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Sovereignty claimed over Murray-Darling rivers

Pin Website: Northern Murray Darling Basin Aboriginal Nations
Nations: Barkindji (Paakantyi), Githabul, Mandandanji, Barunggam, Gunggari, Mardigan, Bidjara, Jarowair, Murrawarri, Bigambul, Gwamu, (Kooma), Ngemba, Budjiti, Kunja, Ngiyampaa, Euahlayi, Kambuwal, Kwiambul, Wailwan, Gamilaroi, Maljangapa, and Wakka Wakka.

Fred Hooper
NBAN Chairperson

Weilmoringle, northwest NSW, 17 April

A group of 21 Aboriginal nations who have coalesced in the northern Murray Darling Basin are demanding that all water licences be revoked and that the rivers' water be dealt with from a base of Aboriginal sovereignty, dominion and ultimate title.

The Northern Murray Darling Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN) call on all state and federal governments involved in the rivers system to allocate 100% of all environmental flows in the northern basin as cultural flows.

The demand is made in a media release by NBAN Chairperson, Fred Hooper, a farmer in Weilmoringle, a community of 60 to 70 mainly Aboriginal people located about 660 kilometres northwest of Sydney.

He writes that the 21 nations in the group "have never ceded or acquiesced sovereignty, dominion or ultimate title over the lands, subsurface, all waters, natural resources and airspace within the northern Murray-Darling Basin" and adds that "a further 21 Aboriginal sovereign First Nations in the southern Murray Darling Basin have asserted their sovereignty, dominion and ultimate title".

"To protect our most sacred water spirits, NBAN also calls on the governments to immediately enact legislation to prevent the extraction of water from underground streams, the Great Artesian Basin and aquifers, including water that is being extracted under coal seam gas extraction operations," the release says. "We demand that the Murray Darling Basin Authority, state and federal governments enter into immediate negotiations for a treaty with the Aboriginal nations of the northern Murray-Darling Basin."

The NBAN alleges that the proposed basin plan fails to recognise the sovereign rights of Aboriginal peoples to ensure the delivery of cultural flows and title to all waters.

"NBAN's relationship with the Murray Darling Basin Authority is very cordial and professional," Mr Hooper writes. "The leadership and vision shown by the Chairman, Mr Craig Knowles, and his senior staff are well received by the Aboriginal people in the northern Murray Darling Basin, which gives us a great deal of confidence to deal with such people of substance into the future."

In a submission to the Authority the NBAN wrote: "The river system should be free flowing. The system is becoming dysfunctional and sick. We are feeling the impact of this and we are becoming dysfunctional and sick - socially, economically and culturally ... "

"As Ancestral Owners, we have obligations under our Lore and Custom to care for our Country. NBAN seeks greater recognition and respect for Aboriginal knowledge and cultural values, obligations and uses regarding land and water management in the northern Murray-Darling Basin," the submission states. (The submission is available from Mr. Hooper - see contact details below.)

Northern Basin Aboriginal Nation Ltd was established in April 2010 and is now an incorporated legal entity. It is an independent, self-determining ancestral owner based organisation with a primary focus on cultural and natural resource management in the northern Murray-Darling Basin.

The NBAN is a main driver of the Aboriginal move to get nations to treaty with each other so as to present a united front on assertion of sovereignty. Meetings are taking place all over the country with that aim, driven by a decision taken at the 40th anniversary corroboree of the Aboriginal Embassy in Canberra in January.

NBAN member nations are the Barkindji (Paakantyi), Githabul, Mandandanji, Barunggam, Gunggari, Mardigan, Bidjara, Jarowair, Murrawarri, Bigambul, Gwamu (Kooma), Ngemba, Budjiti, Kunja, Ngiyampaa, Euahlayi, Kwiambul, Wailwan, Gamilaroi, Maljangapa and Wakka Wakka. There are also three founding corporate members, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, the Southwest Queensland Natural Resource Management and the Queensland Murray-Darling Committee.

The NBAN's statement in full:

MEDIA RELEASE

21 Aboriginal Sovereign First Nations of the northern Murray Darling Basin demand that federal and state governments recognise that they have never ceded or acquiesced sovereignty, dominion or ultimate title over the lands, subsurface, all waters, natural resources and airspace within the northern Murray-Darling Basin. We demand that state and federal governments revoke all water licenses within the northern Murray-Darling Basin and establish new arrangements for dealing with water from a base of Aboriginal sovereignty, dominion and ultimate title over all water. It is also understood that a further 21 Aboriginal sovereign First Nations in the southern Murray Darling Basin have asserted their sovereignty, dominion and ultimate title.

The nations are also calling on governments to allocate 100% of all environmental flows in the northern basin as cultural flows and 5% of the consumptive pool in each valley for economic purposes to be managed and controlled by the northern Murray Darling Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN).

To protect our most sacred water spirits, NBAN also calls on the governments to immediately enact legislation to prevent the extraction of water from underground streams, the Great Artesian Basin and aquifers, including water that is being extracted under coal seam gas extraction operations.

We demand that the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), state and federal governments enter into immediate negotiations for a treaty with the Aboriginal nations of the northern Murray-Darling Basin.

The proposed basin plan fails to recognise the sovereign rights of Aboriginal peoples to ensure the delivery of cultural flows and title to all waters. The Draft Plan also fails to incorporate what the MDBA itself says it is committed to in its 2011 publication "A Yarn on the River - Getting Aboriginal voices into the Basin Plan". Sections of the proposed basin plan could be considered as discriminatory and could possibly be in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

The South Australian government is relying on an opinion of the High Court chief justice, Sir Isaac Isaacs, to possibly launch a High Court challenge. Aboriginal people now have a document that became law through an Order in Council by Queen Victoria in 1875. If the South Australian government can use Sir Isaac's opinion, then Aboriginal people should be able to use the Order in Council in our defence in any action we might bring in the High Court. In recent correspondence from the federal Attorney General's office, Nicola Roxon clearly demonstrates that the federal government is at a loss on how to deal with the continuing sovereignty of Aboriginal peoples.

This is evident when we read the Attorney General's response to the question of continued Aboriginal sovereignty in which they incorrectly quote Justice Brennan's judgement that English sovereignty arrived on the shores of Australia when Governor Phillip arrived with the first fleet.

We understand that the Australian constitution provides for the rights of the environment and irrigation to have water, but the question now arises regarding ownership of the water through the continuing sovereignty, dominion and ultimate title rights of Aboriginal people.

These assertions by NBAN are not pie in the sky ambitions or just comments. What we have is a dilemma that must be dealt with in relation to water, biodiversity and natural resource management.

NBAN's relationship with the Murray Darling Basin Authority is very cordial and professional. The leadership and vision shown by the Chairman, Mr Craig Knowles and his senior staff are well received by the Aboriginal people in the northern Murray Darling Basin, which gives us a great deal of confidence to deal with such people of substance into the future.

Fred Hooper
Chairperson
Northern Murray Darling Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN)
Phone No: 0427957960
Email: weil_man@yahoo.com.au