Parliamentary calls for ongoing Working on Country funding

Published: 27 Nov 2015

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert and ALP MP Tony Burke have called for ongoing funding for Indigenous rangers and Indigenous Protected Areas in Parliament this week, in the wake of the Indigenous Rangers in Parliament event. Check out the speeches here.

These_are_real_jobs_with_real_outcomes_on_the_ground__jobs_that_manage_areas_of_Australia_that_need_to_be_managed_in_a_culturally_sensitive_and_ecologically_sensible_manner._It_also_provides_an_opportunity_for_elders_to_mentor_young_people_.jpgSenator Rachel Siewert
The Senate, 25 November 2015

It is with great pleasure that I rise tonight to speak on incredibly important and successful programs, and those are the working-on-country Indigenous ranger programs. These programs offer unique benefits to individuals, communities and our rich natural heritage. They enable processes in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' traditional management skills, knowledge, cultural practices, science and environmentalism complement and work with each other. Under the Indigenous Ranger programs rangers work on the land and at sea doing things like managing cultural sites, fire control, data collection and controlling feral animals and weeds.

An important part of this program is its intimate connection with the Indigenous Protected Areas program, where rangers often work in Indigenous protected areas with traditional owners of the particular area and have responsibility for managing natural resources. The Indigenous Protected Areas program is a significant success along with the success of theIndigenous ranger programs. The Indigenous Protected Areas program contributes to conservation of our important natural areas but, very particularly, important cultural areas and has enabled the protection of significant areas of the country.

At the end of last year there were 70 declared Indigenous protected areas. I have been to the launch of many of those. They total about 63 million hectares, with more being planned. The Indigenous ranger programs have economic, employment, cultural, social, and health and wellbeing outcomes. I will come back to some of those outcomes shortly. I would first like to outline just a few of the programs that are currently running and the successes.

The Martu rangers in my home state of Western Australia have been undertaking incredibly valuable work to conserve the threatened black-flanked rock-wallaby. Their traditional tracking skills have been crucial in protecting this endangered species from invasive species. Now their work is showing promising results as the population starts to increase after three years of hard work.

The Anangu rangers have been working promoting biodiversity through traditional fire management practices. Their work helps protect important habitats, particularly for vulnerable species. The Yirralka rangers monitor a rich and biodiverse coastal area, including controlling feral species like buffalo and pigs through aerial and ground culling. The Nimbin Rocks Aboriginal Rangers women's team in New South Wales collects, stores and spreads seeds from the local region and hosts school and community days. This helps protect a significant community cultural site. These are but a few of the examples across Australia. They show the breadth and depth of the work that is happening across land and sea habitats. I have had the pleasure of meeting some of the sea rangers who are working not only on marine biodiversity issues but also are helping with marine surveillance.

The Indigenous ranger programs provide significant benefits to the communities in which they operate. Two weeks ago, a number of Indigenous rangers came to Canberra where thePew Charitable Trusts hosted a breakfast where we met with the rangers. It was an absolute pleasure to participate. We learnt firsthand of the values of the program and the work the rangers do. You could tell by the way people spoke about the work they do how much benefit the programs have been at a personal level in terms of people's connection to culture and the protection of cultural values, of handing on cultural knowledge and management practices and managing the environment. One of the reasons they came to Canberra was to release Working for our country: A review of the economic and social benefits of Indigenous land and sea management. That report highlights the significant benefits of the programs. It pulls together a number of evaluations which have been undertaken and provides an overview of the values.

There are the equivalent of almost 800 full-time positions under the Indigenous ranger programs, and in fact a larger number of people are employed because many people work part time. This flexibility has been one of the features that have made the programs such a success. In many communities, there are more applicants than jobs. The programs are so popular that they cannot keep up with the demand of people wanting to work as rangers. While they retain a lot of the rangers and have an 80 to 85 per cent retention rate, people move on very often to the mining industry. So people are taking those skills to the mining industry and to other industries where they are very popular. When the rangers were in Canberra, a call was being made to provide more funding.

The programs can improve people's self-confidence and equip them with valuable skills they can apply in other roles. Some ranger groups regularly visit schools and can provide great role models. As the PEW report highlights:

A key feature of Working on Country and the IPA programs is the engagement these programs foster between community elders and younger generations and the capacity to pass on traditional ecological knowledge. This serves to enhance connection to country and family obligation.

Another important benefit of the Indigenous ranger programs is the health benefits they provide for participants. Active, out-door work and other factors such as improved diets and in some cases better access to medical services through the programs can help to and have improved rangers' health. It is also important when we know from the Closing the Gap report that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health outcomes lag behind in all indicators. So this plays such an important part in improving people's health.

I have visited many ranger programs. I would particularly like to mention the work being done in my own state of Western Australia and the ranger groups hosted by the Kimberley Land Council network. I cannot speak highly enough of the fantastic work they have been doing. Their funding goes through to 2018. Funding to date has been about 2.8 per cent of the overall funding contributed to Aboriginal programs across government. My strong argument and the argument that comes through this report is that these programs are one hell of a value for money considering the multiple benefits, not only the management of country but the jobs that are generated by the spin-off effects—health and wellbeing, social outcomes and land management outcomes.

The argument here in order to continue this program further, to continue to provide job opportunities so that we are meeting people's needs, is that this ticks the boxes in terms of real jobs. Unfortunate in the past there has tended to be the approach that these are pretend jobs. These are real jobs with real outcomes on the ground, jobs that manage areas of Australia that need to be managed in a culturally sensitive and ecologically sensible manner. It also provides an opportunity for elders to mentor young people and to provide a forum to pass on the cultural knowledge which science is clearly demonstrating is really important for land management.

The call is for government to look at and to provide certainty for this program beyond the funding cycle, to develop a 10-year strategy to ensure there is ongoing security forIndigenous rangers because they have played such a vital role.


Tony Burke MP, Shadow Minister for Finance
Federation Chamber, 27 November 2015

I rise to speak to the House on the Working on Country program. This is the Indigenous rangers program which I first had contact with when I was Minister for Agriculture. It continued when I was Minister for the Environment and I have kept a very close engagement and interest in it now that I have the responsibility in the shadow ministry for the finance portfolio.

In terms of effective environmental management and also in achieving significant social outcomes for employment there have been few programs provided by the Commonwealth that have been as effective as the Working on Country program. Effectively, the program funds and allows the range of work that needs to be done to look after country to be done by the traditional owners of that country. For some time I have had contact with a number of these rangers and, again, have worked with some of them in the Torres Strait earlier this year, cleaning up beaches on a number of islands.

A few weeks ago the Pew Charitable Trusts hosted a breakfast here at Parliament House. At that breakfast were some of the rangers who I had previously worked with, the Bardi Jawi Rangers from the Kimberley who I had camped with on Sunday Island—and I will never forget waking up in the middle of the night hearing what sounded like the roar of a jet engine but was simply the tide moving between the islands up there in the Kimberley in the Buccaneer Archipelago. I caught up with a couple of those rangers, Philip McCarthy and Daniel Oades.

I also caught up with a ranger by the name of Michael Ross at the breakfast. Michael Ross is responsible for Olkola country in Cape York and was very much involved with the work that was led by Indigenous rangers and traditional owners in determining whether or not they wanted to put their land forward for a World Heritage nomination for different parts of Cape York. That work and the programs associated with that consultation are currently on pause, but certainly the general work in looking after country that is performed by the Indigenous rangers up there continues, and Michael Ross continues with the work in his part of Australia as well.

It needs to be remembered that effective environmental management in Australia and the work of the Indigenous rangers is fundamentally different from environmental management in almost any other part of the world. In most parts of the world, if you take people off the land then nature looks after itself. In Australia, if you take people off the land then you change the ecology from what it is meant to be. This is because centuries of burns—in particular, cool burns rather than burns happening in the dryer end of the season—not only have worked as a fire management system but are something which the Australian ecology has come to depend on. A whole range of plant species only regenerate after these cool burns—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 12:07 to 12:21

To continue what I was saying before the suspension, there are currently 770 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders employed in full-time jobs in some of the most remote parts of Australia, with 1,423 jobs including part-time and casual employees. Around 30 per cent of all positions and half of part-time ranger positions are women. There is, generally, an under-representation of women in the ranger jobs. This is a problem with the program and something that needs to be constantly looked at, in program design, particularly given that for some parts of country only women are able to look after those parts of country.

In January, when I visited the Torres Strait, the senior ranger there was Laura Pearson. I worked with her on Warraber IslandPoruma Island and Iama Island, cleaning up beaches and, importantly, looking at different methods they are using in the Torres Strait to deal with the rise of sea levels. When we talk about the Pacific, it is easy to overlook the fact that we have islands that are Australian islands in the Torres Strait that are being affected, imminently, by rising sea levels. On Poruma Island, for example, you can walk along the beach and see the tops of coconut trees, which are all that is left of what was, not that long ago, part of the home of the people living there. It was, indeed, part of the formal boundaries of Australia. The work of the Working on Country program remains one of the most cost-efficient and effective environmental programs Australia has. I urge the government to continue to fund it, and I urge my own party to continue to expand it.


Rick Wilson MP, Member for O'Connor
House of Representatives, 23 November 2015

Today I want to update the House on a very successful visit to my electorate by the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Assistant Minister for Social Services, Alan Tudge. Minister Tudge visited Kalgoorlie on Wednesday, the 19th. Our first stop was at the Goldfields Land and Sea Council, which is the Indigenous body that represents the native title holders in the area. We met with Trevor Donaldson; Lawrence Thomas, who is the chair; and Darren Forster, the program coordinator. The main topic of discussion was the Indigenous ranger program.

I was very privileged to represent Minister Scullion here in Canberra two weeks ago when the Pew foundation handed in their report on the success of the Indigenous ranger program. I was very well aware that this program is working extremely well, but less pleased to hear that there is only one program operating across my electorate.

The Ngadju people of Norseman have a privately funded ranger program in their area.

The main topic of conversation with the Goldfields Sea and Land Council and Minister Tudge was how we can get more Indigenous ranger programs happening in my electorate of O'Connor, particularly across the northern goldfields, because the benefits of these programs both to the environment and to the Indigenous landholders are very obvious. I am certainly very keen to support any future applications from the people in my area.