Three critical steps for the future of north Australia
Extract from Plenary Session, Society for Conservation OCEANIA 2012 Conference, Darwin 21-23 September.
Indigenous land and sea management should be viewed as a ‘movement’ or ‘renaissance’, that had humble beginnings in the Top End of the NT, but has now grown to become a 'national movement' with profound potential to build resilience in our communities into the 21st century.
It is perhaps the most significant opportunity for northern Australia to be more than a place where resource extraction takes place, or a place where the water could be transported south or where Indigenous people’s lives are intervened with from afar.
I believe there are three key points that are critical to the future of Indigenous land and sea management, and therefore the conservation in northern Australia.
Firstly, history tells us that we need to have a populated landscape, managed by highly skilful and dedicated people with the right tools available to them - both Indigenous and non-Indigenous tools. With most of the north under some form of Indigenous interest or title, Indigenous rangers and native title groups are well positioned to take up that challenge. It makes absolute sense to have people in country actively managing it on behalf of the nation.
Secondly, the future of northern Australia will rely heavily on Indigenous groups having sound governance and accountability. Governance, because I believe that local autonomy based on land ownership, should be the basis for making decisions about land, including its management. Traditional Owner based groups and the growing number of prescribed body corporates that emerge out of Native Title determinations, are examples where effort could go to strengthen governance. Enabling local groups to have sound governance would reduce transaction costs and bring greater efficiencies and returns for Traditional Owners.
I refer to accountability, because we need to make sure investment in caring for country is accountable back to the owners of the lands or the community. We need to maintain the integrity which makes caring for country uniquely Indigenous and not let it become driven by external agendas.
- Thirdly, there needs to be support for the emergence of commercial or market based fee-for-service opportunities. Particularly the abatement of greenhouse gasses in northern Australia presents a unique, perhaps once in a lifetime, opportunity to generate a livelihood for people (both black and white) located in rural and remote parts of northern Australia.
The Carbon Farming Initiative offers a way in which people can connect with the market to manage fire in northern Australia. The spinoffs are not just greenhouse gas reductions, but also biodiversity and cultural places can be better managed and repaired through a skilled workforce that has a long standing connection to them.
What is needed is a plan where Indigenous people, through local control, can work with governments and industry hand in hand to transform northern Australia into one of the great cultural, environmental and economic wonders of the world.