Indigenous water rights and water law reforms in Australia

Lee C. Godden, Sue Jackson, Katie O'Bryan

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5 Citations (Scopus)


This article critically examines the diverse policy and legal frameworks in Australia that seek to address Indigenous peoples’ water interests. The article analyses three geographically diverse case studies – northern Australia; a river in a metropolitan setting (the Yarra); and southern Australia’s MurrayDarling Basin. Each case study examines legislative and representative measures that comprise, more or less, “inclusion” of Aboriginal interests in their legal regimes. The article concludes that even “reformed” water laws can continue the dispossession and exclusion of Aboriginal peoples wrought by colonisation. In particular, water market models which require “full allocation” of water entitlements as a prerequisite to their implementation can operate in an exclusionary manner, but statutory water planning processes are not immune from inequity either. First Nations’ advocacy continues for more robust inclusion of Indigenous interests in water, as Australia enters another critical stage in its ongoing water reform agenda and governments review the National Water Initiative of 2004.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)655-678
Number of pages24
JournalEnvironmental and Planning Law Journal
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Indigenous rights
  • water resources

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