# 1

June 1999


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| The process | First principles | Policy development and resolving issues |


Policy briefing paper


The process

In 1991, Queensland environment groups were in disagreement over the issue of Aboriginal management of National Parks as a consequence of the introduction by the Goss Government of the Aboriginal Land Act 1991 (ALA) and the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (NCA). (These links are to PDF files - you will need Acrobat Reader to view them)

Similar differences occurred in New South Wales in 1996 and 1997 with the passage of amendments to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act. These amendments facilitated the transferral of ownership of a number of National Parks to Aboriginal communities and established joint boards of management of these parks. The Queensland State Government is addressing similar issues.

The aim of this new process - the Native Title and Protected Areas project - is to build a policy agreement across the state environment movement, delivering a public policy position on "native title rights, interests and issues in relation to indigenous involvement in the management of protected areas".

The policy document will serve the purpose of further negotiation between the State’s environment groups, indigenous representative organisations and traditional owners, and the Government.

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First principles

In developing an environment movement-wide policy position an agreed starting point is necessary. Much of the legislative and policy framework and the programs operating at a State level with respect to indigenous rights and environment protection derive from a regime developed prior to the full effect of the High Court decisions in the Mabo, Wik and Yanner cases. As a result of these cases 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 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. Now that the State Government is developing policy options for Cabinet resolution, ENGOs need to fully engage in the issues and seek inclusion in consultations as interest groups and public stakeholders. To do this effectively a baseline of relevant information needs to be developed and a starting point based on first principles agreed.

This is one of the first tasks of this project: to bring the ENGOs together to work on the issues within the same terms of reference. The terms of reference provided by the Government for this project, emergent knowledge in environmental management matters and the expressed views and principles of Aboriginal representative bodies frame our debate. Some key points in the discussion are:

  • That ENGOs have a genuine public and community interest in protected areas; few gains in protected areas having occurred without the efforts of groups comprising the environment movement,

  • That native title is a right and a fact, requiring either voluntary negotiation and the cooperation of indigenous people in the public management of protected areas, or litigation,

  • That the Australian environment is a largely ‘managed landscape’ resulting from many thousands of years of land management practiced by indigenous Australians, intertwining natural and indigenous cultural values,

  • That many existing or future protected areas may not be ecologically stable in the long term, either without the active management of traditional owners or because the radical, destructive changes to the Australian landscape through colonisation have undercut ecological viability,

  • That, as a result of the impacts of change on the environment, ‘protected areas’ are required that put preservation of biodiversity as a first order concern,

  • That, because there are now new problems and new challenges, protected area management will likely include both Aboriginal traditional management and contemporary management methods,

  • That restrictive land use tenure for protected areas has limited the capacity of indigenous people to continue to 'care for country', to carry on practices that are essential to the maintenance of culture and identity. It has at times been used politically to further dispossession, such as in the case of John Koowarta, on Cape York.

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Policy development and resolving issues

An ENGO policy position will be developed from the outcomes of discussion within and between groups on first principles and from environmental management principles derived from case-by-case examination. The rules of engagement in the ENGO policy process are:

  • A commitment to working cooperatively and towards consensus,

  • Fair representation and inclusion of diverse view points of ENGOs within the policy position,

  • Open and honest advocacy of environmental and biodiversity protection issues,

  • Respect and recognition for the rights and interests of indigenous people, and ongoing dialogue and communication,

  • A willingness to play a constructive part in an important public policy debate.

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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