Indigenous Protected Areas and Employment and Training

24 Dec 2008

Keynote address Australasian Protected Areas Congress, November 2008?

It is a great pleasure to be here this morning and I would like to thank organisers for inviting me to address delegates at this session.

I am a Yamatji woman, from Western Australia and out of respect for cultural protocols I recognise and thank the Traditional Owners of the country on whose land we are meeting today.

We must never forget that the Traditional Owners have had responsibility for looking after this country for thousands of years and I pay my respects to current day descendents.

I have been asked to talk about the role of protected areas in providing training and employment and improving the socio-economic conditions of Indigenous Australia.

The crucial relationship between land, and the Indigenous peoples of Australia and the benefits that accrue from that relationship, was bought into sharp focus by a recent, major study which found that Indigenous people in Australia who care for their land and environment are healthier and happier.

Initiated by traditional owners from Australia’s western and central Arnhem Land, the research assessed the health outcomes of Indigenous people who are actively involved in natural resource and cultural heritage management.

Researchers from Charles Darwin University, the Northern Land Council and the Menzies School of Health Research explored Aboriginal “Caring for Country” practices.

The study concluded that natural and cultural resource management activities in remote Indigenous communities delivered a healthier environment, created sustainable economic development opportunities and resulted in significant economic savings in health care expenditure.

It is studies like this that continue to underline the critical importance of the work we are all doing to help to achieve sustainable outcomes on Indigenous-held and protected areas of land.

The ILC is an Australian Government independent statutory authority established to provide social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits to Indigenous people by assisting them to acquire land and manage Indigenous-held land.

The ILC Board has made it clear that social, cultural, environmental and economic benefits, have two key factors which link them – the ability of land to also provide training that leads to employment and encouraging sustainable economic development.

Unfortunately for Indigenous people, in regards to land acquisition, there is a belief in some sectors that the overriding benefit is pure protection and that land should be locked away and that is the only outcome which is required.

The ILC has a different view.

The ILC Board, and many other Indigenous organizations and communities, takes a more holistic view of land ownership and land management.?

We believe that sustainable economic outcomes are not mutually exclusive from the need to protect environmentally sensitive or significant areas.

A recent example of this was the concern that many Indigenous people in Northern Queensland held about moves to protect wild rivers without properly consulting them about what affect this would have on socio-economic development opportunities for them into the future.

I acknowledge that balancing a range of objectives on the ground can be difficult but we should aim to achieve this so that land is healthily managed and people can live there in a sustainable way.

The ILC seeks to meet this challenge through its National Indigenous Land Strategy.

The National Indigenous Land Strategy is the major policy document which drives the ILC in its everyday work.

The NILS sets out how the ILC seeks to assist with the sustainable management of Indigenous-held land and has a priority of supporting Indigenous training and jobs.

The ILC Board gives priority to Land acquisition projects that have a focus on training, employment and the delivery of social and cultural benefits in particular regions.

The current Strategy sets out a five-year plan to 2012 for delivering social, cultural, environmental and economic benefits and I encourage you to look up the ILC website where you can access the NILS.

The ILC has backed this view by developing a range of strategic collaborations with government, non-government and Indigenous agencies as well as the private sector, to expand the benefits which can be created for Indigenous people.

A major driver for the ILC in these collaborations is to leverage greater training and employment outcomes from its funding contributions.

In this address I am going to describe some of the types of projects the ILC supports in these crucial areas.

Indigenous Protected Areas

The ILC is working in partnership with the Australian Government’s Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts to achieve land management and environmental benefits for Indigenous landholders.

The ILC has committed $7 million over three years to support and expand the Indigenous Protected Areas program.

As many of you know IPAs support Indigenous landowners to protect and manage lands that have a high environmental significance.

The IPA funding enables employment of people to do land management activities including the protection of country and sites of significance.

Indigenous landholders are able to pursue cultural and natural resource opportunities and utilise their land as a viable environmental resource.

This is especially important where the land has historically provided limited business opportunities.

The ILC actively supports the program because it agrees with the aim of meshing Indigenous cultural values with mainstream biodiversity conservation objectives.

The ILC support is helping to ensure that a significant number of new Indigenous Protected Areas are being declared and at the same time we continue to push for increased outcomes in Indigenous training and employment on IPAs.

Significantly, our original objectives in supporting the Indigenous Protected Areas program were to create an extra 100 training positions and an extra 100 employment positions as well as to enable greater access for Indigenous people to the IPA program.

The latest data shows that so far there are 76 full-time Indigenous employees across all IPAs and 11 part time Indigenous employees.

In the last financial year 222 IPA rangers and workers undertook accredited training to improve land management skills.

It is exciting to see that a range of properties the ILC has acquired and granted to groups becoming IPAs.

There are currently 12 ILC-acquired properties either declared IPAs or developing IPAs, receiving funding under the IPA program

Training and Employment Case Study

I would like to use Wattleridge, a property in the New England Tablelands in NSW, as a case study to illustrate the point I am making.

Wattleridge is a 480 Ha botanically unique bushland property which was purchased by the ILC in 1998 for its cultural significance to the Banbai Nation.

In 2001, three years after it was acquired by the ILC, Wattleridge was declared as an IPA.

The cultural value of Wattleridge revolves around the surviving evidence of its long Indigenous occupation, including two ancient axe grinding sites, an ancient rock art site and scarred trees.

The property also has a range of ecological values, including significant remnant bushland, at least 15 rare or endangered plant species, 12 rare or threatened fauna species and three poorly reserved New England Tableland Bioregion vegetation communities.

The ILC granted ownership of Wattleridge to Banbai Land Enterprises in February this year.

Banbai Land Enterprises wants to achieve self sufficiency, and to this end it has investigated complementary programs to assist the long-term viability of the property.

Banbai has recently developed an environmental tourism venture on the property consisting of cabins and walking tracks, and it is hoped that further expansion of the ecotourism venture will provide a stable income stream, employment and development of the property’s infrastructure.

Banbai members are participating in an ongoing building course which is providing them with Certificate levels in building and construction, as part of the upgrade on the Wattleridge cabins.

This upgrade is expected to be completed by Christmas this year, with a number of members obtaining Certificate IV accreditation in building and construction.

In addition, 15 members obtained their tickets in bobcat and excavator operation and seven of those went on to receive tickets in frontend loader and backhoe.

Significantly, two people have successfully acquired full time employment in Wollongong NSW from these training packages, boosting the confidence of other community members to submit their resumes for employment.

I think these are fantastic achievements for a project of this scale.

This is but one example of the types of training and employment opportunities the ILC would like to see developed across a wide range of protected areas so the achievement of genuine socio-economic benefits are expanded for Indigenous people.

The ILC also supports regional collaborative projects that produce jobs and environmental outcomes..

For example in the NT we have a joint initiative between key Northern Territory and Australian Government agencies, the Northern Land Council and the ILC to address invasive weed, fire and feral animal issues, animal disease monitoring and degraded site rehabilitation.?

At the same time, it seeks to build the capacity of local Indigenous landholders’ capacity through training and job creation.

The strategy involves Top End Indigenous communities with a focus on natural resource management training.

Utilising the skills acquired through this training, the Indigenous land management groups established under the strategy have developed enterprises and won contracts for environmental management work.?

Importantly, Indigenous people have derived full or part-time contract employment from these enterprise activities.

Valuable work is being done in exploring complementary avenues for economic development through ecotourism and traditional economies such as controlled wildlife harvesting and bush food collection.

But, training and employment opportunities for Indigenous people should not be limited in any way. ?

The development of pathways in other areas such as administration, management and trade based skills needs attention so that socio-economic benefits can be expanded.

Indigenous Tourism Industry

The ILC is also helping to create economic opportunity through training and employment in the tourism industry.

The ILC believes tourism has significant benefits for Indigenous people because it:

  • Has less impact on natural resources and the environment than most other industries;
  • Is based on enjoyment and appreciation of local culture, heritage, and the natural environment, and
  • Provides an economic incentive to conserve natural environments and habitats which might otherwise be used for more damaging land uses.

This makes tourism an attractive industry for many Indigenous people.?

And importantly, all of the benefits I have just mentioned are critical in developing a brighter future for our Indigenous youth and providing them with a greater number of choices and pathways to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.?

To capitalise on this potential, the ILC is increasingly looking at ways it can support Indigenous tourism through business development and tourism training.

A good example of this approach is a large-scale project which is now underway near the Mossman Gorge Aboriginal Community north of Cairns.

The ILC has purchased a former sugar cane land at the entrance to Mossman Gorge to develop a world class eco-tourism visitor and interpretive centre which will provide Indigenous training and employment in the local tourism industry.

Mossman Gorge, a Wet Tropics World Heritage site, is a popular tourist destination within the Daintree National Park, located approximately 80km north of Cairns and three kilometers west of the town of Mossman.

It attracts over 500,000 visitors annually.

However, Mossman Gorge has a serious vehicle parking problem and there are safety and quality of life issues for the Mossman Gorge Aboriginal Community.

An estimated 90,000 vehicles travel through the middle of the community each year on the way to the gorge.

In March this year the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Hon Jenny Macklin MP, announced that the ILC

plans to develop the site to international tourism standards to provide proper car and bus parking away from environmentally sensitive areas and to build an eco-friendly electric bus transit system to the gorge, an environmental and Indigenous interpretive centre and art gallery and caf? along with guided culture walks.

“This major eco-tourism plan will deliver significant economic benefits to the Mossman community and will provide training and real jobs in the tourism and hospitality industries to local Indigenous people“.

It is anticipated that the centre will open late next year or in early 2010.

When the centre is fully operational, an estimated 70 new Indigenous jobs will be created in the tourism high season, with 45 new jobs in the low season.

Work opportunities will include tour guiding, administration, marketing, ticketing, bus driving, hospitality servicing, visitor management, maintenance, gardening and cleaning.

In addition to the visitor centre, the ILC plans to construct a residential tourism and hospitality training facility to cater for 20 Indigenous trainees each year.

We are determined that this project will deliver real jobs and provide a wide range of socio-economic benefits to the Mossman Gorge community for generations to come.

I should mention that the ILC is assisting in the establishment of other tourism ventures, which are underpinned by a desire to protect culture and the environment.? These include:

  1. Dugong Beach Resort on Groote Eylandt in the NT
  2. Coorong Wilderness Lodge in SA and:
  3. Home Valley Station in the East Kimberly

Closing remarks

I thank everyone working with Indigenous people to build a brighter and more sustainable future.

I acknowledge your efforts and at the same time I challenge you to always strive to ensure that programs and projects deliver the maximum benefits possible to Indigenous people.

Today I have focussed specifically on training and employment outcomes and how we must provide an expanded range of opportunities in this area.

In closing I would like to say that the ILC remains committed to actively seeking out land-based opportunities which will provide long term and sustainable benefits to Australia’s Indigenous people.

Ultimately, the ILC believes that economic development on Indigenous-held and protected land, along with addressing other key challenges such as education, health, housing and infrastructure, will provide the tools, capacity, pride and dignity that are needed so that there are genuine opportunities for Indigenous Australians.?

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