# 1

June 1999


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

| Managing the landscape | Upgrading protected area policy | ENGO standpoint |


Caring for country - looking at co-management

The intersection of native title and protected areas is a matter of fundamental importance to environment groups who have a strong interest in policy and legislative options and subsequent changes to the management of protected areas.

To have these interests considered, environment groups are running a State wide project to arrive at broad agreements and clear policy positions.

The first stage in a Queensland environment groups’ (ENGOs) ‘native title and protected areas project’ has been completed, with a provisional position submitted to Native Title Services, Queensland Indigenous Working Group and other indigenous representative bodies. A second, more detailed, phase of discussion and negotiation is now shaping up. The Government has specifically requested responses from ENGOs on issues of "joint management" of existing protected areas, such as national parks.

Two strands of policy, within the broad context of joint interest and management in protected areas, are being considered. The first is the exercise of native title rights and interests in relation to protected areas, the second, entitlement in protected areas through historical and customary connection where legal native title rights have been extinguished.

Both strands will be included in ENGO policy developments. In addition, there will be a focus on land management and the Indigenous Protected Areas program.


Managing the landscape

There is a general recognition among ENGOs that new management frameworks will be needed to accommodate the rights, interests and aspirations of rightful indigenous communities in protected areas.

The development of environmental science and international and national level policies and commitments on biodiversity protection and indigenous rights are leading to a recognition that the scenic and aesthetic values of protected areas and national parks are alone inadequate to dealing with nature conservation issues. It is also apparent that natural areas in Australia cannot be viewed as land without people and culture.

The Australian environment is a largely ‘managed landscape’ resulting from many thousands of years of land management practiced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, intertwining natural and indigenous cultural values.

Expanding knowledge of the continent indicates that many existing or future protected areas may not be ecologically stable and capable of sustaining biological diversity for a number of reasons. These are:

  • The cessation of or restrictions on active management by indigenous traditional owners

  • The radical modification of the Australian landscape through colonisation, and

  • The design and scale of the protected area system has been insufficient to ensure the long term continuity of ecological processes

As a result of the impacts of change on the environment, and of the present state of the environment, ‘protected areas’ are required that give priority to preservation of biodiversity. And because there are now new problems and new challenges, protected area management should include both Aboriginal traditional management and contemporary management methods.

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Upgrading protected area policy

Much of the legislative and policy framework and programs operating at a State level in this area derive from a regime developed prior to the full effect of the High Court decisions in the Mabo and Wik cases.

As a result of these cases, and others, such as Ben Ward in the Federal Court, the nature of the ENGO debate has changed. Substantial progress has been made by a broad range of ENGOs in recognising native title rights and working to upgrade their approach and policies on protected areas.

Examples of this movement include:

  • Development of indigenous rights and environment protection policies,

  • Setting new constitutional objectives recognising the rights and interests conferred by native title,

  • Becoming signatories to a number of indigenous rights and environment protection instruments (eg, the Cape York Peninsula Land Use Heads of Agreement and the Malimup Communique), and

  • Engagement in land justice and reconciliation movements (such as Land Justice Alliance Queensland and ANTaR).

Still, other ENGOs have not been part of this movement, or only in a limited fashion. A number of groups have been hampered by lack of information or misinformation, or have seen no reason to directly engage the issues. There is now an obligation on ENGOs to fully involve themselves in the issues and seek inclusion in consultations.

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The ENGO standpoint

The native title and protected areas discussion has been one of the more challenging for ENGOs due to both the legal and policy complexity and the change of attitude required regarding the management of protected areas.

The general ENGO standpoint is that there is no inherent incompatibility between conservation and indigenous interests: that in fact there is a complementary relationship, covered in the term ‘caring for country’, and that native title rights will drive the development of joint management arrangements.

There is majority ENGO recognition that many past and existing arrangements for protected areas have limited the capacity of indigenous people to continue to ‘care for country’ according to their customs and law and to be involved in the management of Protected Areas with land management agencies. Indigenous people have expressed the view that the establishment of some protected areas has been one amongst many factors in their dispossession of land.

There is now a substantial commitment by ENGOs to working beyond a bottom line of legal rights towards a broader concern for environment protection in a community development context. ENGOs will continue to advance towards a policy consensus on indigenous rights and interests in relation to protected areas and to maintain dialogue and information sharing with QIWG and other indigenous representative bodies.

Ó Anthony Esposito

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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