• Indigenous groups are calling for a major change in water policy after mass fish deaths in the Murray-Darling River system. (AAP)Source: AAP
Indigenous groups along the Murray Darling are backing calls for a royal commission and urging for a change in water policy.
21 Jan 2019 - 6:18 PM  UPDATED 21 Jan 2019 - 6:18 PM

The Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations is backing calls for a royal commission into the mismanagement of the Murray Darling Basin following mass fish kills earlier this month.

NBAN Deputy Chair Ghillar Michael Anderson and director Cheryl Buchanan said the catastrophe being experienced in the river system is not just due to drought.

“It is also a culmination of man-made mismanagement… and major development without scientific, evidence-based planning in the formative years of [the Murray Darling Basin Authority],” they said in a statement. 

Mr Anderson said any inquiry should look at criminal charges.

“If fraud is found to have happened then politicians and others, and lobbyists, have to be prosecuted… you can’t excuse this behaviour,” he told NITV News.

The Greens are promising to introduce legislation to establish a royal commission into the mismanagement of the basin following the death of up to one million native species of fish earlier this month at Menindee, in the far west New South Wales. 

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dismissed the calls, saying he isn’t interested in "knee-jerk responses" to the basin’s plan, saying more information is needed. 

Meanwhile, Labor has requested an independent report which Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has promised to make public before federal parliament resumes next month. 

Government officials have attributed the fish deaths to natural conditions caused by dying blue-green algal blooms sucking the oxygen out of available water.

Mr Anderson said governments and the Murray Darling Basin Authority have not done their job properly. 

“The problem is they’re trying to plan for something that isn’t there, [they] don’t even know what the science is in terms of the quantity of water for each of the catchments,” Mr Anderson said.

"Yet the government has given away all of these water licences to these irrigators and completely ignored all the needs of the other parties… its profit before people."

NBAN represents 22 Aboriginal groups along the northern part of the river system.

The native title holders have long called for greater acknowledgment of cultural flows and are demanding a seat at the table with water planners, after no Indigenous groups were formally invited to an emergency meeting in Canberra last week.

“As an Aboriginal woman when it comes to water ...we must be there at the table,” Ms Buchanan told NITV News.

“This is criminal what is happening in Australia… “The conversation is driven by profit, by people who are only going to listen themselves, and part of that is that they don’t even care about the legacy of their own grandchildren and future generations.”

The fish kills at Menindee have had flow-on effects to many surrounding communities along the river system, like Brewarrina, where water is running out.

Brewarrina mayor Phillip O’Connor said it is "morally wrong" for residents to be suffering while irrigators take too much water from the system.

“Governments have just got to do something about it where they set a dam level, so when it gets to a certain level, no-one can irrigate out of it,” he said.  

“We need bigger weirs that can be regulated, that can release water to downstream communities when they need it, you know, people have to come before profit sometime” he said.

New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council Chair Roy-Ah See, who visited Menindee last week, said the water crisis is about much more than dead fish.

“Enough’s enough. The fish is the only the start. Our elders are saying that it's gonna go to the turtle population… and eventually to the bird-life,” he said in a Facebook video.

“This is an ecological disaster and its gotta stop.”

Director of Barkandji native title body not invited to discussion about Darling water management
An emergency meeting was held in Canberra yesterday to discuss water management in the Murray Darling Basin in response to the deaths of millions of fish near Menindee in western NSW last week. The Barkandji Native Title holders were not invited.
‘Aqua nullius’: Indigenous group fronts River Murray royal commission
Traditional Owners say the Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission is an opportunity to propose legislation changes.