The United Nations World Heritage Convention listed the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area for its natural heritage of Outstanding Universal Value in December 1988.
Recognising Australia’s obligation under the convention, the Authority was established under the Wet Tropics World Heritage Protection and Management Act 1993 (The Act).
The Authority provides leadership, facilitation, advocacy and guidance in the protection, management and presentation of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
The Act acknowledges the significant contribution that Aboriginal people can make to the future management of cultural and natural heritage within the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. The Act also requires that the Authority:
- Have regard to the tradition of Rainforest Aboriginal people.
- Liaise and cooperate with Aboriginal people particularly concerned with the land.
The Acts Interpretation Act 1954 defines Aboriginal tradition as "the body of traditions, observances, customs and beliefs of Aboriginal people generally or of a particular community or group of Aboriginal people, and includes any such traditions, observances, customs and beliefs relating to particular persons, areas, objects or relationships".
The Authority’s operations and engagement efforts are largely informed by World Heritage Convention Operational Guidelines, the Act, the Wet Tropics Management Plan 1998, the Strategic Plan 2013-2018 and the Board’s refreshed priorities 2015-18. Other strategies may also be relevant e.g. Protection Through Partnerships and the Conservation Strategy.
Whilst rights issues are not explicitly mentioned in the Authority’s governance arrangements, the strategic objective “to enhance the role of communities in the implementation of the World Heritage Convention” underpins the need to respect and support communities to be involved in World Heritage processes.
The Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples remains a first pillar of good practice and the enabling conditions to ensure rights and issues are appropriately considered.
The right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) has long been recognised by native title, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and the World Heritage Convention as a collective right of Indigenous people to give or withhold their consent at key decision making points during a proposed activity affecting their traditional land, or rights in general.
FPIC is a mechanism whereby Indigenous people and their communities are able to conduct their own independent collective decision making on legislative or administrative matters affecting them, their lands, culture and future well-being. The FPIC process requires that Indigenous people are:
- Provided with accurate and complete information regarding the proposed policy, program or project that may affect them, in a language and manner that they understand.
- Consulted in accordance with their customary decision-making processes.
- Given the freedom, time and space to conduct their internal and collective decision-making process without interference.
- Indigenous peoples’ collective decision to give or withhold consent, and set conditions for consent, is recognised and respected with proper and accurate documentation of decisions.
Recognition of the rights of Rainforest Aboriginal people and the implementation of FPIC processes are necessary for meaningful and effective participation in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.