Traditional Owners have called the Commonwealth’s failure to include a First Nations voice in discussions about the future of the Murray-Darling Basin a “continuation of the government’s history of dispossession of land”.

Minister for Resources and Water Keith Pitt has announced the appointment of eight members to the Advisory Group on water markets in the Murray–Darling Basin, a group that includes technical experts, water market users and stakeholder representatives, but no Indigenous people.

This comes after the February 2021 Murray-Darling Basin water markets inquiry report identified First Nations and Traditional Owners as key players in the water market.

A spokesperson for the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations said the move denied Traditional Owners their right to self-determination.

The Federation’s chair, Rodney Carter, said Traditional Owners and First Nations people must have a voice in any decisions that affect them, including reforms to water across the Murray-Darling Basin.

“It’s just not good enough that a government report identifies this on one hand and then we are again dispossessed of a voice when the time comes to make decisions about how water is allocated,” he said.

“As members of the oldest living culture in the world, Traditional Owners have managed water for thousands of years and it’s time for our expertise to be taken seriously by all governments.”

Paul Paton, CEO, Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations said meaningful reconciliation would not be achieved if Traditional Owners are not included in decision-making processes.

“It’s very disappointing that Traditional Owners have again been ignored by this government in relation to water rights,” he said.

“Over the past few years there have been enormous changes to the way the wider community regards the rights of Traditional Owners. The wider public seem to understand that as Traditional Owners we have inherent rights and responsibilities to Country and they are keen to learn more.

“We are calling upon the Federal Government to listen to those changes in public sentiment and act on them.”

Paton said he was not aware of any consultation with Aboriginal people on the makeup of the group.

This comes following revelations in October that a plan to return $40 million in water entitlements to First Nations people had been removed from Minister Pitt’s portfolio and has instead been handed over to Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt without consultation with Traditional Owners.

Paton said he believed the move would create more bureaucracy.

“My concern is the amount of red tape that we need to cut through before Traditional Owners receive what they need to care for Country,” he said.

“In 2018 the Federal Government announced a plan to return $40 million in water entitlements to First Peoples.

Three years on and no money for water rights nor a schedule for future delivery has been provided.

“Traditional Owners in the north of Victoria cannot wait another three years.”

Water Minister Keith Pitt’s office did not respond to requests for comment by the deadline provided.

By Sarah Smit