Managing the landscape | Upgrading
protected area policy |
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.
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.
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
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.
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
indigenous rights and environment protection policies,
Setting new constitutional
objectives recognising the rights and interests conferred by
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.
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
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.