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Wednesday, 21 June 2000
Page: 15335

Senator FERRIS (2:42 PM) —My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Hill. Would the minister please inform the Senate of the valuable progress being made by the coalition in working with Aboriginal communities to protect the high conservation values of indigenous lands?

Senator HILL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I thank the honourable senator for the question. She, as a senator, at least takes the parliamentary process seriously. As part of the Natural Heritage Trust, the Howard government and indigenous communities have been working together, through the Indigenous Protected Areas program, to expand and enhance the natural reserve system. Through the IPA program, indigenous land-holders are being supported to protect conservation and cultural heritage values on indigenous land across Australia. Since 1998, eight indigenous protected areas have been declared, enabling an additional 2.8 million hectares of indigenous owned lands to be managed primarily for biodiversity conservation.

The program is also currently supporting 26 active projects across all state and territory jurisdictions. These projects occur across a diverse range of environments, including tropical wetland and coastal estuarine systems in remote Arnhem Land and the Kimberleys, coastal rainforests in Queensland and New South Wales, spectacular desert ecosystems in Central Australia and unique islands in the Torres Strait and Bass Strait.

Nantawarinna was the first indigenous protected area and was declared in August 1998. It covers 58,000 hectares and is adjacent to the Gammon Ranges National Park and the northern Flinders Ranges of South Australia. Members of the Nepabunna community, which is near Leigh Creek, manage the Nantawarinna property and have undertaken significant on-ground works, including fencing and revegetation; the development of infrastructure, including signage; and feral animal and weed control. Nantawarinna was among only three Australian winners of the United Nations Environment Program Global 500 Awards on World Environment Day, recognising the significant efforts and leadership of the Nepabunna community in managing the area as an indigenous protected area.

Yesterday, the government announced the latest addition to the Indigenous Protected Areas program. The Anangu Pitjantjatjara people of South Australia have declared 2.3 million hectares of their lands as indigenous protected areas. The lands will be managed in partnership with the Commonwealth and South Australian governments for the protection of the area's unique biodiversity and cultural heritage values, and for that they should be congratulated. The newly declared indigenous protected areas include part of the magnificent Birksgate Ranges and have one of the highest diversities of reptile species found in the world. The two areas, known as Watarru and Walalkara, will be managed by traditional owners as part of the national reserve system in accordance with internationally recognised protected areas management standards and guidelines.

This government respects the unique contribution the indigenous people of Australia can make to addressing contemporary environmental issues. Through the Indigenous Protected Areas program, we are demonstrating our commitment to a partnership with the indigenous community which is crucial to ensuring that a representative range of Australia's ecosystems are protected.