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Wild Rivers  Richie Ahmat 19.02.2009

Wild Rivers Richie Ahmat 19.02.2009



Richie Ah Mat on Wild Rivers Act, Indigenous Water Planning Forum, National Water Commission, February 2009

Richie Ah Mat on Wild Rivers Act, Indigenous Water Planning Forum, National Water Commission, February 2009



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    Wild Rivers  Richie Ahmat 19.02.2009 Wild Rivers Richie Ahmat 19.02.2009 Presentation Transcript

    • INDIGENOUS WATER RIGHTS Continuing dispossession Richie Ah Mat 19 February 2009
    • Indigenous Water Rights
      • Today I wish to discuss two issues both relating to Indigenous People and their rights regarding Water:
      • Firstly, the introduction of Queensland Wild Rivers Legislation and the impact this is having on my home region of Cape York
      • Secondly, the broader initiatives on Water – namely the National Water Initiative and the impact of this on Indigenous Water Rights
    • Summary of Wild River legislation
      • Queensland’s Parliament passed the Wild River’s Act in 2005.
      • The purpose of the Wild Rivers Act is to preserve the natural values of rivers that have all, or almost all, of their natural values intact.
      • It has been clear that the Government and the Wilderness Society intend to have the vast majority of Cape York declared a “Preservation area”. Seriously impacting on the economic rights of Cape York People.
    • Indigenous Peoples Custodianship of Rivers
      • The Indigenous people of Cape York Peninsula have objected to this legislation.
      • But my people in Cape York are not opposed to conservation.
      • Rivers have always been central to indigenous peoples cultural values, they have sustained people, there are ceremonial sites, birth and burial sites along rivers;
      • Indigenous people have traditional responsibilities to look after their rivers.
      • Traditional owners on Cape York want to protect their rivers BUT they want their traditional rights and responsibilities to care for their country recognized rather than removed.
    • We thought the approach was agreed a decade ago
      • The Cape York Heads of Agreement
      • In 1996 Indigenous people represented by the Cape York Land Council and ATSIC, the Cattleman’s Union of Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation and The Wilderness Society signed the Cape York Heads of Agreement .
      • All parties committed to work together for ecologically, economically, socially and culturally sustainable land use on Cape York Peninsula, and to develop harmonious relationships amongst all interests in the area. Indigenous People remain committed to this principle.
      • The Wilderness Society decided to use their electoral clout in south-east Queensland to influence the laws governing land use in Cape York rather than working together.
    • Environmental Racism
      • Racism is today socially and legally unacceptable in Australia.
      • However, policy making and public discourse is still influenced by attitudes that may be labeled “environmental racism”
      • “ Environmental Racism” refers to the intentional or unintentional racial discrimination in the enforcement of environmental rules and regulations
    • Environmental Racism at Work
      • The language of the “Wild Rivers Act” is about dispossession- “wild” connotes uninhabited , terra nullius
      • Indigenous people’s lands are described as “pristine” disregarding thousands of years of Indigenous occupation.
      • The Cape York Wild Rivers material is written to create the impression that it is an unpopulated wilderness area- it is home to over 18,000 people .
      • The legislation reflects the values of the non-indigenous community and does not respect the values of the indigenous community.
      • The standards of administrative process and scientific rigour which apply to non-indigenous lands are not applied in the indigenous domain. i.e. no consultation after the fact.
      • The rights of indigenous people to economic development are being stripped to preserve the development rights and economic opportunities of non-indigenous people.
    • The Wild Rivers Act fails to meet International Standards
      • Free prior and informed consent is an internationally recognized principle applied to the development of legislative and policy frameworks that affect indigenous people rights to enjoy their land. Free, prior and informed consent is more than token consultation and participation.
    • Some Ground has been made …..
      • Continual lobbying has resulted in some amendments proposed by Traditional Owners:
      • The explicit recognition of Native Title within the Wild Rivers Act . Although the government’s interpretation of the meaning of this is narrow.
      • Additional headway was made with The Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act (2007) providing concessions including:
          • Indigenous Water Reserves to meet the aspirations of Indigenous people
          • The establishment of Community Use Areas on Aboriginal Lands.
    • Why the rush ?
      • Cape York Rivers are NOT under “immediate threat”. The wilderness society website clearly states that feral animals, weeds and under resourcing are the key threats to the rivers, matters that are not addressed by the Wild Rivers Act.
      • There is a significant opportunity to deliver the desired conservation outcomes in Cape York that will benefit all Australians. But it must be a balanced approach, a grass roots approach and give consideration to all the values of the people who live there and know the country.
    • Water – Australia Wide
      • So far, I have talked of the issues in relation to water in my home of Cape York
      • I now want to discuss Indigenous Water Rights in a broader context – specifically – what is happening in terms of Indigenous Water Rights across Australia.
    • Indigenous Water Rights – Australia Wide Continued Dispossession
      • The national water initiative provides about Indigenous interests;-
      • “ the parties agree that, once initiated, their water access entitlements and planning frameworks will recognise indigenous needs in relation to water access and management. [1]
      • [1] Clause 25 ix) National Water Initiative
    • What Was Promised ….
      • The National Water Initiative also provided specific provisions on indigenous access to water and for the recognition of native title rights in water
      • 52 . The Parties will provide for indigenous access to water resources, in accordance with relevant Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation, through planning processes that ensure:
        • i) inclusion of indigenous representation in water planning wherever possible; and
        • ii) water plans will incorporate indigenous social, spiritual and customary objectives and strategies for achieving these objectives wherever they can be developed.
      • 53 . Water planning processes will take account of the possible existence of native title rights to water in the catchment or aquifer area. The Parties note that plans may need to allocate water to native title holders following the recognition of native title rights in water under the Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993 .
      • 54. Water allocated to native title holders for traditional cultural purposes will be accounted for.
    • Where is our Water?
      • We Indigenous People understood that this meant that we were to be included in the water allocation and entitlements under any future plans.
      • The National Water Commission website currently says under the title “What’s Hot” Governments across Australia, are in the early stages of formally recognising Indigenous relationships with water for spiritual, cultural and economic purposes. [1]
      • [1] http://www.nwc.gov.au/www/html/273-indigenous-water-issues.asp?intSiteID=1 (accessed 17 Feb 2009)
      • Can someone tell me which Governments are doing this “recognising Indigenous relationships with water for spiritual, cultural and economic purposes.”
      • Water Plans all over the north are being created that provide no water allocation for indigenous people, nothing, not a drop. The WA government has on its website that in achieving the implementation of the National Water Initiative in relation to indigenous access to water they have “obtained legal advice.”
      • We are now being told that any water entitlements for indigenous people are discretionary, at the whim of the States.
      • Even in the far north of Australia where Indigenous people are in the majority, they are not being provided with an allocation.
      • As I have mentioned, some ground has been made in Cape York, through the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act, guaranteeing Indigenous Water Allocations. We now need to know what we can do with that water allocation.
      • The Indigenous Water Allocations for Cape York may be a model which could be applied elsewhere in Australia.
      • This would take a genuine commitment to provide recognition and protection over Indigenous water rights, a commitment that so far seems to be lacking.
    • Prime Minister said Sorry
      • On this day just over a year after our Prime Minister’s Sorry speech, I suggest that Kevin Rudd should have said:
        • I’m sorry for taking your land, I’m sorry for taking your children and I am sorry we didn’t take your water, because we are going to take it now .