Cultural flows: the missing element in Australia’s water management regime

Tuesday, 6 June 2017
Mr Grant Rigney
Michael Anderson

Across Australia, water is governed through a complex system of laws and policies that largely fail to meet the needs of Aboriginal communities. While some mechanisms are in place to consider cultural values in water management, they fall short of the legally and beneficially owned water entitlements that are needed to improve the spiritual, cultural, environmental, social and economic conditions of Aboriginal nations. Securing Aboriginal water rights in Australia is the primary purpose of the National Cultural Flows Research Project.

Driven by Aboriginal people, for Aboriginal people, this collaborative research project is building a strong evidence base to embed Aboriginal ownership and management of water into Australia's water planning and management regimes. Social, cultural and hydrological research has been undertaken at two case study sites in the Murray-Darling Basin: Toogimbie IPA Wetlands and Gooraman Swamp, where Aboriginal communities have helped to develop transparent and replicable ways to define and quantify their cultural water needs. The results of the field studies will underpin a comprehensive analysis of the legal, policy and governance frameworks that guide water management in Australia, which will identify the institutional changes that will be needed turn cultural flows from an aspiration into a reality.