# 2

September 1999


| Home | About | Background | Issues | Policy |

re:<Issues and debate><articles and discussion papers>


| Commercial activities | Improving park managament|


Parks not a battle ground for native title

There are currently two related Queensland Government processes that have wide ranging implications for the future of protected areas, including National Parks. One is the review of protected areas in relation to native title rights, and the other a master planning process in relation to the framework for the management of national parks.

From the Mabo judgement through to the recent Yanner decision, and in the context of national Native Title laws, it is clear that native title rights underlie the management of protected areas and wildlife. The rights of traditional owners to hunt, fish and control access to culturally important sites are broadly recognised. The Government's native title review is a consultative process designed to clarify tenure issues and work out adjustments to the management of existing protected areas to meet native title rights. It should also establish the basis on which future protected areas might be created now that native title is an established fact of land law.

Understanding the diverse rights and interests that arise under the rubric of native title is a key issue. Gummow J, in his judgement in the Yanner case made this clear when he said: "The heterogeneous laws and customs of Australia's indigenous peoples provide [the] content [of Native title]. It is the relationship between a community of indigenous people and the land, defined by reference to that community's traditional laws and customs".

back to top...


Commercial activities

The issue of commercialisation of parks, which is often raised when considering the revenue base for parks, is quite different. Native title does not involve commercial concerns as of right. Commercial considerations arise with respect to economic and social costs and benefits associated with the management and use of protected areas. There are many tourism operations already benefiting commercially from the existence of national parks. Private operators, local communities and businesses, and the Government all derive economic benefit, directly or through ‘multiplier dollars’. Agricultural and pastoral land users also benefit from the ‘biological services’ provided by these areas.

How such commercial activities may effect indigenous people depends on a range of factors, including the degree to which they themselves can control or otherwise be compensated for economic benefits derived from the use of their traditional lands and waters. Recognition of their rights and the negotiation of cooperative agreements to achieve multiple objectives are both a necessity and a just cause for Government and the community.

Any role for private contractors and local communities in the management and operations of national parks is quite distinct to that of traditional Aboriginal owners. The distinction is one between legal rights and conferred interests.

back to top...


Improving park managament

With respect to national parks and other protected areas these reviews will result in changes to the legislative framework and the management regimes for these areas. It should also deliver an overall improvement in the management of the natural and cultural values of the protected area estate. There are many parks around Queensland that are adversely affected ecologically by the exclusion of indigenous traditional knowledge and management, or to put it another way, by preventing traditional owners from ‘caring for country’.

The National Strategy for the Conservation of Australian Species and Communities Threatened with Extinction highlights aboriginal burning as a critical feature of management. "The life cycles of most Australian plants and animals are well adapted to survive fire and other natural disturbances", it says. "However, in many parts of Australia there have been major changes in these regimes since European settlement. It is these changed fire regimes that have threatened species. The management of some endangered species, for example the ground parrot, involves appropriately frequent fires". Of course, the Strategy recognises that land clearing and radical modifications to country through agriculture, pastoralism, industrialisation and urbanisation are the major contributing factors to loss of biodiversity.

Protected area management considerations for environmentalists involve seeking to ensure no further loss of biodiversity and strong protection of natural values and endangered species. There is no reason to assume that this is not an objective shared with traditional owners. National parks should not become a battleground for native title.

A cooperative and mutual approach to nature conservation and species protection appears to be the way forward. By acknowledging common law native title rights, the issue becomes one of why, how and by whom regulation is to be effected. The onus is on the State to provide for the fullest expression possible traditional owner hunting, gathering or fishing rights in the context of land allocation and environmental management, or to provide appropriate redress where those rights are diminished in the interests of environmental protection.

One constructive focus emerging from these reviews is attention to the gross under-resourcing for management of protected areas. The native title review and the master planning process both provide an opportunity to assess the current state of management and to develop proposals that give proper recognition to the environmental, cultural and economic values fulfilled by protected areas.

Ó Anthony Esposito

back to top...




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