Involvement in World Heritage

Aboriginal use and management of the Wet Tropics landscape has shaped the ecosystems of the Wet Tropics region over thousands of years. Practices such as fire management, hunting and gathering, and harvesting of materials for shelter, tools, ceremony or art are essential for the maintenance of Aboriginal culture.

For the Wet Tropics Management Authority the conservation of World Heritage values is linked with that of Aboriginal cultural and spiritual values. Management of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area needs to consider the traditional knowledge and expertise of Rainforest Aboriginal people as being interconnected with contemporary natural resource management.

Empowering Rainforest Aboriginal people as the traditional custodians of the area’s natural and cultural values and engaging collaborative stewardship within the Area is an important part of protecting and promoting these assets now and for future generations.

The listing of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area in 1988 was not without controversy. Some Rainforest Aboriginal people did not originally support the listing of natural values (in isolation of cultural values) however others did support the international recognition and protection of the Area. Bama Wabu was established in 1994 to lead development of a Rainforest Aboriginal peoples submission called “Reasonable Expectations or Grand Delusions” (1996) that persuaded the Authority to consider Aboriginal issues in the development of the Wet Tropics Management Plan 1998.

In 1998 a Review Steering Committee presented a report to the Authority, called “Which Way Our Cultural Survival” (1998), defining 163 recommendations for how Aboriginal people should be involved in the management of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. An Interim Negotiating Forum (INF) was formed to address these recommendations and resolve how to better involve Rainforest Aboriginal people in the management of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. The INF negotiations resulted in the preparation of a regional agreement.

On the 29 April 2005, the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area Regional Agreement was signed to provide a framework for the cooperative management of the World Heritage Area by Rainforest Aboriginal people, the Australian and Queensland Governments. An Aboriginal Natural and Cultural Resource Management Plan (Bama Plan) was also launched at this time to promote natural and cultural resource management considerations and define the aspirations that Rainforest Aboriginal people have for country and culture. The Bama Plan was prepared and implemented with the support of Terrain NRM (Terrain) and a Traditional Owner Advisory Committee (TOAC).

The Regional Agreement led to an amendment in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Protection and Management Act 1993, to include two Rainforest Aboriginal Directors on the Authority’s Board. At the same time, the Authority established a Rainforest Aboriginal Advisory Committee (RAAC) as a Statutory Advisory Committee under section 40(4) of The Act. The RAAC’s role was to represent the views of Rainforest Aboriginal people specifically in relation to the management of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and provide advice to the Authority’s Board. The RAAC membership comprised the same 12 tribal group representatives as on the Aboriginal Rainforest Council (ARC) - a peak advisory body formed to facilitate discussions between Rainforest Aboriginal people, the Australian and Queensland Governments.

The ARC was dissolved in 2008 which meant that the protocols, processes and objectives in the Regional Agreement could not be implemented. The pressure for RAAC to be the voice for all Rainforest Aboriginal concerns increased although they were not mandated to do so. The RAAC (and Terrain NRM’s Traditional Owner Advisory Committee) dissolved in 2011 at the request of its members.

A regional alliance of Rainforest Aboriginal people emerged in 2008. The Rainforest Aboriginal People’s Alliance (RAPA) formed in 2010. RAPA’s focus is to provide Rainforest Aboriginal people with a more self-determining network for engaging on a broad range of interests within the region. RAPA convened a Rainforest Aboriginal summit in 2011 to develop their strategic plan; the Warrama Summit in 2013 to discuss the key heritage values of the region; and the Booran gathering in 2014 to develop a partnership agreement with the Cairns Institute and CSIRO to deliver Indigenous Heritage projects. Three discussions papers were prepared in 2015, that focused on Indigenous led management, relisting the cultural values for World Heritage, economic development and sustainable livelihoods.

Since the disbanding of the RAAC, the Authority’s focus has been to engage with Rainforest Aboriginal people at the local level and through sub-regional organisations. A range of project-based outcomes have been achieved with this approach. Rainforest Aboriginal people are also included in the membership of the Authority’s two Statutory Advisory Committees (i.e. Community Consultative Committee and Scientific Advisory Committee) and two non-statutory committees (i.e. Cassowary Recovery Team and the Yellow Crazy Ant Project Reference Committee).

Collective Aspirations

In 2016 and in partnership with Terrain, the Authority invited a number of Rainforest Aboriginal people with a diverse range of knowledge and experience in World Heritage and NRM to an informal conversation to provide advice on the most appropriate ways both organisations could engage with and continue to support Rainforest Aboriginal people to pursue their interests and aspiration in relation to knowledge, culture and management practice in the Wet Tropics. Our collective journey in NRM and World Heritage was represented visually in a timeframe above and our collective aspirations were represented visually on the tree below.

What we (i.e. Rainforest Aboriginal people, the Authority and Terrain) think about when we talk about the Wet Tropics cultural landscape is people, country and culture (represented by the roots of the tree).

The aspiration we are heading towards is authenticity, recognition and self-determination (represented by the earth that the tree is growing in).

We acknowledge that we can’t achieve this aspiration on our own and that collaborative partnerships between Rainforest Aboriginal people, Rainforest Aboriginal Organisations, Partners and Community are essential (represented by the people standing around the tree).

The outcome we hope to achieve is mainstream cultural capability and accountability and Rainforest Aboriginal sustainable livelihoods (represented by the strong foundations of the tree trunk).

The result we expect is meaningful involvement in NRM & World Heritage, sub-regional and regional collaboration, and cultural leadership (represented by the branches of the tree).

The ‘low hanging fruit’, or areas of focus that we want to work on and invest in over the next couple of years (represented by the red fruits in the lower canopy of the tree) include:

- Sharing and learning from traditional knowledge and contemporary science.

- Telling the story through culturally appropriate communications.

- Sponsoring learning and networking opportunities for Rainforest Aboriginal people.

- Strengthening partnerships for working on country.

- Planning for economic advancement of Aboriginal organisations.

- Reviewing what we have learnt and maximising opportunities in World Heritage and cultural listing.

The motivation for doing this (represented by the upper canopy of the tree) is about:

- Ensuring free, prior and informed consent.

- Understanding the legal complexities and realising benefits in land management.

- Asserting sovereignty as Rainforest Aboriginal people.

- Driving regional unity, capacity and influence around the common interests of Rainforest Aboriginal people and organisations.

The policy framework for Rainforest Aboriginal people's engagement in World Heritage

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.

Rainforest Aboriginal Engagement Strategy

The purpose of the Rainforest Aboriginal Engagement Strategy is to improve the way the Authority engages to involve Rainforest Aboriginal people in world heritage management.

The Strategy directly connects to the key themes and recommendations of the “Which Way Our Cultural Survival” Report and the “Regional Agreement” and the collective aspirations identified above.

The principles guiding the Authority’s engagement with Rainforest Aboriginal people include:

- Being a culturally responsible lead agency in collaboration with Rainforest Aboriginal people and the broader network, to ensure accountability to our commitments.

- Improving the way we do things by moving towards a better understanding of ‘good practice’ and strengthening enabling conditions for a rights-based approach to World Heritage conservation.

- Empowering Rainforest Aboriginal people to progress their agendas on their terms.

- Showcasing good practice and success stories with a specific focus on different aspects of rights-based approaches.

Sustainable Livelihoods

The Authority supports collaborative projects that contribute to the social, economic and cultural development of Rainforest Aboriginal people and the conservation and presentation of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.

There are opportunities for Rainforest Aboriginal people to:

- Get involved in the Wet Tropics Tour Guide Program, training and network events.

- Provide input into scientific research protocols to guide research activities and outcomes in the World Heritage Area.

- Develop strategies and products for presenting and promoting the Wet Tropics cultural landscape.

-  Strengthen partnerships with the tourism industry and support emerging Aboriginal enterprises.

World Heritage Partnerships

The Authority supports projects, activities and events that empower Rainforest Aboriginal people to implement            on-country management activities within and adjacent to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.

There are opportunities for Rainforest Aboriginal people to:

- Ask for the Authority's support towards Indigenous planning processes e.g. country based plans, master plans, and Indigenous Protected Areas.

- Formalise partnership arrangements within the World Heritage Area through Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) and Cooperative Management Agreements (CMAs) - may include working groups for involvement in National Park management.

- Apply for Rainforest Aboriginal Grants from the Authority and Terrain to implement collaborative projects and support learning, mentoring between Rainforest Aboriginal people (including through Indigenous Ranger programs).

- Promote good news stories through the Rainforest Aboriginal News (RAN) and an annual People Country Culture Calendar.

- Participate in yellow crazy ant program taskforce activities to help with eradication efforts and get involved in other community group activities or events around the region.

Cultural Recognition

The Authority facilitates discussions with Rainforest Aboriginal people and other government agencies about the National Heritage Listing of Indigenous values and strengthening recognition of Aboriginal tradition in the management of Area and the potential World Heritage Listing of cultural values.

There are opportunities for Rainforest Aboriginal people to:

- Help improve the cultural capability of the Authority (and other agencies) by offering fee for service cultural awareness training on-country.

- Apply for positions with the Authority and support the involvement of Rainforest Aboriginal people on the Board, Community Consultative Committee (CCC) and Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC).

- Have a say in the review of the Wet Tropics Management Plan 1998  to promote the recognition of Aboriginal tradition and the significant role that Rainforest Aboriginal people play in cultural and natural resource management in the World Heritage Area.

- Participate in upcoming processes (e.g. regional forums and/or working groups) to develop a joint action plan to progress Regional Agreement commitments through contemporary governance arrangements (in partnership with other agencies).


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