Access to water resources for cultural and economic purposes can make a significant contribution to the aspirations and wellbeing of Indigenous Australians. Until recently this has been largely overlooked in our water planning and management decisions. The National Water Initiative (NWI) recognises Indigenous people as legitimate stakeholders in water planning and management, and acknowledges the need to identify Indigenous water values and water requirements in water plans.

Indigenous Australians have managed their lands and waters sustainably for thousands of generations. Through their spiritual, cultural and customary connections to the landscape, they have acquired a deep knowledge and understanding of Australia’s water systems. Incorporating this knowledge into Australia’s water management approaches represents an opportunity for all governments to recognise Indigenous water issues and improve the sustainable management of our water systems.

In its 2011 Biennial Assessment, the National Water Commission found that although most jurisdictions had improved their consultation with Indigenous communities in water planning and management, they had failed to develop effective strategies for incorporating Indigenous social, spiritual and customary objectives in water plans as was envisaged under the NWI.

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