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Thursday, 4 July 2019
Page: 305

Mr LITTLEPROUD (MaranoaMinister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management) (11:33): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

It gives me great pleasure to move the Water Amendment (Indigenous Authority Member) Bill 2019 second reading. The Australian government is committed to implementing the Basin Plan. We are committed to doing so in ways that deliver the best outcomes for the basin, its environment and its many industries and communities.

Water lies at the core of the basin. Water supports the diverse and complex ecology that exists throughout the basin. Water drives agricultural production and the associated wealth supports regional communities and the nation. Water is at the heart of the spiritual and cultural traditions of basin Indigenous communities.

At the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council meeting in December 2018, I asked basin states to make a commitment, in agreement with the Australian government, to establish a position on the Murray-Darling Basin Authority for a standing Indigenous authority member. This bill delivers on that commitment.

It also continues the work of the government in developing programs and opportunities for Indigenous communities in the basin, to enable them to maintain their spiritual and cultural connection to the river, as well as developing viable economic opportunities.

Aboriginal people are the traditional custodians of the Murray-Darling Basin. While a great deal of work has been undertaken by the government to improve engagement with Indigenous communities in the basin, there is more that we can do. The establishment of the standing Indigenous position on the authority continues this work, by improving Indigenous involvement in the management of basin water resources and recognising the knowledge and expertise that Indigenous communities can bring to the authority.

The bill provides that the Indigenous authority member will be an Indigenous person and that they will be appointed on the basis of their high level of expertise regarding Indigenous matters relevant to basin water resources. They will not be appointed to represent particular regions or organisations, but to represent the interests of Indigenous communities across the basin.

To be eligible to be appointed to, or to act in, the Indigenous member position, a person will need to meet the definition of Indigenous person contained in section 4 of the Water Act. Section 4 defines Indigenous person as a person who is a member of the Aboriginal race of Australia or a descendent of an Indigenous inhabitant of the Torres Strait Islands. The person will be appointed using the same appointment process that applies to the other part-time members of the authority and will be subject to the same terms and conditions of employment. This includes remuneration and the requirement not to be a member of the governing body of a relevant interest group at the time they are appointed to the authority.

The appointment of an Indigenous person to the Indigenous authority member position does not preclude another Indigenous person being appointed to a different position on the authority.

The creation of the standing Indigenous authority member position builds on the government's strong track record in engaging Indigenous people and communities in the management of basin water resources. In 2016, a number of amendments were made to the Water Act 2007 to improve Indigenous community engagement in relation to the basin's water resources. The amendments also sought to better recognise the importance of water to the cultural, spiritual and social aspects of Indigenous communities.

Amendments that were made in 2016 included adding 'Indigenous matters relevant to basin water resources' as a field of expertise that may qualify a person for appointment to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. The amendments also mandated that the Basin Community Committee, which reports on community concerns and issues around Basin Plan implementation, must include at least two Indigenous persons with expertise in Indigenous matters relevant to basin water resources.

Further amendments included that the preparation of water resource plans must have regard to social, spiritual and cultural matters relevant to Indigenous people. The authority will only be able to recommend that the minister accredit a water resource plan if this requirement is met. It was also clarified that one of the functions of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority is to engage with Indigenous communities on the use and management of basin water resources.

All of the amendments made in 2016 have been effective in increasing engagement with Indigenous communities in the basin. Indigenous community groups, for example, are currently being consulted by state governments and the authority as water resource plans are developed and assessed.

The government recognises that work remains to be done to improve Indigenous engagement in the basin. This need for further progress has been identified, for example, in the recent Productivity Commission assessment report into the Basin Plan.

In 2018 the government took further steps to ensure that Indigenous communities are able to participate in the economic and cultural life of the river system.

The government has committed a world-first $40 million over four years for the Murray-Darling Basin Aboriginal Water Entitlements Program. This program is intended to support basin Indigenous communities' investment in cultural and economic water entitlements, and to increase their involvement in water planning and management. This program is supported by amendments that were made in 2018 to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2005 to enable the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation to purchase water, as well as land.

In 2018, the authority was directed to report publicly on how Indigenous values and uses are considered in environmental water use. Indigenous involvement in that work must now be reported on annually by the authority. The authority is also currently working with New South Wales and Queensland to identify water that could be allocated to Indigenous communities through water resource plans.

Funding has been provided to support basin Indigenous organisations for additional project officers in both the southern and northern basin. This support will help these organisations to translate the findings of the National Cultural Flows Research Project into practical and effective ways forward. The National Cultural Flows Research Project, a project driven by and for Aboriginal people, established a national framework for cultural flows. The framework, released in 2018, provides the first guide and method for future planning, delivery, and assessment of cultural flows.

As part of the delivery of the northern basin environmental works program local stakeholders, including Indigenous groups, will be consulted as part of the development and implementation of toolkit measures. Priority will be given to Indigenous and local suppliers in the delivery of those works.

Ultimately the bill's amendments are important to ensure that an Indigenous voice is clearly represented amongst the authority's members. The Australian government is committed to continuing to improve engagement with Indigenous communities in the Murray-Darling Basin. This bill is the next step in that process and is an important milestone in Australia's history, recognising the role of Indigenous Australians as the traditional custodians of the Murray-Darling Basin. The government would like to thank all basin water ministers for their cooperation in unanimously seeking to ensure an Indigenous person is a member of the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.