House debates

Monday, 9 September 2019

Private Members' Business

World Ranger Day

11:38 am

Photo of Warren EntschWarren Entsch (Leichhardt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that 31 July 2019 is World Ranger Day;

(2) acknowledges the significant contribution that Indigenous rangers make to our national parks, including environmental management, restoration and education;

(3) pays tribute to rangers that have lost their lives while at work;

(4) supports the Government's funding of Indigenous ranger groups with $254.6 million invested through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy over three years from 1 July 2018 to 30 June 2021, including $61.8 million in the state of Queensland; and

(5) welcomes the work of 123 ranger groups nationally, which provided 2,160 jobs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in 2016-17.

It gives me great pleasure today to rise and speak about World Ranger Day. World Ranger Day was held on Wednesday, 31 July and is an initiative of the Thin Green Line Foundation. The Thin Green Line Foundation supports park rangers within Australia and overseas, including in conflict zones. World Ranger Day is internationally recognised as a day to support rangers working on environmental restoration and education, and pays tribute to rangers who have lost their lives while at work.

My electorate of Leichhardt is home to numerous land and sea ranger groups. Far North Queensland is home to many dedicated groups, many of whom are Indigenous, who combine traditional knowledge with conservation training to protect and manage land, sea and culture. Rangers across Far North Queensland play a very important role in natural resource management, including fire management, restoring rivers, preserving threatened species and controlling feral animals.

I'd like to, if I could, make special reference to Gavin Singleton. He's one of the lead advocates in this area and is well and truly setting the standards for our regions. He's a leader within the Yirrganydji Land and Sea Ranger Program. I've met with Gavin on many occasions, and the work that they've been doing thus far has just been absolutely fantastic. However, they've now reached a point where they require assistance in meeting their sea governance obligations. They can't patrol the sea if they don't have a vessel, and so the next stage for them is to secure an eight-metre vessel that will allow them to patrol these areas, which are very, very important, as well as managing the land. This vessel will not only enable them to create sustainable jobs and better protect their cultural heritage but also manage the sea in relation to biosecurity and research. They bring local knowledge and insights to their work, allowing them to protect and preserve our unique environment.

The Morrison government supports more than 2,900 Indigenous Australians to work in country through a variety of ranger projects creating employment, training and career pathways. Across Far North Queensland, this program enabled the government to create 210 jobs in the 2016-17 financial year. We have got rangers the length and breadth of my electorate, right up to the mainland of Papua New Guinea, which is on the Saibai, Boigu and Dauan area—and some of that's within four kilometres of the mainland of Papua New Guinea. So we have rangers extended right through those areas and, just focusing on my own electorate, from the Western Cape right down south of Cairns.

An Indigenous Protected Area is an area of land and sea that traditional owners voluntary dedicate to the National Reserve System and Indigenous protected lands make up about 46 per cent of the National Reserve System and cover more than 65 million hectares so it's quite a significant land area. Indigenous Protected Areas allow country to be managed according to the wishes of traditional owners who balance conservation and cultural considerations against opportunities for sustainable land use. There are currently 75 Indigenous Protected Areas dedicated to the National Reserve System and a further 11 projects in the consultation phase with a view to dedication.

The Morrison government's total investment in Indigenous rangers and Indigenous Protected Areas totals more than $830 million over 10 years to 2023. In my home state of Queensland, there's been an investment of $61.8 million in Indigenous rangers and $12.1 million towards Indigenous Protected Areas. This represents record investment compared to any previous government dating back to when the ranger program was first established when I was a member of the Howard government.

Finally, our rangers are passionate about their world and World Ranger Day is our chance to say thank you to all those who dedicate themselves to the care of our environment so that its splendour can be appreciated now and preserved for our future generations. Thank you.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and I reserve my right to speak.

11:42 am

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm glad to speak to this motion, and I thank the member for Leichhardt for bringing it forward as a matter for discussion. It should really go without saying that the preservation of Australia's environmental values is critical for our future. I'm pleased to see both sides of this place acknowledging the importance of real conservation work at a time of accelerating environmental damage.

It's also the case that we're not making progress that's nearly good enough when it comes to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and indeed the gap, when it comes to participation in employment, remains stubbornly wide. For both of those reasons, the government should look to do more to recognise and expand the work of Indigenous rangers at a time when the people undertaking the work say that much more needs to be done, there's not enough funding as it is and no funding certainty.

The land management and conservation work done by Indigenous rangers is invaluable to the preservation and restoration of our environment, especially in Indigenous Protected Areas which make up almost half of Australia's National Reserve System. In 2015, a Commonwealth review found that a $35 million investment in ranger programs provided a return of over $96 million in environmental, economic and social outcomes and the review suggested, understandably, that the further increase in investment would accelerate those returns.

We all know that ranger programs instil pride and purpose in young people as they work on country and stay connected to culture. They provide real jobs where jobs are often hardest to find and they lead to healthier communities in areas where health outcomes are poor. Above all, we know that ranger programs deliver high-quality landcare outcomes at a time when our country is under pressure from new threats and old—from climate change in addition to land clearing and invasive species; from plastic waste in addition to the long-brewing extinction crisis. Let's be clear: while Indigenous Protected Areas make up half of Australia's recognised conservation lands, they only receive a very small proportion of Australia's national conservation budget. Fair and better funding of this work is widely supported in the Australian community. I thank the hundreds of people in my electorate who have contacted me over the past two years to make that case.

Labor has responded to the compelling logic of Indigenous rangers by announcing, in 2017, a plan to double their number to 1,550 full-time equivalent positions by 2021. It would be great if the government would follow that lead. It would be great if the government would reverse the funding cuts that they have inflicted on the Landcare Program as a whole. I want to acknowledge the approach being taken in my home state of Western Australia. The McGowan Labor government has established its own state based Aboriginal ranger program. As a result there are 13 separate ranger groups that operate from as far north as the Dampier Peninsula to Esperance on the south coast.

Last Thursday night, I attended a showing of a documentary called Untrashing Djulpan which looked at the devastating plastic trash contamination of the coast in North-East Arnhem Land. Rangers from the Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation have been doing their best to deal with the year in and year out deposit of tonnes of bottles, nets, fishing gear, thongs, cigarette lighters, shampoo bottles, oil containers and other plastic trash along this coast. In 2018, a crew of Sea Shepherd volunteers went to support their work and measure the extent of the contamination. Those volunteers, I'm happy to say, included a number of people from my electorate: Mike and Liza Dicks and Marina Hansen.

We all know the awful facts: there's more and more plastic being produced and it is not being recycled. In this country, we barely manage 10 per cent in plastic recycling and now other countries are refusing to take our waste. If we can't do better than that in a country like Australia, how can we expect the producers of plastic to do better in other countries, particularly in developing countries? And how can we expect those less-developed nations to stop their impact on our oceans? It's estimated that, by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Microplastic is already rife within the marine food chain. Research on the south coast of WA shows microplastic in 30 to 60 per cent of certain bird species and in 50 per cent of fish. Apart from the terrible impact on the lives of these animals, don't forget that chemicals in plastic, including colourants and fire retardants, are toxic to humans.

Indigenous rangers around Australia are doing essential environmental and landcare work and they are being engaged in training and employment that has deep and wide social, cultural and economic benefits. No-one can dispute the value of the program, but the government can and should support it to a much greater extent, with more funding and greater funding certainty.

11:47 am

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no doubt the Indigenous rangers project is delivering across Australia a good result on many fronts. It's been around a while now. Last August, I had the opportunity to visit the site of the first Indigenous Protected Area in Australia at Nantawarrina, near Nepabunna, which is in the northern Flinders Ranges and adjacent to the Gammon Ranges National Park. It's a beautiful part of the world. Unfortunately, at this moment, it's just a tad dry, I'd have to say. This project has been running there for 20 years and it was the first. I think it's quite encouraging that we've seen so many other projects around Australia being able to spin off the back of this—on the success of what was done there first in the Flinders Ranges. Now there are so many projects across Australia. In fact, 10 of them are in the electorate of Grey. Five are in the APY Lands—where I was last week. I call it my milk run. It takes me a day to get to the turn-off, which is 1,000 kilometres, and then it takes eight hours to drive to the border, which is another 500 kilometres, and I work my way through all the communities and talk with a number of people who are working on these programs—not just on this trip but on others as well. They work on two levels.

The prime reason we invest in the Indigenous rangers program is that there are vast areas of Australia that are under Indigenous control. My electorate, for instance, covers 908,000 square kilometres, around 12 per cent of which is in Indigenous hands, in full ownership. It stands to reason. In fact, most of that area is in native state: it still has the scrub on it; it's not cleared country. It rests in its natural state and it needs management. We know the damage that invasive weeds and pests do to these areas. In fact, I have torn my hair out looking at some of the weeds that are coming in. Our best weapons against those invasive weeds are feet on the ground—people who know where the problems are and who can go out and address them. That's what the Indigenous ranger projects do right across the range.

In the APY Lands, for instance, a good friend of mine has been involved in one of the projects for some time in the Flinders Ranges—the preservation of the black-footed rock-wallaby, the yellow-footed rock-wallaby and a whole range of other species. Down in the south on Yorke Peninsula—which is in farming country—an island, Wardang Island, leapt to fame in the national consciousness here 15 years ago because it was where the calicivirus escaped the quarantine station. It probably delivered a huge environmental benefit to all Australia, I must say. The local group down there is now working through a new process of putting new facilities out there for the Indigenous rangers to work and stay in when they're working across the island. There have been significant new plantings going on there, for instance, re-establishing native species. So that's the angle of the environment, but I don't think we can undersell the value of the employment as well, particularly in these remote regions where there are very few alternatives to employment. It is one of the things I've spoken about many times in this parliament: that we are maintaining and supporting populations in areas of Australia where there is no natural economy. Consequently, finding jobs, even with the best will in the world, is extremely difficult—there are just not enough of them. Where a task sits in front of us, which is, very importantly, looking after the environment, it is right that we should redirect some of the national resources to do exactly that, which is what the Indigenous rangers project does.

My understanding is that across Australia the project employs around 1,000 FTE, which washes down to about 2½ thousand people that actually have work as Indigenous rangers. For those people who are employed in this program, particularly in remote communities, as I said, it is the heart and pride about them. When they come into work in the morning you can see that they are proud of what they do: they're looking after country. I think it's very important to support the culture of these areas and the structures that have built them, so I support the program strongly.

11:52 am

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I stand before the House today to speak on this important motion. I thank the member for Leichhardt for bringing it before the House to, firstly, celebrate World Ranger Day. This is the 12th year in which we have celebrated World Ranger Day, and it is important that the House notes that 12th anniversary now.

At the outset I would also like to pay tribute to those rangers across the globe who have lost their lives while at work. This is, in some countries, very dangerous work. On average, globally, one ranger is killed on duty every three to four days. This can be a dangerous place for those who confront the evils of poaching in many continents. Two-thirds of the rangers who have been killed at work died at the hands of poachers—that's an important acknowledgment up-front.

I want to spend this limited amount of time today focusing on the Australian context and the work of the Indigenous ranger program here. The program, as it is in Australia, is important in that it is a very critical way of enabling First Nations people in Australia to look after country in the sense that it's delivering economic, social, cultural and environmental outcomes.

I had the enormous honour, in the break just gone, to visit the Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa rangers group around the Jigalong community. This is part of the Martu rangers program looking after a huge Indigenous protected area in the Western Desert region of Western Australia. They are doing some very important work in trying to ensure the continuation of a rock wallaby which is now a threatened species in their area. They have been doing a terrific job around breeding those rock wallabies and moving them into areas where they can thrive. They have been doing important work around feral camels, which continue to unleash great destruction at waterholes throughout the desert. These camels are roaming across 3.3 million square kilometres of desert in Australia. It is a vast amount of land and there is a huge job to be undertaken.

The KJ rangers were also instrumental in working on a range of fire management programs. This, of course, is helping to restore diversity in the landscape whilst also reducing the impact of the very broad-scale lightning-driven fires that would otherwise occur in the country. Another project I was really taken by was the helicopter and on-ground mapping of water holes in the Martu desert area. If you got to see a map of that desert area and where these waterholes are located, you would be astonished. The number of water holes is incredible, but it is only known to a culturally trained person.

That brings me to the point that I would like to emphasise in the speech today. Labor has long supported this program. We went into the election saying we wanted to double the number of Indigenous ranger programs because it is one of the few sources—indeed, in many communities it is the only source—of purposeful, meaningful work for people in those remote communities. One criticism I have been made aware of during visits to these communities is that there is now so much emphasis on the land management and conservation aspects of the work for Indigenous rangers that less and less time is being made available for our rangers to concentrate on cultural obligations and cultural practices that must take place in order to maintain a healthy country and healthy people living on that country. The government should really pay some attention to that.

11:58 am

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support many of the comments made by those on this side in relation to World Ranger Day. In particular, I would like to note the outstanding work of the Indigenous rangers program. It is a program that Labor has supported, and we call on the government to make sure there is more investment and funding. It is a vitally important area, and one that we have advocated for a long period of time. I think we need to see more of a focus on that. Having Indigenous rangers is vitally important, particularly in rural and regional Australia. We were committed to it when we were in government and we continue to be committed to it.

It is pertinent on World Ranger Day to remember the role of rangers throughout our community and particularly in regional and rural areas. Often under difficult circumstances, they are doing an incredible job. They should be commended for that on an occasion like this, and we should always be looking to expand those programs at the federal, state and local government level. We certainly want to see increased investment in that area to ensure there's a sufficient regulatory regime for rangers to carry out their very important tasks—protecting much of our habitat, right across the country, and our pristine environments as well. It's an issue that many on my side of the House feel strongly about, so I'd like to commend all the speakers on our side who've contributed too.

12:00 pm

Photo of Gavin PearceGavin Pearce (Braddon, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In my electorate is the region of Circular Head. It's a unique region, in Tasmania, on our rugged west coasts. It's a region that's been untouched by development ever since Tasmania was settled, and it's an area that we're very proud of. It houses rugged coastlines and sweeping sand-dune type areas, and it's precarious. It's precarious in the fact that if it's not managed correctly, how our Indigenous folk managed that region for many thousands of years, that area will be inundated with weeds and noxious species.

Luckily enough for us our program, which we're all speaking to this morning, stabilises that rugged coastline. It augments and supports it and reinforces our future as an island state. Our rugged coastline of the west coast of Tasmania also takes in many wooded species and houses endangered species, such as Eucalyptus ovata, Eucalyptus brookeriana, Eucalyptus globulus andEucalyptus viminalis. These are nationally renowned species that are becoming less and less frequent in nature.

Our native foresters and our native rangers do a wonderful job in protecting these species, including the wildlife and fauna that live within these wooded areas, including our spotted-tail quoll, our Tasmanian devils and our pademelon wallabies, which are prolific in the region. If you get the chance to go to the west coast of Tasmania, it's absolutely breathtaking. Aside from the majestic coastlines, there are the wooded areas that I talked about, and the coastal dunes and our wildlife that you can see at night. It really is a magnificent place. I take my hat off and pay tribute to those dedicated folk who make up our ranger stations along the west coast of Tasmania and other regions that we've heard about throughout the debate this morning. They are dedicated men and women who do their best day in, day out. They take that extra step to ensure that that land is preserved for our next generation. Credit where credit is due. They do a fantastic job and they should be congratulated.

Finally, I would like to say that I hope our continued support is recognised as we move forward and that these precarious areas of our environment are protected for future generations.

12:03 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

I was involved in the funding, from a federal government, of the initial ranger programs in the early 1990s. It was part of an employment program. Now, across this country, I think we've got over 123 ranger groups employing over 2½ thousand people, part-time, full-time and casual. Importantly, not too long ago—in fact, the former minister responsible for First Nations people in this country decried the jobs that rangers are doing as not real jobs. Clearly, he had no appreciation of what rangers actually do and didn't understand both the cultural imperative of ranger programs or the social and economic benefits they produce.

A federal government report found that Indigenous land and sea management delivers up to $3 worth of environmental, social and economic value for every $1 spent. Between the 2009 and 2015 financial years, an investment of $35.2 million from government and a range of third parties generated social, economic, cultural and environmental outcomes with an adjusted value of over $96 million. That's very important.

I'm very proud to stand here as a member of the Labor Party and say that during the last election we committed to doubling the number of rangers and IPAs across the country, something that has not been backed up by the current government. I call on the current government: if you are so intent on supporting ranger groups, do the right thing and expand the numbers so that there are more of them around the country, providing worthwhile and proper work, proper jobs, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, whether on the sea or the land.

Ranger jobs are at the front line of nature protection Australia-wide, delivering transformative benefits to the people at the same time. Recently I attended a Northern Land Council rangers program, which was sponsored by the Department of Agriculture, where biodiversity was a key theme. The importance of that was that, some years ago, when they were first established, the utility of ranger programs wasn't properly considered or understood by any Commonwealth government agency, whether it was the department of border protection, the department of customs as it then was, the defence department, the police, or, in this case, the Department of Agriculture. Now things have changed quite substantially. We are now seeing these departments working hand in glove with ranger programs right across the country. It's important.

We visited Jigalong very recently and saw evidence of the ranger program right along the Canning Stock Route. The local ranger group is re-establishing a wallaby population in a huge park there. It's very important work. Over 70 per cent of Indigenous ranger groups have carried out threatened species activities. Around 85 per cent are involved in fire management. Over 80 per cent of ranger groups reported involvement in cultural site management. Over 80 per cent of ranger groups reported managing destructive feral animals. Over 85 per cent of ranger groups undertook invasive weed management. Over half the ranger groups carried out one or more biodiversity surveys, while nearly 80 per cent of groups undertook environmental monitoring. Over 60 per cent of groups have managed tourist facilities, like track repair and maintenance, camp ground maintenance and other access related work, while 50 per cent of groups provided information through signs, ranger talks, websites and pamphlets.

Rangers, due to their work, have high levels of wellbeing. Rangers use cultural knowledge and keep it strong. Rangers strengthen their communities. Rangers pass on knowledge to the next generation. Rangers learn and speak Aboriginal languages. Rangers' work is linked to individual rangers feeling healthier. Rangers are better off, their communities are better off, and the income is often shared. It is of national importance that we appreciate the role of these rangers in environmental protection across this nation. Whether it's in the large IPAs in the Central Desert or those on the coast, it's extremely important that the broader Australian community understands the value of First Nations ranger groups to this country. What they're doing is of benefit to all of us, and looks after and improves the national estate, and we should be very proud of them.

12:08 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There's not much that I can add to what the member for Lingiari has just said. He's been involved with rangers for a lot longer than I have, but I'll just make a couple of points. I think he summed up well, at the end, the importance of rangers to our nation. I want to reiterate that the work the rangers do is very dangerous. It's all relative, but when coupled with the tyranny of distance that we have in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland—wherever rangers work—the very nature of their work means they are far from support. They work in special and unique places where there are limited health services, and when things go wrong, as they invariably do, it can be fatal. During World Ranger Day we pay our respects to the rangers who've lost their lives or been seriously injured while at work. I know that communities near Gan Gan in Arnhem Land, in the member for Lingiari's electorate, are still in mourning over the loss of a ranger who was taken by a crocodile last October. These are the dangers that they face in the invaluable work that they do.

The conservation work done by these rangers is also invaluable in the protection of our precious and ancient environment. Rangers apply traditional knowledge to land and sea management. When that's combined with the latest science, our nation benefits. Whether it be fire management, which is becoming increasingly important, traditional burning, management of weeds and pests, protecting threatened species, or preserving stories and culture and handing them on to future generations and tourists—it all benefits from the work of rangers on country.

I'd like to take a moment to applaud the work done in the NT by the Caring for Country Branch of the NLC, the Northern Land Council. I acknowledge that there's a delegation from the Northern Land Council in the parliament today. Caring for Country hosts and provides administrative support for land and sea ranger groups and supports joint management of national parks and management of Indigenous protected areas, IPAs. The Northern Land Council currently services 12 ranger groups and jointly manages seven parks and reserves, including the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park. The NLC actively supports the work of Aboriginal custodians to maintain their cultural obligations to care for this land and sea country through the Caring for Country Branch, which provides environmental and related support services to traditional owners who actively manage in excess of 200,000 square kilometres of land and sea country.

In my electorate of Solomon and the member for Lingiari's electorate is Larrakia country. I want to acknowledge the work done by the Larrakia rangers. They are a long-running urban-based ranger group. With income coming from both commercial enterprise and grant funding they have 22 rangers working across Larrakia land and sea country. When we talk about Larrakia land we're talking about the greater Darwin region, west across to the Cox Peninsula and east to the Adelaide River. This ranger group differs from other ranger groups as much of their effort is directed to commercial work, employment and training. The Larrakia partnership with a whole range of stakeholders and landholders is vital. I commend the work that they do. We know that improving local decision-makers and putting self-determination back in the hands of Aboriginal owners are key steps towards closing the gap. This is very important in the Northern Territory. Aboriginal owned and/or managed land occupies around half of the Territory's landmass and 85 per cent of the coastline. There are currently 1,000 Aboriginal rangers operating across 46 established Aboriginal ranger groups. They manage 460,000 square kilometres of land. That's huge. It's a huge territory. It's also a huge estate being managed by the rangers. Again, I commend the work that they do.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.