The Territory is leading the way nationally with the introduction of an Aboriginal Water Reserves Bill, Minister for Environment and Natural Resources, Eva Lawler has said.
Introduced to parliament yesterday, the bill ensures First Australians have increased opportunity to access water resources for economic development.
"The Strategic Aboriginal Water Reserves Policy Framework was the first of its type and scale to be released anywhere in Australia and represents significant progressive policy reform without an equivalent in other Australian jurisdiction," the minister said during parliament sittings yesterday.
"The premise of an Aboriginal Water Reserve is for a proportion of the water resources in a water allocation plan to be reserved for future economic development for Aboriginal people."
Once passed, the Bill will amend the Water Act 1992, opening up opportunities for future economic development and local jobs for Indigenous people on country.
Previously, water was made available to applicants on a "first-in-first-served" basis leading to a monopoly, which saw Indigenous people missing out, Ms Lawler said.
"Because of the race for available water resources that this practice has generated, Aboriginal groups can experience disadvantage arising from a number of factors including; lack of ready access to capital, absence of infrastructure, and shortage of experience or expertise or access to networks required to build a successful business or establish partnerships.
"Disadvantage can also result from poor access to information about the process to gain access to water entitlements in a timely manner, that is, before someone else applies for the water.
"The water allocation system existing prior to the introduction of the Strategic Aboriginal Water Reserves policy framework has resulted in instances where non-Aboriginal interests control close to 100 per cent of available water allocations in regions where Aboriginal people comprise the majority of the local population."
The minister said government agencies and land councils will play a key role as the bill is rolled out.
"I am aware that there has been some commentary that the establishment of an Aboriginal water reserve could result in the locking up of water," she said.
"This would be equivalent to holding any other wealth-generating asset and doing nothing with it.
"This clearly goes against the intent of the policy and what this government is trying to achieve-providing a positive incentive for interaction between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal groups that can leverage opportunities for Aboriginal employment, partnerships or shared equity in development projects, particularly in remote projects, and to create jobs on country.
"The success of the Strategic Aboriginal Water Reserves policy framework requires water extraction licences to be issued to benefit Aboriginal people.
"To support this goal, there needs to be effective administration, active promotion and ongoing capacity building and support for Aboriginal enterprises.
"To encourage eligible Aboriginal people and potential industry partners to take advantage of the benefits established by the policy, implementation framework and actions are being developed by relevant government agencies in consultation with land councils, traditional owners and industry stakeholders.
"This strategy will present options for engagement and capacity building for Aboriginal people who have rights to access an Aboriginal water reserve to ensure the full economic benefit is realised."
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