Establishing a compelling case for a Reserved Indigenous Water Rights regime as a crucial step towards advancing Aboriginal health, economic prosperity and cultural vitality.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017
Dr Virginia Marshall

In Overturning aqua nullius I argue that Aboriginal water rights require legal recognition as property rights. Water access and infrastructure are integral to the successful economic enterprise in Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal peoples’ social, cultural and economic certainty rests on their right to control and manage customary water.

Establishing a Reserved Indigenous Water Rights regime is a key recommendation and a crucial step towards improving Aboriginal health outcomes and advancing economic prosperity and cultural vitality. I argue from the lens of human rights that the reservation of Aboriginal water rights needs to be prioritised above the water rights and interests of other groups and it is only then that we can sweep away the injustice of aqua nullius and provide first Australians with full recognition and status of their water rights and interests.

Professor Mick Dodson, AIATSIS Chairperson, stated that Overturning aqua nullius is ‘the starting point for a long overdue debate on water rights and access to water fundamental to Aboriginal Australian livelihoods, and makes a compelling case that they are both essential to the spiritual and cultural lives of Aboriginal Australians’.