Press Release - June 26, 2024

Rubicon River damming successfully challenged by Traditional Owners but river future still uncertain 


Date: Tuesday 25 June, 2024

Traditional owners have successfully challenged a license that would have permitted a much-loved river in Victoria’s high country to be dammed and diverted. 

At a Preliminary Hearing at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), the Taungurung Land and Waters Council (TLaWC) challenged the legality of plans by Rubicon Station Pty Ltd to divert the Rubicon River by almost 600 metres through a private property near Rubicon, in central Victoria, in order to power a small-scale private hydroelectric plant. 

On behalf of TLaWC, lawyers from public interest legal group Environmental Justice Australia argued at VCAT in early June that the license granted by Goulburn Murray Water (GMW) for the scheme was unlawful.   

On Thursday June 20, the VCAT tribunal agreed with TLaWC that Goulburn Murray Water’s decision to grant the license to construct works was unlawful. 

The Taungurung had also argued the license would deviate the river, and that the water authority did not have the power to do this. But the tribunal did not accept this argument.   

The tribunal set aside the license to construct the work and sent it back to the decision-maker for reconsideration in accordance with the Water Act.  

The VCAT decision is a partial win for the Taungurung, because the works can’t proceed lawfully until the decision-maker considers all licence applications.  

But EJA senior lawyer Dr Bruce Lindsay said this may not be the end of the matter. It remains open to the decision-maker to reconsider the matter and issue new licenses. 

TLaWC continue to insist that no licences for these works and diversion should be issued. TLWC maintain these actions would seriously compromise the environmental and cultural values of this waterway. This controversy also raises important policy questions about the uses of ecologically healthy waterways and who benefits from them and how.  

TLaWC CEO Matthew Burns said:  

“The Rubicon River and the adjacent Camp Jungai are part of a broader cultural landscape on Taungurung Country that have deep connections with our history, Ancestors and our obligations to care for Country.   
“Taungurung people have cared for this Country for 1000 generations, dedicated to keeping the waterways healthy and full.   
“TLaWC prioritises protecting, enhancing and restoring habitats for local flora and fauna, which does not align with the serious interference in a public river for personal use.  
“The decision on June 20 to set aside the license for reconsideration is a partial win for the Taungurung Nation, but the fight is not over.
"Our focus is to maintain Taungurung cultural values, limit negative environmental impacts and improve ecological conditions; advocating for healthy waterways to ensure everyone can enjoy these beautiful spaces on Taungurung Country for a thousand generations to come.”

Environmental Justice Australia senior specialist lawyer Bruce Lindsay said:  

In its decision, the tribunal has clarified some important points about how our rivers and waterways are managed. Licences to manage how water and waterways in Victoria may be used and interfered with must be properly assessed and lawfully granted. 
“It appears unlikely that these issues are yet resolved. The decision on use of water and the Rubicon River for the private hydropower scheme will go back to a decision-maker, whether GMW or the Minister directly.  
“This is an important and ecologically healthy waterway to which the Aboriginal Traditional Owners have very strong cultural ties. These are matters of significant public interest. Maintaining an ecologically healthy waterway is in the public interest. 
“Building private hydropower schemes on public waterways, for private gain, raises important questions of public policy. Where that might occur on healthy mountain streams, with strong Aboriginal cultural associations, invokes the need for careful scrutiny.  
“Our client will continue to follow the next steps in this process closely.”

Media contact: Miki Perkins on 03 8341 3110 [email protected]

Photo: (L) Bruce Lindsay, Environmental Justice Australia senior specialist lawyer, and (R) Matt Burns, CEO of the Taungurung Land & Waters Council (TLaWC) and a proud Taungurung man, at the Rubicon River. Photo: Chris Hopkins.

Photo: Rubicon River from above.

Download these photos in high resolution for media use. 



The Rubicon River 

The Rubicon River, a tributary of the Goulburn River, is of deep cultural and ecological significance to Taungurung People and of ecological and recreational significance for all Victorians. 

The works would have been adjacent to Camp Jungai, a significant meeting place for First Nations people and now owned by the Taungurung Land and Waters Council.    

The Rubicon River and several other mountain rivers in Victoria are already affected by public hydro-electric schemes constructed in the twentieth century.  

TLaWC argued, at a Preliminary Hearing on legal questions, that GMW made legal errors in its decision (the decision to issue the licence was unlawful).  


The Taungurung Land and Waters Council asked VCAT to set aside a licence permitting a landowner to construct a private hydropower scheme on the Rubicon River. 

In doing so Taungurung are seeking to protect ecological and cultural values of the Rubicon River. 

Challenging this matter through the Tribunal is expensive. Further legal action could be required. The Traditional Owners are asking for public support to protect this river and the life of the wildlife, communities and plants that live there. Donations will assist with travel fees, filing costs and expert fees. 

More information about this fundraising campaign at:  

What is the Taungurung Land and Waters Council? 

Taungurung Land and Waters Council (TLaWC) is a Registered Aboriginal Party (RAP) that represents the interests of the Taungurung people. It is the corporate representative and ‘face’ of the Taungurung people and serves to uphold their interests with respect to culture and country. 

The Council protects the cultural heritage of Taungurung people under the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. It also develops projects for the economic, social and cultural well-being of Taungurung people.  

What is Environmental Justice Australia (EJA)?  

EJA is a national public interest legal organisation that works on the most pressing environmental justice issues of our time. We use a unique combination of public interest litigation and legal advocacy to hold power to account. We seek justice for creatures and communities. For this beautiful continent we call home. For everyone who comes next. 

Media contact: Miki Perkins on 03 8341 3110 [email protected]