Indigenous natural resource management: overcoming marginalisation produced in Australia’s current NRM model

Hill, Rosemary, and Williams, Liana (2009) Indigenous natural resource management: overcoming marginalisation produced in Australia’s current NRM model. In: Lane, Marcus, Robinson, Cathy, and Taylor, Bruce, (eds.) Contested Country: Local and Regional Natural Resources Management in Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, VIC, Australia, pp. 161-178.

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This chapter interrogates the complex issue of securing meaningful Indigenous participation in natural resource management (NRM) in Australia. Despite the rhetoric about participation, the needs of Indigenous communities have been poorly accommodated, with Indigenous organisations receiving less than 3% of NRM funds allocated by the Australian government between 1996 and 2005 (Tables 11.1 and 11.2). Nevertheless, Indigenous people continue exercising their responsibilities for environmental management through highly innovative projects, such as fire management for carbon abatement, even though poor access to resources is exacerbated by poor recognition of rights and the withdrawal of industries and services from the remote regions where Indigenous people dominate.

This chapter begins by briefly discussing the key concepts of our theoretical framing, deliberative democracy and collaborative planning as they relate to Indigenous NRM in Australia. We then provide an analysis of systematic marginalisation of Indigenous peoples from Australian government NRM funding sources, highlighting the underlying causes. We investigate the importance of this marginalisation through a discussion of the both equity considerations and the significance of Indigenous NRM to Australia. We then present a case study in the wet tropics NRM region of north-eastern Australian, where Indigenous peoples have been relatively more successful in obtaining funding.

Our wet tropics case study provides a focus on a key aspect of the Indigenous marginalisation that occurred in NHT2: the extent to which the marginalisation resulted simply from the recognised failure of regional bodies to implement the conceptualised deliberative collaborative processes (Allan and Curtis 2005; Wallington et al. 2008). Our analysis demonstrates that high-quality collaborative planning processes were used in the wet tropics. We also consider the wet tropics approach to managing several key risks associated with collaborative processes for Indigenous peoples: replicating power asymmetries; non government organisations’ (NGO) neo-colonialism; avoiding contentious issues, and extending government influence at the expense of social learning. This analysis of risks focuses attention on structural issues of more significance to national-level Indigenous NRM policy: the role of Indigenous civil society organisations, the Indigenous polity and native title/land rights implementation. We conclude that better Indigenous engagement in and access to funding for NRM will result if a specific Indigenous NRM funding stream is established, with a focus on building Indigenous NRM civil society; supporting fourth-sector brokering entities who can partner ‘for-benefit’, providing opportunities for Indigenous-specific planning, and making linkages to outcomes from native title-brokered Indigenous Land Use Agreements.

This chapter draws on two distinct areas of research. Information on Indigenous participation in the Natural Heritage Trust draws heavily on the work of Lane and Corbett (2005), Williams (2005) and Lane and Williams (2008) which have examined quantitative data on funding to Indigenous communities combined with detailed interviews with Indigenous Land Management Facilitators and Federal bureaucrats involved in NHT implementation and oversight. This research is used as a contextual basis for exploring outcomes from participatory Indigenous NRM co-research in the wet tropics region, supported through the Rainforest Cooperative Research Centre and the Marine and Tropical Science Research Facility, drawing on the work of Hill (2008, 2006), Hill et al. (2004), Larsen and Pannell (2006), Talbot (2005), Pannell (2008) and WTAPPT (2005).

We conclude that improved Indigenous involvement in NRM through specific Indigenous NRM funding initiatives is an urgent national imperative to achieve equity. The new Australian Government ‘Caring for our Country’ policy which allocates 6.7% of funds to Indigenous-specific projects is welcome, but does not yet meet equity requirements as the Indigenous estate comprises some 20% of the Australian continental land mass (Altman et al. 2007). Increasing the funding level provides opportunities to move beyond equity considerations and address two of the nation’s most important policy challenges: uplifting Indigenous socio-economic status, and developing sustainable land management systems, including in areas of high conservation significance.

Item ID: 10909
Item Type: Book Chapter (Research - B1)
ISBN: 978-0-643-09586-1
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Date Deposited: 09 May 2010 23:04
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050201 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Environmental Knowledge @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960509 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Mountain and High Country Environments @ 100%
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