First Peoples' Water Engagement Council (FPWEC)

The 2011 Biennial Assessment found that most states and territories have improved their consultation with Australia’s First Peoples’ communities on water planning and management.

However, the Commission also told COAG that our states and territories' efforts to incorporate effective strategies for achieving Australia’s First Peoples’ social, spiritual and customary objectives in water plans, as envisaged under the National Water Initiative, have been patchy.

The First Peoples' Water Engagement Council (FPWEC) was established to provide advice to the Commission on national Indigenous water issues.

The members are:

Cheryl Buchanan, (Kooma Gwamu), George Cooley (Yanyula and Antakirinja Mutu-Yankuntjatjara), Phil Duncan (Gomeroi), Bradley Moggridge (Kamilaroi), Lillian Moseley (Dunghutti), Robert Dalton (Mudburra) and Brian Wyatt (Yued and Banyjima). Read more about the members of the FPWEC.

FPWEC advice to the National Water Commission on Indigenous water

On 30 May 2012 the FPWEC formally delivered their advice (PDF 407KB) (DOC 3MB) to Commission CEO James Cameron and issued a media release (PDF 63KB) (DOC 1.7MB). The advice is the key output from the FPWEC and recommends that:

  1. State and Territory governments, together with their respective water-planning authorities, policy-makers, bureaucrats and technical specialists, implement the principles set out in the advice.
  2. State and Territory governments review existing legislation related to the management of water resources and enshrine the principles set out in the advice in future legislation.
  3. The Council of Australian Governments establish and implement a National Aboriginal Water Strategy.
  4. An Aboriginal Economic Water Fund, or funds be established to facilitate the National Aboriginal Water Strategy.
  5. The National Water Commission extend the term of the First Peoples’ Water Engagement Council.

The Commission responded by issuing a position statement on Indigenous access to water resources.

The FPWEC ended its tenure in 2012. The NWC now receives advice from the Indigenous Water Advisory Committee (IWAC). The IWAC was formed by the Department of the Environment to advise the department and Commonwealth water portfolio agencies on incorporating Indigenous views, beliefs and interests into the development and implementation of Commonwealth water policies and programs.

More information about the IWAC.

Contributions to the development of the FPWEC’s advice to the Commission

To arrive at their final policy positions, the FPWEC consulted widely with Aboriginal groups, water planners and managers and water industry and government representatives. The FPWEC also held the First Peoples’ National Water Summit to test the concepts drafted in their advice and they produced a number of stand-alone documents that contributed to the formulation of their ideas. These important documents are listed below.

First Peoples’ National Water Summit

More than seventy community representatives of Australia’s First Peoples met in Adelaide during March 2012 to test their advice to the Commission on how Indigenous water should be managed.

Summit attendees discussed numerous Australia’s First Peoples water-related topics including:

  • gaining respect and recognition for cultural values and aspirations
  • potential allocation of water entitlements to support economic development and cultural needs
  • opportunities to improve decision making and partnerships in water planning and management. 

The first day of the Summit was for Australia’s First Peoples' attendees only and was opened by Paul Caica, the South Australian Minister for Water and Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation. Former Commission Chair Chloe Munro gave a key note address (PDF 71.7 KB) (RTF 493.2KB).

FPWEC then issued a summit communiqué (PDF 52KB) (DOC 1.7MB) and circulated a Summary of the First Peoples’ National Water Summit (PDF 171KB) (DOC 39KB) to delegates.

FPWEC submission to the 2011 Biennial Assessment

In 2011 the FPWEC provided a submission (PDF 1.9MB) to the Commission for the 2011 Biennial Assessment of progress in implementation of the National Water Initiative. This submission addressed the policy areas of Aboriginal water for economic development and for cultural purposes and the issues related to the capacity of Indigenous Australian’s to participate in water planning and management and to use water effectively.

Accompanying this submission, the FPWEC released A review of Indigenous involvement in water planning in Australia (PDF 1.4MB) (DOC 18.4MB). This is an important baseline for Indigenous water policy issues in Australia and provides a state by state summary of legislation and policies, and commentary around their practical application in water planning at 2010.

2012 FPWEC policy framework

In March 2012, the FPWEC signed-off on their Policy Framework (PDF 366KB) (DOC 2.3MB). This framework took form throughout the tenure of the FPWEC and helped them to arrive at their final policy advice to the Commission.

Options paper for an Indigenous economic water fund

The allocation of water entitlements to Indigenous Australian’s to facilitate economic development is a policy discussion that has developed over the last few years. A short options report was prepared to stimulate discussion in this area at the First Peoples’ National Water Summit, in March 2012. This report (PDF 529KB) identified options for a path forward to establish an Indigenous Economic Water Fund (IEWF), as one possible mechanism to achieve Indigenous water entitlements for economic development. The paper identifies policy linkages, options for the acquisition of water entitlements, their governance structures and possible future steps for Indigenous Australians to pursue a fund or funds.

Raising National Water Standards Program - Indigenous access to water resources projects

The Commission has invested over $10 million through the Raising National Water Standards (RNWS) Program to improve our knowledge and understanding of the water-related social and economic aspirations of Indigenous Australians. Read more about the Commissions’ projects on Indigenous water issues.