The federal government has named Rene Woods as the first person to fill the Indigenous position on the Murray-Darling Basin Authority board, more than a year after the permanent role was created.
A Nari Nari man from Hay in New South Wales, Woods currently works as a conservation officer with Nature Conservancy Australia, and has previously held the role of chair of the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations.
He has also been vice-chair of the Nari Nari Tribal Council.
Woods said the four-year appointment was “a step in the right direction” to closing the gap and improving First Nations influence on water-management decisions.
“It’s my hope that there will be more First Nations representation in coming years that will continue to take our voices to the Authority, improving their understanding of First Nations water issues,” he said in a statement on Friday.
“My father, Ian, was the first Indigenous man on the Murray Darling Basin Commission. He started to advocate for more involvement in decision-making. I’m proud to continue that work.”
Water shadow minister Terri Butler said Labor has welcomed the appointment but criticised the “significant delay” in filling the permanent Indigenous Authority Member board position, which was established in September 2019.
“First Nations communities have for too long been left out of water management,” she said.
MDBA chair Sir Angus Houston said the new role recognised the key role of First Nations in contributing to the management of water resources and acknowledged their voices.
“It is vital that the voices of our First Nations are heard alongside the other important conversations and their views are actively considered when decisions are made about water management in the Basin,” he said.
The appointment came days after Troy Grant, a former NSW deputy premier, was named as Interim Inspector-General of Water Compliance. Butler described the compliance role as a “toothless water cop appointment”.
“The government abolished the previous Interim Inspector General role, which they failed to empower through legislation, despite promising to do so,” she said.
“The new Murray Darling Basin Inspector General of Water Compliance role will still not have any significant powers until legislation is passed, leaving the role with less compliance capacity than a local parking inspector.”
The establishment of the position and the movement of compliance functions out of the MDBA is expected to commence in July 2021 pending successful passage of the supporting legislation.