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The Native Title and Protected Areas Project


About the project

| The Project | The web site |ENGOs | Cooperative protocols | Guiding resolution | Indigenous agencies |


The native title and protected areas project

Native title decisions in the High Court of Australia and subsequent Commonwealth and State Native Title legislation are changing the public policy settings for the tenure and management of protected areas. A body of Native Title law now applies to a considerable portion of the protected area estate in Queensland and elsewhere in Australia. This raises important issues for Queensland's Environment Non-Government Organisations (ENGOs).

The ENGO's Native Title and Protected Areas project responds to this development of native title law as it applies to protected areas. The project provides research and development capacity to environment groups. Through cooperative and participatory methods it seeks to develop shared public policy on native title and protected areas. In the second half of 2001 this proposed policy should be submitted for a formal vote to around 50 member groups of the Queensland Conservation Council.

The policy is intended to provide clarification to the State Government and to indigenous bodies on the ENGO position on tenure and management of various types of protected areas and to provide a basis for negotiation on matters concerning native title and protected areas.

The Native Title and Protected Areas project provides coordination, information exchange and communication between ENGOs and indigenous representative bodies, Government agencies and other community interests. It also provides input or assistance to various processes where native title and environment issues are interrelated.

The project has been running since mid-1999. It corresponds with the commencement of the Queensland Government's "review of legislation and policy relating to indigenous title to and management of national parks and protected areas".

The project has been run in several stages, following a detailed Project description, and involves Queensland regional visits to assist groups to build participation structures and engage in debate.

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The 'indig-enviro' web site

This Web site is being developed to provide news, to make available references as they are produced through the project and to create an on-line nexus for an environment protection-indigenous rights debate. It is also a tool for communicating to a variety of other stakeholders in relation to the Government's review.

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The environment groups - ENGOs

The Native Title and Protected Areas project is being developed across a broadly representative group of ENGOs in Queensland. The groups involved in the project work across the State to build community support for the establishment and ecologically sustainable management of protected areas.

The organisations involved in the project are a range of Regional, State and National ENGOs that together reflect the broad agenda of the conservation sector on protected areas. A majority of the Queensland sector is involved as 'participant groups' - that is, ENGOs formally working on developing a policy to a stage where it can be put to the conservation sector as a whole. A further number of groups are having input or helping to guide the project on this basis. The rest of the groups broadly within the conservation sector fall under the umbrella of the Queensland Conservation Council.

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Cooperative protocols

There is a set of guidelines for the participation of ENGOs in the project. These protocols enable cooperation, a commitment to consensus building and accountability. They are intended to encourage open debate and the appraisal of diverse viewpoints amongst ENGOs. The protocols are in the form of a Participant Groups' Agreement and ensure a democratic structure and integrity in the policy development process.

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Guiding resolution - QCC state conference May 2000

After a year of Native Title and Protected Areas Project work, the 2000 QCC Annual Conference, held at Dalby in Queensland, unanimously passed the following Resolution -

"That this Conference calls upon the conservation movement to continue to determine a Native Title and Protected Areas Policy, including the following:

  • To have a working submission to native title services and to Aboriginal traditional owner groups and native title representative bodies;

  • To engage participant groups in a further round of policy drafting with the aim of achieving overall consensus

  • To develop a policy to be put to all member groups of the Queensland Conservation Council for formal decision

  • To encourage all participating groups to formally adopt a voting position by decision of a general meeting or, as minimum, of executive council or committee

  • To seek to work with indigenous and representative interests to build common ground between indigenous rights and environment protection agendas.

  • To project a cooperative image to the public and the community and to provide informative and useful materials for awareness raising and education

  • To seek clarification of the Government’s position on native title and protected areas and to advocate for a legislatively secured, sufficiently funded and properly resourced, cooperative outcome."

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The project's relationship to indigenous organisations

The principle task of the project is to develop an ENGO policy on "native title and protected areas". This policy will be a major focal point in recognition of indigenous rights and native title by ENGOs. Beyond this, it is hoped to be able to develop the capacity of ENGOs - knowledge and skills, a communications system, policy review mechanisms, contacts and protocols - in their dealings with traditional owners in respect of protected areas.

The Queensland Government has initiated the review of protected area tenure and management (mainly National Parks) in response to the common and statute law recognition of native title. The Government agreed to fund the Queensland Indigenous Working Group (QIWG) in recognition of the time and resources needed by QIWG to consult with traditional owner groups. The QIWG proposal was developed out of a three-day summit of indigenous leaders in April 1999. Advice of the QIWG's work was published in the May '99 and October '99 issues of Land Rights Queensland.

The native title and protected areas project seeks to work with traditional owner groups. It is however a practical necessity to work through various aboriginal representative organisations, particularly those created by indigenous people to manage there own affairs in relation to matters of governance and justice. The project does not wish to interfere with these participatory and representative structures of traditional owners or indigenous communities. It works, as far as practical, with the QIWG, Native Title Representative Bodies and Land Councils, and traditional owner groups and communities.

The holding of joint indigenous rights and environment protection conferences to explore various issues in some detail and to build networks of cross-cultural and information exchange is part of the projects aims.

Environment groups may advocate against developments, proposals and unsustainable practices on traditional owners’ lands that they consider damaging to the areas natural and cultural values - for example, opposition to the Jabiluka uranium mine in Kakadu. However, the project respects the indigenous view that no one has the right to speak on behalf of another's land. While it would be a fundamental break of protocol and respect to do so, the project draws a distinction between speaking on behalf of traditional owner's land and speaking about traditional owner's land and activities thereon.

ENGOs are developing protocols that would enable them to talk about matters of environmental significance occurring on various parts of traditional country. They are seeking a continuously improving relationship to traditional owners and an understanding of the cross-cultural issues.

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Native title and protected areas project
E-mail: The project coordinator
Mail: QCC, PO Box 12046,
George Street Post Shop, Brisbane, 4003
Ph: 07 3221 0188 Fax: 07 3229 7992