Australia has a growing national network of protected areas (PAs) known as the National Reserve System (NRS) which extends over two (of many) exceptional World Heritage Areas (WHAs) in Australia’s north east: the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and the Wet Tropical Rainforests of Queensland (WT). Biodiversity conservation (under legal protections of varying strictness) and multiple uses (set out by zoning and related regulations) apply in both the GBR WHA and the WT WHA. The GBR WHA was formally listed under the World Heritage Convention in 1975, less than 10 years after a national referendum was held enabling the Australian government to make laws for their benefit, and granting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ the right to be counted in the national census. The WT WHA was formally listed in 1988, Australia’s bi-centenary of European colonisation. Both WHAs were listed without the participation or consent of the traditional custodians of the lands or the seas included in them. Assertion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander interests and rights in the governance, management, protection, preservation and presentation of world heritage listed places in Australian jurisdictions remains well curtailed by state power and generally ignored by political will. The capacity of Traditional Owners to assert a comprehensive say over the future of their ancestral lands, seas and waters is further limited through complex legalistic and institutional arrangements, including (at times socially destructive) native title processes. Nevertheless, some progress has been made over recent years in the self-generated assertion of legally recognised bio-cultural resource conservation on Indigenous-held lands and increasingly in terrestrial and marine PAs. This example of best practice highlights the potential for alternative mechanisms of collaboration in the stewardship of PAs through Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) and Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreements (TUMRAs).
- a major decline in mammals in northern Australia;
- changes in species composition and loss of ecological integrity across a range of threatened ecological communities;
- degradation in native vegetation;
- substantial degradation in the east, south-east and south-west of the oceans surrounding the continent
- substantial degradation in ecosystems near the coast, with bays and estuaries in these regions in poor to very poor condition
- lack of [western] scientific data and understanding means resulting in difficulties in interpreting the relationship between the current state of biodiversity and the ecosystem services the environment provides
- loss, fragmentation and degradation of habitat
- climate change and climatic events
- invasive species and pathogens
- grazing pressure
- altered fire regimes
- changes to the aquatic environment and water flows
- urban development and unsustainable use of natural resources
- ocean change
Girringun Aboriginal Corporation (Girringun) has represented the regional land and sea management interests of 9 distinct Aboriginal Traditional Owner groups: Djiru, Gulnay, Girramay, Jirrbal, Warungnu, Warrgamay, Bandjin, Gugu-Badhun and Nywaigi peoples; whose traditional land and sea country extends over exceptionally significant bio-cultural landscapes (770,000ha) including 170kms of coastline abutting the GBR WHA. The ancestral custodial rights and interests of these Girringun-affiliated Traditional Owner groups are regionally recognised through negotiated boundary agreements between member groups, and those with neighbouring Traditional Owner groups. Management of PAs within the GBR WHA and the WT WHA has historically taken place in complete isolation of these continuing Aboriginal interests, with both WHAs declared without any prior consultation or involvement of the lands’ or the seas’ Traditional Owners. Management agencies seek to engage with Aboriginal peoples but rarely apply (or amend) policy to more effectively involve Aboriginal peoples in PA governance and operational planning, let alone empower Aboriginal management of ‘public’ PAs as ecosystem services.
New and innovative approaches were required to move beyond the significant original barriers for direct Traditional Owner involvement in marine and terrestrial PA governance, strategic management and on-ground operations. This was originally initiated by Girringun's founding Elders in the mid 1990s, who sought to have the name of the then Lumholtz National Park changed to better reflect Aboriginal connections to the land. Carl Lumholtz was a Norwegian naturalist who spent some time with local Aboriginal people in the early 1880s, he subsequently wrote a book titled "Among Cannibals" describing his experiences. Girringun's founding Elders were concerned that having the PA named for him would continue to entrench profound misconceptions and the denigration commonly experienced by their peoples. Through Girringun's efforts the PA is now named Girringun National Park, and forms part of the Girringun Region IPA collaboratively managed by the Girringun Aboriginal Rangers and the Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service.
- secured funds to commence a 2 year IPA consultation program;
- engaged a professional facilitator with a positive working history with the organisation and its member groups;
- making sure the facilitator had a strategic understanding of the many diverse challenges ahead;
- simultaneously established an Aboriginal Ranger program; and
- secured resources under contract by State and Australian governments for multiple years.
- Preparation of Agency Discussion Paper (2009) clearly setting out the intent and benefits of the proposed IPA;
- Rapid establishment of an IPA Steering Committee at the start of negotiations
- Involving only senior departmental officers and policy decision-makers;
- Ensuring parity with Elders’ decision-making;
- Including a range of relevant government agencies and NGOs;
- Providing the Agency Discussion Paper to all participating agencies;
- Seeking their early comment and suggestions on the Paper;
- Briefing all relevant State and Australian government ministers;
- Briefing all relevant shadow (opposition) ministers before each election;
- Briefing ministers and their advisors after a change of government; and
- again in the immediate lead-up to the IPA’s declaration in mid 2013.
- All of Girringun’s 9 Traditional Owner member groups;
- State and Australian government agencies with regulatory powers in the Girringun region;
- These were: GBRMPA, WTMA, Qld Parks & Wildlife Service, Qld Marine Parks, Qld Fisheries;
- Local governments within the Girringun region (5 separate Councils);
- Regional natural resource management (NRM) bodies for the Wet Tropics and the Dry Tropics bioregions;
- Private landholders partnering the IPA; and
- Other relevant and interested organisations (e.g.: environmental NGO)
Austerity in public investment measures / lack of investment:
In recent years, political mileage has been made at all levels of government in Australia about government debit and budget deficits. Comparatively Australia is one of the world’s wealthiest nations, and borrowing rates for government have never been more favourable. Ideological political agendas based on a perceived need to dramatically reduce public expenditure and a rejection of established climate science have seen public investment in biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts fall away. In terms of Australia meeting related Aichi Targets, current fiscal, Indigenous and biodiversity-related policy settings acutely jeopardise the many benefits generated by IPAs. Disastrous attempts since 2013 to consolidate all Indigenous programs under the umbrella of a single agency placed in the Prime Minister’s office have also seen the IPA program removed from the federal Department of Environment. To this end, the current policy chaos enveloping the IPA program success story and retarding its expansion requires that chronic under-investment in IPAs be addressed and remedied. Demand to expand the IPA program is abundantly clear across the country.
The Australian continent and associated contemporary jurisdictions are considered to be amongst Earth’s most mega-diverse continents – it’s extent, it’s diversity of endemic and other marine and terrestrial species, it’s superb bio-cultural diversity, it’s unique Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. With 560,000 species known to inhabit our continent’s lands, seas and waters. Australia’s marine territorial waters extend over 13.86 million km2 of which some .2 million km2 of ocean being managed primarily for biodiversity conservation, in part also open to other uses subject to regulation / use zoning. Some 36% of marine territorial waters are protected within 300+ marine PAs. Terrestrial (land-based) PAs cover about 16.25% of the continental landmass - over 10,000 areas in 2013, with about 54% protected as IUCN categories I-IV and 46% as IUCN categories V or VI (allowing human use and occupation). The Girringun Region IPA is Australia’s largest co-managed IPA and the only IPA to include significant areas protected within two WHAs – one terrestrial and the other marine. It is supported by MOUs with all partnering bodies including with all statutory WHA / PA management agencies. The Australian and Queensland governments’ response to the crisis facing the GBR WHA has generated a suite of investment measures including Reef Rescue 2008-2013, which included a AU$10 million commitment towards the Reef Rescue Land and Sea Country Indigenous Partnerships Program aimed at actively engaging Indigenous communities in managing and protecting the reef’s marine resources and cultural diversity. The programme engaged traditional owners of the GBR to work on establishing TUMRAs with the GBR Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). Between December 2008 and June 2013, the GBRMPA expanded its TUMRA program from four TUMRAs to eight agreements (seven TUMRAs and one Indigenous Land Use Agreement). Without the original Girringun TUMRA as an example it is unclear how this greater Reef Rescue initiative would have developed over the years. In addition, the Girringun TUMRA provides for the legal acknowledgement of Girringun Saltwater Traditional Owners' country, thereby grounding the Girringun IPA within the GBR WHA statutory framework.