Media Releases | 14th Nov, 2023

‘We stand by our river’: First Nations leaders, fishers, farmers and environment groups unite in Canberra to demand real water for the Murray-Darling

With the Senate set to decide the fate of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, an alliance of First Nation leaders, irrigators, farmers, ecologists and environmental organisations today travelled to federal parliament to urge politicians from across the political spectrum to deliver for inland rivers and communities.

The alliance is calling on the government to negotiate with all members of the Senate to strengthen the Restoring Our Rivers (2023) Bill to ensure real water is returned to Australia’s biggest river system.

They highlighted the triple threat facing inland communities of climate change, drought and long-term mismanagement of our inland rivers, calling for a range of amendments, in particular the guarantee of:

  • Water rights for Traditional Owners
  • 450 GL of real water be returned to the rivers
  • The recovery of sufficient water to ensure the flows in the northern basin (Darling/Baaka)

Key members of Parliament from across the political divide, including Nationals, Greens, Independents, and government ministers attended a BBQ and press conference held in the Senate courtyard today to hear stories from this diverse coalition.

They heard from graziers and irrigators calling for more water returned to rivers, First Nations leaders on the sacred responsibility to protect the Country, and multi-generational fishers calling for a guarantee that more water is returned to the river than is taken out.

Earlier in the day, Minister Plibersek was handed a petition with 10,000 signatures from across the Murray-Darling Basin urging her to stand up and protect the rivers they love.

Statements attributable to Jono La Nauze, Chair of the Murray-Darling Conservation Alliance:
“I’m proud to stand alongside such a wide cross-section of Basin and First Nations communities united in our call for the government to go further in returning water to our rivers.

“We’ve gathered over ten thousand signatures from across the Basin and today launch our Stand By Your Rivers campaign – calling on Minister Plibersek to offer a guarantee that the water that has been long promised but not delivered in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan finally reaches our waterways.”

Statements attributable to Major Moogy Sumner, Ngarrindjeri / Kaurna Senior Elder:

“The government needs to not just be listening, but actually hearing and implementing the teaching from First Nations people on how to look after our rivers and water systems. We need real water returned to the river to keep our waters clean and pure not just for us, but for everyone.”

Statements attributable to irrigator Bill McClumpha from Red Cliffs, VIC:

“Contrary to popular belief buybacks are popular with the majority of irrigators who own entitlements, and they are not a factor contributing to irrigator exits. A new program will boost irrigation, not cut it. If recovery targets are completed by a buyback program irrigators will be protected against the allocation cuts certain to occur in dry years if targets are not met.”

Statements attributable to Gloria Jones, multi-generational fisher from Clayton Bay, SA:

“Here we stand ten years on from when Henry Jones cooked fish and spoke to all on the lawns of Parliament House, including Prime Minister Julia Gillard. However, ten years on and the Plan has not been delivered. We do not need more science to achieve the Plan, we know what needs to be done. Minister Plibersek, we ask you to be brave.”

Statements attributable to Gary Hall, grazier from the Macquarie Marshes, NSW:

“As farmers who grow cattle on floodplains in the Darling Basin, we contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy, and produce food for Aussie tables. Our community congratulates the current government for finally having the courage to address the failures of the Basin plan to date. We support a lot of the recommendations from the Senate inquiry, but it doesn’t go far enough. We need this Bill to guarantee more for the Darling ahead of the next drought.”

Statements attributable to Char Nitschke, Campaigner Coordinator (Water) for Conservation Council of South Australia said:

“It is critical that all Australians, from the bottom of the Coorong, where the Murray Mouth meets the Southern ocean, right to northern Queensland, demand real water for the river now. There’s also unfinished business. The plan must be amended to account for climate change and First Nations water rights.”

Full list of press conference speakers:

First Nations leaders:

  • Uncle Major ‘Moogy’ Sumner (Ngarrindjeri/Kaurna)
  • Aunty Polly Cutmore (Gamilaraay/Wirri/Anaiwan)
  • Barry Stone (Ngampaa)


  • Jono La Nauze, CEO, Environment Victoria
  • Melissa Gray, Nature Conservation Council of NSW
  • Nicole McKay, Swan Hill resident


  • Gloria & Julie Jones, fishing family Lakes & Coorong, South Australia, representing River Lakes & Coorong Action Group (RLCAG)

Farmers and graziers:

  • Garry Hall, Macquarie Marshes Environmental Landholders Association
  • Bill McClumpha, Red Cliffs irrigator
  • Justine Bucknell, Coonamble farmer, Macquarie Marshes Environmental Landholders Association, NCC Board

A full recording of all speakers at the press conference, plus images, is available on request.

Media contact

James Norman, Media and Content Manager

Ph: 0451291775