Abstract: The purpose of this policy paper is to present the concept of a Strategic Indigenous Reserve (SIR)* as a means to advance Indigenous economic development to address Indigenous disadvantage in northern Australia and enhance Indigenous community participation in water management processes being developed by governments. The desired outcome is generally for an identified allocation of water to a Strategic Indigenous Reserve for economic purposes in all water plans in north Australia. The framework of the Strategic Indigenous Reserve presents an opportunity for enhancing the recognition of Indigenous water rights and for transforming that recognition into practical outcomes for Indigenous communities across north Australia. The Strategic Indigenous Reserve represents the set of perpetual, exclusive and inalienable rights of Indigenous people to a share of water available for consumption in surface and groundwater systems in north Australia. Water rights would be specifically set aside for activities that contribute to Indigenous economic development. The rights making up the Strategic Indigenous Reserve would be held and managed by Traditional Owners for the purpose of economic use to benefit the broader Indigenous community. The development of the Strategic Indigenous Reserve would include a focus on capacity building to support productive use of water, and increased Indigenous participation in water planning and land and water management more broadly. To achieve this, NAILSMA is supported by the IWPG to lead consultations with state and federal governments and other Indigenous and non-Indigenous stakeholders. Consultation will aim to raise awareness of the proposal among governments and stakeholders, and identify questions and issues requiring further thought. Following further consideration and a process to build stakeholder and government support, the ultimate goal of the IWPG is to have governments: endorse the concept of the Strategic Indigenous Reserve as a legitimate strategy to contribute to Indigenous economic development and address disadvantage; introduce legislation to mandate the establishment of the Strategic Indigenous Reserve in all water plans developed in north Australia; amend arrangements for Indigenous Reserves emerging in Queensland and the Northern Territory to align with the IWPG and NAILSMA endorsed principles and objectives; and make resources available to support governance and capacity building required to make the Strategic Indigenous Reserve a success.
NAILSMA Indigenous Water Policy Group, 2012, Indigenous people’s right to the commercial use and management of water on their traditional territories: An Indigenous Water Policy Position – The Strategic Indigenous Reserve, Report, viewed 18 August 2022, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=3158.