First Nations water

The Australian Government has committed $150 million within the National Water Grid Fund to support water infrastructure for First Nations communities in regional and remote Australia.

Safe and reliable drinking water is fundamental to health, wellbeing and overall life outcomes for all people. Many First Nations communities in regional and remote Australia experience challenges related to water security. Water security may mean knowing that water is available when we want to access it, and knowing that the water is reliable, such as being safe to drink. 

Improved water security will also help: 

  • increase resilience to climate change
  • community wellbeing
  • economic participation
  • sustainable development
  • support cultural and spiritual needs, like connection to Country. 

The Australian Government is working with state and territory governments, First Nations organisations and representatives, and other stakeholders to identify, prioritise and deliver water infrastructure projects that can provide water security for First Nations communities. 

Benefits to communities

We know increased water security can have great flow-on benefits to communities. Our investment in water infrastructure doesn’t just provide better water, it supports whole of government action. Some benefits of better water include: 

  • improved health services
  • new jobs
  • economic growth
  • new housing opportunities
  • infrastructure opportunities. 

Types of projects we fund

The Australian Government supports solutions that recognise the needs of individual communities and address underlying water security-related challenges. 

Proposals for Australian Government funding can include construction projects, science projects and business cases. 

Construction projects may include, but are not limited to:

  • upgrading networks
  • fixing leaking pipes
  • building and equipping bores
  • installing water treatment systems. 

The NWG can deliver science projects aimed at improving long-term water security for remote First Nations communities under the NWG’s Science Strategy.

A business case may be funded where more information is needed before an infrastructure project can proceed.

Listening to First Nations voices

The NWG recognises the importance of First Nations communities playing a role in informing water infrastructure projects. We are working to ensure First Nations voices are considered in decision-making.

Our Investment Framework includes a guiding investment principle that project development must include engagement with the First Nations communities of potentially affected areas. This should happen during each step of the project process:

  • identification
  • development
  • delivery.

This engagement must identify and manage impacts on cultural heritage as well as demonstrate that there is broad community support for the project. Project proposals need to meet this and other criteria to be suitable for funding. Water has an important role in the cultural, social and spiritual identity of First Nations people, who have a long history of stewardship of Australia’s water systems. It’s important that we draw on this knowledge to inform water infrastructure projects.

Working across government

Supporting First Nations communities on Country, particularly those in some of the most remote parts of Australia, needs to be a collaborative effort.

The NWG works with Australian Government agencies and state, territory and local governments to make sure water infrastructure investment is effective and culturally responsive.

Closing the Gap

We are supporting the Australian Government’s Closing the Gap Implementation Plan. The plan is the pathway to improve the lives of First Nations Australians. Delivery of water infrastructure supports Target 9B, and will help to provide water in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that is on par with water in other, less remote parts of Australia. 

The Australian Government has also committed $5 million towards building local understanding, capability and empowering communities to benefit from improved water infrastructure. This funding will help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to make well informed decisions about water infrastructure for their community. It will ensure that achieving sustainable change within communities does contribute to Closing the Gap. 

The NWG’s Indigenous Employment and Supplier-Use Water Infrastructure Framework applies to all First Nations water infrastructure construction projects. This framework supports the National Agreement on Closing the Gap and can be read in the National Water Grid Fund Program Administration Manual.

Sustainable Development Goal – our international commitment 

First Nations water infrastructure projects will contribute towards the United Nation’s Global Sustainable Development Goal 6b. This goal aims to support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.

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