Murray-Darling Basin and I think now is the time for us to be able to do so.
“We are asking for a hand, not a handout, and we consider the money for this water to be a hand.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Environment said he was continuing to work on the program to provide the funding.
“The commitment to offer the Indigenous Water Rights Program remains unchanged,” said the spokesperson.