First Nations people hold a deep connection to Country. They are the traditional custodians of the land and waters of Australia.
We are working with First Nations Australians to increase ownership of water and to take part in water policy decisions.
The importance of cultural flows
Access to water is essential to communities for its cultural and spiritual significance. It is a source of drinking water, irrigation and critical to the environment.
Traditional Owners share an ancestral connection to Australia’s river systems. This is part of their cultural identity. As custodians of the land, they continue to care for Australia’s water resources. Water plays an important role in storytelling and learning. This helps to continue the spiritual relationship with Country.
'Cultural flows' are water entitlements owned by First Nations people and communities. Cultural flows improve spiritual, cultural, environmental, social and economic health and wellbeing. Cultural flows support First Nations people’s right to use and manage water.
First Nations people’s access to water
Many communities depend on river and groundwater systems. These systems support health, social and economic wellbeing. Over 160 remote or regional communities lack access to good quality drinking water.
We recognise this has to improve. To do this, we broadened the National Water Grid investment framework. This framework extends to regional and remote communities. It will support projects that secure essential town water supplies.
First Nations water initiatives
We have committed to several initiatives to improve outcomes for communities.
Consulting on ways to hold First Nations water to benefit communities
First Nations peoples have been calling for enduring water holding arrangements for over a decade. First Nations water holding arrangements could help reverse decades of dispossession. It could also reverse under-representation for First Nations people in the water economy.
We will consult First Nations peoples nationally on the best way to hold and manage water entitlements for their benefit.
The Committee on Aboriginal Water Interests will play a key role in developing options for a water holding model. (More information on the committee is following.)
To stay up to date visit Consultation on First Nations water holding arrangements.
Improving water security for First Nations communities
Through the National Water Grid Fund, we have committed $150 million towards First Nations water security. This is to support critical water infrastructure for remote communities. It will also support better access to clean drinking water.
Aboriginal Water Entitlements Program
We are providing $40 million to invest in First Nations communities in the Murray–Darling Basin. This is through the Aboriginal Water Entitlements Program. The funding will provide water for cultural and economic purposes.
We recognise the expertise held by First Nations people in relation to water management. We will work closely with Indigenous communities in delivering the program.
Read more about Aboriginal Water Entitlements Program.
The Murray–Darling Basin Indigenous River Rangers Program was first funded in 2021. The National Indigenous Australians Agency runs this program. Through the program, First Nations organisations improve waterway health and manage Country. This helps to sustain the Basin’s valuable environmental assets. Find out more about Indigenous Ranger Programs.
Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Water Interests
The Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Water Interests advises the National Water Reform Committee. It was established in December 2020. It identifies and prioritises national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander water reform directions. The committee has 12 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands members from across Australia. The committee is supported by government officials.
In December 2022, we committed $700,000 to support the continued work of the committee. The committee will expand its scope with the extra funding to a broader focus. Read more about the committee and national water policy.
The committee’s term of appointment has been extended to 31 December 2024.
Read more about how we are working with First Nations people.