Aboriginal Water Rights

Historically, Indigenous peoples' rights to water have largely been excluded from Australia’s complex water planning and management policies and programs. Although the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) includes water rights as a part of native title rights, only rights to use water for domestic and personal purposes have been recognised by the courts. The Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) does not provide for a right to negotiate over water.  In 2004, the National Water Initiative was the first instance in which Indigenous rights to water had been formally recognised in national water policy.  In 2009, Australia endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which universally acknowledges Indigenous peoples’ rights.

The Declaration includes the following rights to water:

  1. the right to maintain their distinctive spiritual connection to water
  2. the right to access the resources required to maintain cultural heritage and undertake traditional practices
  3. the right to determine priorities and strategies for the development or use of their resources
  4. the right to conserve and protect the environment and the productive capacity of their lands, and
  5. the right to improve their economic and social conditions.

Following the repeal of the Wild Rivers Act in 2014, The Mithaka People, with the assistance of Earth Justice, made a submission to the United Nations, Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples regarding Australia’s failure to protect the Mithaka peoples’ rights to culture and to be consulted and involved in decisions about resource exploitation on their traditional lands.


More information on Aboriginal water rights can be found at:

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