Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 August 2021


World Ranger Day

8:21 pm

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] Last week, on 31 July, it was World Ranger Day, a day where we pause and reflect on the work that rangers do, particularly First Nations rangers, who protect and care for country. From the mountains and cool rainforests of the south of this continent, to the spectacular deserts of the Centre and to the plentiful waters of the north, our people have been managing and caring for country, water and sky since time began.

First Nations rangers work to protect our plants, animals and sacred totems. They control introduced pests like weeds and feral animals, as well as reducing bushfire risks. First Nations rangers also care and maintain cultural sites, like our ancestors have done for millennia. Since Europeans and other settlers have completely mismanaged and completely destroyed what we had maintained for thousands and thousands of generations—the care of country, land and waters—many of our native plants and animals require increased ongoing care and protection by all.

First Nations rangers are continuing the knowledge, science, art and cultural practices handed down by our old people since time began. A report commissioned by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet found that First Nations rangers deliver up to $3 worth of environmental, social and economic value for every $1 spent. First Nations rangers are at the front line of protecting country, culture, waters and sky. We need more people working on country to address these threats. Country needs more well-resourced people to care for it, as well as strong rules that protect country.

Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples clearly states:

Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.

Let's reflect on those words: 'free, prior and informed consent'. Free, prior and informed consent is the highest standard required for the involvement of First Nations people in decision-making about anything that happens on or affects country, waters and sky. Not only is it the highest standard required, it should be the only standard required.

The oil, gas and mining companies get to do what they want on country because the politicians they have purchased allow it. Free, prior and informed consent means that First Nations people must be informed about mining, fracking, logging, dams and other large projects in a timely manner. First Nations people must be given the opportunity to approve or reject projects happening on country before a project happens—not during, not after, but before.

The opportunity to give or withhold free, prior and informed consent is central to the rights of local communities, and it's also a distinct right of First Nations people. Participation in decision-making and negotiating full, prior, informed consent is central to human rights, including the right of our people to development, including economic development. Free, prior and informed consent involves local communities and First Nations people being informed—in a way that is meaningful to them and in a way that they understand—about things happening on country. Free, prior and informed consent means that First Nations people and other affected communities have the opportunity to approve, reject and change a project prior to the commencement of its operations. Free, prior and informed consent means that First Nations people and affected communities participate in setting the terms and conditions that address the economic, social and environmental impacts of all phases of whatever happens on country.

Free, prior and informed consent is about involving everyone and not picking off traditional owner groups and pitting them against each other. We know that happens all the time, by both Labor and Liberal—we know, you know, and it's wrong. Free, prior and informed consent involves not manufacturing consent by hand-picking the blackfellas that you know you can buy off. It means you have to stop paying the cash and the cars and offering all these other dirty and shoddy policy promises with your gifts to gain consent. It means that we give First Nations people the respect they deserve as the original owners and involve them at all stages of a project, not just the ones that the mining companies have bribed with promises of cars, money or benefits. Don't get me wrong. As I said, this happens. It's happening right now. The unconscionable conduct of mining companies is truly abhorrent.

Unconscionable conduct is a statement or action so unreasonable it defies good conscience. I'm sure all the lawyers know that one. In 2008 the United Nations Human Rights Council recognised that corporations also have a distinct responsibility to respect human rights. Well, they should look at the conduct of mining companies here in this country. The 46,000-year-old heritage-listed rock-shelter was blown up by Rio Tinto against the stated wishes of the traditional owners. Rio Tinto knew Juukan Gorge was irreplaceable; they just didn't care. Rio Tinto isn't the only company acting in truly abhorrent ways out on country. As part of the inquiry looking into the destruction of Juukan Gorge by Rio Tinto, we've heard how other mining corporations behave on country, too. As part of that inquiry, I had the great pleasure of meeting Garrwa elder Uncle Jack Green. He shared with me his artwork depicting the conduct of these dirty mining corporations on his country. He described one of his paintings, called Like an Ice Cream in the Sun, as follows:

This painting is about how Glencore work in Borroloola. Glencore won't let us organise under our own Law. Instead, they pick off one or two of our people. They say to them, 'If you can work for us we'll get you a motorcar, we'll give you tucker. You'll be well looked after, and you'll have money and everything. So, if you want this, you help us get an agreement. You talk for us to your family'.

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The ice cream, lollies on a plate and cake symbolise the absurdity of what's being offered to us. Things that have little long-term value to us. Things that won't last. Here now, but quickly gone, just like an ice cream in the sun.

Glencore throw down scraps like this while they destroy our sacred sites and contaminate our land and water, while the government watches.

There's no way we should be played off like this. We want people in the cities to know what's happening to us. They have to know how their governments work with mining companies to do us over and destroy our land.

I am honoured to bring Uncle Jack's words to the parliament and into the public record. It's absolutely critical that everyone pays attention and listens to the words of Uncle Jack and the many other elders and First Nations people who are being affected by the destruction of country. This is happening. This is unconscionable conduct, bribing First Nations people and pitting families against one another so that Glencore, Rio Tinto and other dodgy corporations can steal the wealth of our people. It is revolting and it is happening with the consent of the politicians here that the mining companies have purchased. And we know that some of these politicians come cheap. Protecting country, caring for country, is the most important thing that we can do as a nation and as a community. Laws that are meant to protect First Nations heritage are fundamentally broken.