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Natural resource management and conservation challenges

CHAIR —We will now call our next witnesses, Mr Hayward, Mr Giles and Mr Kelly. I welcome witnesses. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

—I am representing my family and Nyungar nations.

CHAIR —Thank you. Before we go to questions does anyone wish to make a brief opening statement?

Mr Giles —I welcome the opportunity to make these comments.

Mr Hayward —I welcome the opportunity to make these comments. —Does anyone else wish to make any comments? Please feel free because we have an hour.

Mr Giles —Do not worry. You are going to get a lot of comments. I do not think an hour is long enough.

Mr Hayward —We welcome the opportunity. In our Nations is a concept for the future of our people. We have been carers for country for 60,000 years in Australia, with 47,000 years in our south west. We still have amazing places that are deeply entrenched within our spirituality and our connection to country. The way NRM has been working in the regions does not allow for our autonomy and that is why we welcome being here to speak to you today.

Mr Kelly —My organisation is the native title representative body for the south west of Western Australia and our claim strategies, our governance and the way that we organise ourselves is in line with the idea of a Nyungar nation of people and a Nyungar society. You would have heard a lot about native title in Perth a couple of years ago. That was from a claim based on a Nyungar society.

SWALSC as an organisation is an arm and a piece of the infrastructure of our mob. We cover the south west from about Geraldton out to Esperance. We number about 30,000 to 35,000 people. Our territory is actually larger than Victoria and we are probably the single largest nation of Indigenous people in Australia. We have a very young population. As you know, we also have a disjointed landscape which is highly cleared and farmed yet, as Mr Giles was alluding to, there are a lot of places which are uncleared and of very high value and very important to us. From SWALSC’s perspective, we view ourselves as an enabler. We are a piece of infrastructure and we try to service the needs of our nation of people in a variety of ways. One of those is in NRM. As we go through today we will talk about some of the barriers that have existed there in the past.

CHAIR —I will go to questions. Senator Hutchins?

Senator HUTCHINS —Thank you for coming along today. I have had an opportunity to read your submission and at this point I will ask the questions and you may want to expand on them. Page 7 of your submission states:

The speed and radicalism of the change does not seem to be congruent with the other change programs across the Australian government, such as …

CHAIR —I was caught the same as you. I will tell you why. On our agenda program today I saw former and I saw the South West Catchment Council, but they are coming later today. I am sorry, but I got caught as well.

Senator HUTCHINS —I just wanted to impress people that I had read it, but I read the wrong one.

CHAIR —I will help you out. You are not alone there. We have broken the ice and that is fantastic. I will let Senator Hutchins read that and give me a brief summary, too. We will go to Senator Siewert.

Senator SIEWERT —We received your submission this morning. You have obviously given answers to each of the dot points that we asked.

Mr Giles —Again, it is just dot points and we are preparing a thorough submission where we will expand on those dot points. There is a lot more to this document and we will probably need two to three hours to go through some of the issues that we are talking about.

Senator SIEWERT —That is what I would like to get into. You have responded to our terms of reference, but I would also like to know what you think are the most important lessons we have learned from your past involvement with the program. I am aware that all three of you have had long-term involvement in these programs at NRM. If we were trying to fix NRM what would be the key things you would say to us as the recommendations? We are talking about Caring for our Country.

Mr Giles —It is a marvellous co-option of an Indigenous phrase.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes. You may want to get something on the record about that as well. Forgetting about what programs are running at the moment, what do you think would be the best thing we could do for NRM and how we make it work for you?

Mr Giles —I can tell you now how you can make it work under the COAG framework. There is a way the COAG operates and, with the way it is operating now, no community staff get up to COAG. The exercise is how you exactly influence the COAG and the ministerial councils. Under the NRM, with the primary industries, they are doing the roll out, it comes down and then there is the investment planning process. Oh, where to you start?

Senator SIEWERT —Do you mean investment planning in the regions?

Mr Giles —Yes, the regions and the investment plans. It comes back to the bilaterals. The bilaterals are written and then there is no room for what we are doing. I have been working for the catchment council for 5½ years and we have developed the Cultural Heritage program as a framework which we can duplicate across the country. Everything has been done, but the problem comes with the investment planning process. You put up your investment plan. This is our program, but we work across all the other ones, anyway. That is just how we do it. We have to work with everyone to do the job properly. When you go down and go through the investment planning process, it goes back to all these decision making bodies and then it comes back and is distributed amongst the other programs.

Senator HUTCHINS —Is the investment plan prepared by your body?

Mr Giles —By the CMA or the catchment council.

Senator HUTCHINS —And then presented to whom?

Mr Giles —The regional chairs group, joint steering committee and senior officers group; all of these groups have to look at it. You have the other ministerial councils looking at it as well. These decision-making bodies that look at it and make the decisions, but there is a conflict of interest there because they are influenced by the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Environment and Conservation and all these other groups. Just to complicate it a bit more, I am on the Aboriginal Lands Trust and we are the largest landholding body in the southern hemisphere, and we are not on any of these boards. It makes it very hard to influence or get any access to NHT dollars. With the NHT land there is a lot of duplication with the ALT and we are actually doing this stuff. What has happened is that the catchment council process does not allow for what we are doing. We get to a certain level.

Senator SIEWERT —For the trust?

Mr Giles —No, I mean the catchment councils and the whole NHT process and the network of the Indigenous side of it. You can go so far. You have developed the program, and then you need the funding to do the on-ground stuff that you have developed. But then when it comes back to the investment planning process, you miss out and then you have got no resources to do it on the ground. You then lose the support of the community.

The funding process is unfair across Australia. There are 56 NRM regions and the majority goes to the agriculture section. This is because NRM has two different meanings. Non-Aboriginal people reckon that natural resource management is productivity of this nation. Aboriginal people reckon that natural resource management is about protecting the environment and the culture that exists in the environment. There are two different meanings and this needs to be documented. We need to be set up over here to let us go out and do what we are doing. With what we have done in setting it up means we are out doing this anyway. If we cannot do it here, we are going to go and power the community to go and do this. This is happening now and going across the country. The Australian and state governments should realise this and take advantage of it, because we are actually delivering all of the priority outcomes that they have addressed or are looking to address, but they do not know how to do it. The only way to do it is to empower at the regional level the Indigenous centre, program managers, coordinators and that network. They need to give them resources to do the stuff and get on with it.

Senator HUTCHINS —What do you think is the reason that there is not an equal distribution of funds? Can you tell us why that does not occur now?

Mr Giles —It is because of the concept that we have got the environment and the thing is productivity. You have got these boards influenced by the Department of Agriculture and others. It gets up to them and the projects that come up are funded throughout the wheat belt. An example was the investment planning where, say, Avon gets $50 million. We get $3 million in Perth. Then you have the range lands that get $2 million, which is the largest NRM region in Australia. There are a lot of problems up there, but the community have been forced to do it themselves. A lot of the time they have been doing this as part of their culture anyway and that has got to be picked up.

These boards make the decisions and then all the funding goes back into the agriculture section. This is happening across the country. I went to a national NRM conference where they got up and said, ‘NRM is about productivity of this nation’, and with climate change that is not the answer. The answer is combining everything now and adapting. Our jobs are about our kids and our kids’ futures, basically. We are setting things up so they can exist in the future. If we do not do things now, then in another 10 years the economic rationalism debate is going to be out the door because you are putting $2.25 billion into NHT now. In 10 years’ time you are going to be putting $200 billion into it to try to reverse the condition back to what it is today. They need to put more into it, or come up with a multilateral agreement with services. NRM needs to be the core business of every one of their ministerial councils. We will then have one delivery system in the middle going straight out to NRM, and in that way it will cover all the agencies as well.

Mr Kelly —I guess you will be providing more information in your more detailed submission. Conceptually it is difficult without seeing the picture.

Mr Hayward —There is a bureaucratic process that is in place and there is an accountability that NRM groups have. There are dollars available to help support things that the government agencies are doing at present. Notoriously throughout the history of allocated programs for the inclusion of all communities, Aboriginal people miss out. The process in my experience of looking at NRM engagement throughout Western Australia, which I was contracted to do, revealed a lack of understanding of the process of the NRM. That included all the regions. Some of our people were not aware of the process for funding that they could apply for.

We can give you examples of the top-heavy scenario within government agencies being on working groups within the NRM structures. There are different names used for groups of people that come together to allocate funds to plan and to go over those plans in the context of the strategies and the investment plans in particular. Monitoring and evaluation comes into that. The Department of Indigenous Affairs down in the Great Southern, which sits on one of the working groups for the allocation of funds, have a mandate as an advocate for Aboriginal people in this state. They have received funding for heritage programs. I am not too sure of the amount. The majority of Aboriginal people, Nyungar people, who live in the Great Southern were not aware that that process was taking place, so the autonomy of our people in decision-making was missed out in the first planning process. You need to do consultation for our people on any heritage matters. There is a document that was put out years ago called Ask first in regard to heritage matters.

There were failings by DIA on that working group. There were failings by the South Coast NRM people, called SCRIPT, at the time to include our people. The effect of that is that our people who are not included are actually in competition with the government agency that receives funding for staff to work with the community on heritage matters. What they did was they expanded their role in heritage as the advocacy receiving money to manage certain programs to do with heritage and NRM.


Mr Hayward —The Department of Indigenous Affairs.

Senator SIEWERT —They have money to do that?

Mr Hayward —They had money allocated to them by South Coast NRM. The effect of that is that it does not give our people autonomy. There is an Albany Aboriginal Corporation that should have received a pool of funds to deliver, manage, maintain, administer and acquit funding connected to funds received by South Coast NRM. This does not happen. So the competition of a government agency that has its mandate in the advocacy role to actually deliver programs leaves our people down on the lower rung of the ladder: ‘We will tell you how to do it, when to do it and we will make sure that it is acquitted right.’ At the end of the day there is a heritage committee of Aboriginal elders; many husbands and wives know the outcomes of the meetings that they have in regards to the NRM funding, but the majority of people do not know what is going on. There is a catch phrase of grassroots people who live in a community that have not got the chance or the knowledge that they could participate in NRM projects. That is one example of it not working.

There are some good things that have happened. There is a site called Many Peaks that was destroyed to a certain extent and so the Department of Indigenous Affairs, with the work of David Guilfoyle who worked with Restoring Connections, which was a non-investment cross-regional project, and myself we helped obtain funds from ILC to secure that property. DIA managed that via the Heritage Reference Group. Because there was no inclusion of the majority of Nyungar people in the region, people did not know what was going on. They did not know the nuts and bolts of the project. There are five funded positions in the south coast with on-costs contributing to $500,000 in an allocation of their budget. There are a number of projects that Aboriginal people could be doing, but they do not get the resources to do that and they do not have the knowledge of how they can be included.

There is the lack of a steering committee from the birth of SCRIPT as far as Aboriginal people are concerned. There is a lack of a committed relationship with the land council and the end result means that our people are missing out. There are a lot of family groups that have ecological knowledge, site knowledge and knowledge of country. They are holding their information because there is a lack of trust. What happens is that you would have a small group of people who are the go-to people in the south coast region and they are benefiting. They might find that they have positions within, say, the Department of Agriculture. An example is that one person has an ILC property and the funding allocation has gone to develop things on those ILC properties. Your uneven balance of equilibrium there is that those people who have had the knowledge to put in an application, and a good application, to receive funding from ILC are going to benefit even more.

You have a family whose son or daughter is looking at furthering their education and a good way to do that would be to care for country, but there is no allocation of funding that helps bring that skill level up so that people are in the system and have knowledge of the system, but also have their cultural heritage so that there is a magic balance in caring for country. That is what NRM is about. Mr Giles has alluded to the fact that we look at NRM as caring for country. You have funding under the streams of water, land, biodiversity and coastal marine. In the south coast I have written a building cultural understanding in NRM with a budget attached to it so it could be funded, because I was told prior to that, ‘Do not worry Ken, the cultural heritage is built into the regional capacity. We do not have to allocate a budget to that, it already is.’ In my experience, I can sit here and say that I was being blocked, so I wrote two programs overnight, obviously with input in my role and submitted those in a working group meeting so they would not be knocked back. There are some good people who work in NRM and I found that some of my colleagues helped me allocate funds for the budget for those two cultural programs so that it would not be knocked back.

I do not believe that funding that was allocated to those programs has been properly utilised and delivered in the time of SCRIPT and now becoming South Coast NRM. There needs to be more than a cultural awareness workshop for people who run organisations who do not want to include Aboriginal people in it.

Autonomy of our people is lacking. Skills development and participation of looking after our country, and it is Australia’s country, in the way of land management and conservation is lacking because we do not have the autonomy as an equal partner, as a consensus in the way that our people work, that is, in the way the land council works as representatives of people. I feel that needs to happen, in particular, for a better future for the inclusion of our people.

Bureaucratic mechanisms, reporting and accountability take time; they take positions. In my experience, I feel that the new structures of NRM actually implemented a fourth tier of government and there is a bureaucratic mechanism within that coupled with a lack of will to include Aboriginal people.

Mr Kelly —I wanted to add to what Mr Giles and Mr Hayward have commented on. When we track through the various delivery models that NHT has worked through, initially there was a state strategic model where a lot of decision-making occurred at the state level. There were significant barriers at the time in first of all getting Indigenous perspectives of land and what we call Caring for Country, which is now the national phrase almost, incorporated into the ideas of mainstream NRM. This is what Mr Hayward has already alluded to. Often we would have projects that came forward with a strong cultural component and, because they were written in a slightly different language or because they were written with a slightly different emphasis, there were often barriers presented for the acceptance of those sorts of ideas.

The other issue that we had at the time was capacity. One of the complaints about NHT1, which perhaps still stands, is that the best skill that a group of people could have is to write applications. Some of the applications that we needed to write during that period were very lengthy and very detailed. The capacity within the Indigenous community in Western Australia just was not there in order to access the program. At the same time there was much discussion about the strategic focus and because, in many cases, Aboriginal communities were coming in at the ground level, some 10 to 15 years after for example when the Landcare system started, then people were unable to engage at that strategic focus because it was a ground-level type of movement.

When we moved into NHT one of the responses to that was the development of the Envirofund. In many respects the Envirofund was supposed to be for non-strategic capacity building programs which engendered knowledge and an ability to engage in NRM programs with people, whether it be catchment groups, small farming communities, Indigenous groups or anyone else. During the process of the Envirofund we found ourselves once again unfortunately in the same situation. The Envirofund people, once again, started talking about the strategic focus and the writing of applications, et cetera. It took away the ground which people anticipated to be in relation to capacity.

At this point I would like to note for the committee that I am a member of the Indigenous Advisory Committee—although I am not here representing them—which is a committee set up under the EPBC Act. The committee advises the minister on the operations of the EPBC Act. Our terms of reference are currently being expanded. I raise that because we get on to the bilaterals and NHT2. NHT2 was set up and it was enabled for the regions. People decided, in many cases correctly, that the state delivery model was very difficult, it did not give enough credence to the real priorities in the regions, and there needed to be a refocusing on things more at a grounded level through the catchment councils.

Part of our role in the IAC was to say to the states, ‘Can we please view the bilaterals or at least gain some briefing on the bilateral process?’ Essentially the answer was no. In this respect we saw ourselves as a bit of a last resort mechanism because we knew that at the local and state levels people who were very keen on becoming involved in NRM and communities who were very keen to engage in NRM activities—to either get in front of the game and make sure that their land did not get degraded, or bring land back up to scratch again—were unable to have any real influence in the bilateral process. When you cannot, the rules of the game are set up in a way which overlook your perspectives and your priorities from the outset. When we found that even at the IAC level we were not able to gain access to the bilateral process we thought that this was probably a stitch-up from the beginning in relation to NHT2 and we have formed our decisions further in that regard.

The catchment councils, quite properly in many ways because of the weaknesses of the previous delivery arrangements, were furnished with a stronger ability to deliver projects and programs which were closer to the regional priorities. That is, of course, dependent on whether you are able to have your regional priorities built into the regional investment plans. I will note that there have been a number of catchment councils in the south west which have done quite a good job and have partnered with organisations like ours very well. One of those is the Northern Ag Catchment Council, which has put a significant investment into some Aboriginal Land Trust land, which is a reserve area north of Perth, which Rabbit Proof Fence is sort of based on. It is a place called the Mogumber Mission. The second is the South West Catchment Council, which has been very open to broad partnerships with organisations like the South West Land and Sea Council. These partnerships are very important to us because we have a pan-Nyungar perspective. Within our region we have every catchment council within our bailiwick, although admittedly only a small portion of the range lands area.

CHAIR —How many catchment councils are there?

Mr Kelly —In Western Australia there are six.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes. There are six and we call them regional groups.

Mr Giles —There are 56 nationally.

Mr Kelly —What we have sought to do is to drive partnerships with the catchment councils. As I have mentioned, some have been very open to it. Others, while not closed to it, have been a little bit more difficult to convince in certain ways.

The reason why this is important is that the investment plans of the catchment councils drive the type of funding and the type of programs that can be entered into over the period that those investment plans exist. We have found that partly because we were not equipped and our capacity—once again this is a capacity issue which was not addressed through NHT1 and which was not addressed through the Envirofund—to engage was very poor. So our capacity to have some sort of influence on the investment plans was very low, apart from in those areas where some of the catchment councils like SWCC, Metro, Swan, NAC and others employed Nyungar people directly to have some input. What we have found after that is that now when we seek to engage in NRM on a broader focus, on a Nyungar focus, that it is quite difficult. Within Nyungar country, because we have these six catchment councils, we now have a variety of different strategies and the bodies going off in different directions. This is problematic for us because we want to see some cohesion and some coherence in the way that NRM is developed in Nyungar country, not only for Nyungar people but in Nyungar country, because we consider things in a Nyungar country perspective and not on the smaller catchment council perspective, so we would like to see some improvements in that area.

The new arrangements, although still a little unclear in our minds, may provide us with some opportunity to do this. From our side I have already sent correspondence to the catchment councils which I will be following up very soon to strike an Indigenous NRM accord across the south west so that we can have a greater level of coherence and consistency in the way that these programs are delivered in the south west for Nyungar priority projects, project areas and strategy.

This is both important and unimportant. I will explain it this way. Firstly, it is important because the catchment council investment plans still have relevance. The fact that they are closer to the region means that they will have a high set of knowledge in relation to the on-ground priorities of any given region. From what I am gathering so far on the flip side, there is a possibility that the new arrangements, which I think are very positive, might have greater opportunities for organisations like the one that I head up, which is cross-regional and is seeking coherence and consistency across a broad range of catchment councils.

Currently we are at the behest of the investment plans and in many cases the priorities in there are wrong for us. If the catchment councils are unable to strike an accord on Indigenous NRM then we find ourselves in a situation that Mr Hayward alluded to on the south coast. We find ourselves in a situation where we will be directly competing with the catchment councils for engagement in NRM programs. This is probably not the situation that we want to be in but, given that we have been left on the outer for quite some time, then we are quite happy to engage in this sort of competition. It would be far better if that was not the case. The word that I have from Canberra and from the people who are designing the program currently is that there are probably more opportunities for cross-regional bodies like mine in the new arrangements than there has been in the past, and in the past that lack of opportunity has been a real problem for us.

There are some alerts in the new arrangements which are difficult for us in the south west, and for reasons which we understand. There has always been a very strong focus put on those Indigenous peoples who hold and own their own land. Part of the reason for this in the new arrangement—which we have discussed with the previous minister at the IAC table—is when they canned or were going through the ructions with the CDEP program the discussions that we had were, ‘We have a whole variety of ranges and people who work on country and in country with doing important things with AQIS and why are their activities not seen as part of delivering the national outcomes in relation to NRM and land management?’ So, there was a decision within the new arrangements to put a great focus on people who hold their own land.

Senator SIEWERT —Was that NHT2?

Mr Kelly —No, in coming up with the new arrangements. That is fine. There is no problem with that, but it carries on programs which had already been in operation. What it means for us in the south west is—and this is probably the greatest threat in the new arrangements for us—that it takes the emphasis to a very strong degree away from those Indigenous people who do not currently hold a lot of land, and we are in that situation.

We have a strategic focus developing and unfortunately the people who are developing this strongly cannot be here today, but we have all been involved in this idea of cultural corridors, which for us in Nyungar country is an opportunity. They are Nyungar pathways or cultural ways, which are either trade or cultural roots with dreaming trails and that sort of stuff. A lot of them are built out highways now, but some of them are not. This is providing for us in Nyungar country a strategic approach in which to engage in NRM. It is strategic in relation to repairing country, working with agencies who hold lands to manage country in an appropriate way, and in the way that it can guide us in relation to land acquisition. However, currently it looks as though the new arrangements will provide us with very little opportunity to engage in NRM in these very important cultural and environmental areas, because places like the south western people who do not hold land and country are so strongly de-emphasised in the way that the new arrangements are being developed.

Aside from all the important things about partnership with the catchment councils—which we believe need to happen and if they do not I guess we will be trying to go alone a bit—the biggest barrier is the way the program design has taken place which will place in front of us a strong barrier to first of all engage at a ground level with NRM programs and projects. That is something that is worthwhile thinking about as these new arrangements get further developed.

I know that the business plan is still in drafting. I have seen the business plan, although I have not been given copies or anything like that, because it is still a document which is in development. There are opportunities for mobs like ours in the south west within the new business plan, however, because of the way that it is developing, we will need to engage in the mainstream of NRM. As it has been pointed out, there have been significant systemic barriers for us to do that, so we are probably facing another few years of not being able to engage in the NRM project or program to the level in which we would like to.

Mr Giles —I would like to add to that. The expansion, for your knowledge, on cultural corridors is not just about land. It is about social justice, forming a partnership with the ministry of justice, so we can get our kids back to learning their cultural heritage. That, therefore, is wellbeing. That needs to be the future of Nyungar nations that have a concept of cultural corridors. It is also health and wellbeing. If you have people on country they are healed straightaway. A couple were teaching them about the elders’ wisdom, knowledge of country and spirituality, then they are healed. That is all going into the cultural corridors concept. There is employment and training that will go with it as well. There are a number of projects where we can create larger buffer zones in those cultural corridors along rivers and creek lines where a lot of our dreaming trails went from inland in Nyungar country, right through to the coast. We know those trails. So, it is health and wellbeing. We die at 47 years of age as men; I am a tick over that average. Maybe I am meant to help do some other things for my people. I know what my mission is. There are a lot of other Nyungar men and women who know what their mission is, and that is the future of our people. We would like the opportunity, especially in NRM, to care for our country in partnership with Landcare groups and in partnership with wadjulas because that is the future. We are all Australians. Nyungar heritage, Aboriginal heritage, is Australia’s heritage. That is the future.

CHAIR —Could you provide some further information to committee on the cultural corridors? I do not mean now, but when you leave, so that we can take something away with us.

Mr Giles —Most definitely.

Mr Kelly —From what Mr Hayward and Mr Giles have said, there is so much more to NRM for us. It means so much more than planting trees and farm productivity. It means bringing our country back to life. It means bringing our people back to life. It means reinvigorating our culture and our customs. That is why it has been extremely difficult for us to stand by and watch for so many years our inability to properly engage. Although things have developed, we still have some distance to go. I would like to add to what Mr Hayward was saying to emphasise those other very strong parts of what the NRM project means for us.

CHAIR —Mr Giles, bear in mind there is only 15 minutes left and we would like to ask some questions.

Mr Giles —I will quickly go through these. The bilateral process is too drawn out. They take 12 to 18 months and then people are left in the dark as to what the guidelines should be. No one is clear on it and hence, 56 different NRM concepts come back to the investment planning process.

Senator SIEWERT —I would like to interject there. Do you know if any non-government organisations have been invited to be part of the next one?

Mr Giles —The next?

Senator SIEWERT —The next bilateral. Presumably there will be a new bilateral over Caring for our Country.

Mr Giles —It started to happen last year. They developed these committees to have input into it. I think it was just a requirement of government to have an Aboriginal person on there, so it was just tokenism. You are put there to make a comment, then your comment is not listened to, and then you are not needed at the next meeting when it goes up to the next level where it is signed off. They do not have to put what you have said into it and it never happens.

CHAIR —Have any other NGOs or non-Indigenous groups been invited that you know of?

Mr Giles —I am not sure about that.

Senator SIEWERT —I will make sure that I ask each of the catchment councils as they come in.

Mr Giles —There is an action plan. That does happen. It goes out to all the other groups, but again what we put in there does not come out at the other end of the investment planning side of it. The business planning template is too long. It has taken them over 12 months to get where they are now, and it is still in draft form. Again, there are no guidelines for how a community should be doing it, but we have grabbed that business template and we are putting everything into it now. We have the ALT strategic plan aligned to it. Every plan in the strategy that has been written in the last six years we have had input into it. Word for word has been written into these strategies.

What is happening now is that you have got positions popping up—the Aboriginal Tourism and Development Coordinator, the Aboriginal Economic Development and the Aboriginal Employment. All these strategies are happening and all these positions are popping up in the last 12 months, which all form part of the Indigenous Caring for our Country network because we are all aimed at doing the same thing. What we are aimed at doing is producing heritage management plans which cater for all the other stuff as well. It is based on the Australian stock exchange standards of good governance. It sets community up to actually manage the environment and produce an economy so that we can levy that economy to put back into it. Local governments love this because it takes pressure off them to actually look after this bushland.

We can protect it. The way we do it is we talk to all the stakeholders. You have 50 stakeholder groups. You know what each of them do because they specialise. You can timeline and get them all to come in and do it. What you have done after you have finished a project after six months is that you have got this one bushland and no-one is going to come and develop it because there are too many interest groups attached to it. You have got this one interest group controlling this bushland, which is being managed sustainably. It does not need money from government or anywhere else. We have the opportunity now to implement these, put them on the ground, make them work and show the rest of the country how you do it properly, but then there is the funding side of it. Whether they see us a threat or whether it is development threats, it just gets caught in the system. It then comes back as being too hard, so they do not allocate the funding.

There is another thing where the funding does not happen. I will draw your attention to the Indigenous Affair Ministerial Council and the CATSIA. In 2005 they closed ATSIC and brought these new arrangements in. If they implemented what they said in that document, it would work. There is a regional delivery model. All they had to do was identify regional representative structures around the country. We had completed the discussion paper and put it forward. All they had to do was identify the regional NRM groups across Australia, being 56 of them. That is the structure: 56 NRM groups with an Indigenous component doing everything that they asked. Regional partnership agreements come out of it. That is the government service delivery strategy. Then the shared responsibility agreements are where the community come on and do what the regional partnership agreement spells out.

We have put stuff back through the ICCs and OIPC. There is a large amount of funding there. The NRM and Caring for our Country should be put together as a bilateral. You could even draw the Australian Local Government Association and ministerial council into this. Every one of the ministerial councils has produced Aboriginal reconciliation action plans. This is how we make our link into all of them, so the multilateral thing is already there through the reconciliation action plans. What they need to do is recognise this as a regional representative structure. Under that we have got how it goes back out on the ground. In the middle of it is where the funding pool comes out of the multilateral agreement. Then it is equal distribution to the 56 NRM regions across Australia.

We have set the program up. We have developed things like the Maali Foundation because government would not fund any programs that we were doing. I tested this out by developing the project and sending it out to the two new coordinators that started in the other regions. It was exactly the same application but with a different name or catchment group. They got funding and we did not. They could not say why they did not fund it. Again, this happened about 20 or 30 times, so we set up the Maali Foundation under the National Trust to accept donations. Hopefully, through heaps of donations, we can get stuff to preserve what we are doing under the cultural heritage, written with a regional NRM strategy. We have cultural heritage as an asset of the Perth region. It has a 50-year aspirational target, with development management actions and targets under it and management actions under that. We did that in 2003 and have gone through and developed an Indigenous NRM advisory group that covers the Perth area with a man and woman from each of the subregions. There are 10 people on it. The Maali Foundation is that group and the Maali Foundation sits up under the National Trust of Australia.

We have also got the chairperson of the catchment council included on the Maali Foundation, so we have 11 members there. In doing this it cuts the red tape for community to get on with Working on Country. Another thing with Working on Country is there is too much legislation out there. People look at it and say, ‘It is too hard. We cannot do it because of this.’ But then you look at the piece of legislation and it will also have a clause in there to say how you can do it. Again, we are educating people out there to go back and read the legislation, ‘Put it back to government and if they say no, then whack them with the legislation. You have an obligation to do this anyway. How come you are not doing it?’ This comes back to the bilateral process. It does not spell it out in the bilateral process. There is no room for community to have a say in what goes at the top end, which comes back to the ministerial council level.

CHAIR —When you say equal distribution between the catchments, do you mean equal as in there is the pie and everyone gets the same size, or does it go to how many people are in that area and how large the area is?

Mr Giles —Again, say there is a network. There are 56 NRM regions. If they did their Indigenous engagement and employed an Aboriginal person there, that is 56 Indigenous NRM program managers and coordinators around the country. They can develop a bucket of money there. You have got the Australian side of it with the network and the ILMF, the Indigenous land management facilitator. You need to put them in charge of it. Give them the bucket of money and then it just comes straight down to the regional level. It makes them accountable, too. Now we have this friction between state and Commonwealth. They are always arguing. The bilateral process gets drawn out and Western Australia seems to be the last one to sign on the dotted line all the time, and by the time we do sign there is nothing left in the bucket. The eastern states get all the pie and we have just got to smile and keep going.

CHAIR —We have three Western Australians on this committee and I will not mention the one who is not, so you have got an ear here.

Mr Giles —We will go back on to a positive here. One of the positives when we started was the whole NRM concept. We were sitting down with a couple of people and we came up with Caring for our Country, which is about our future. We have to do it. We are all obligated to do it. We need to put all the rubbish aside and get on with it. We need to get everyone together. This is reconciliation. We are actually doing it. By doing all of this stuff what we have been doing is achieving native title outcomes. We are putting people in charge in looking after country. We are achieving heritage outcomes. We are achieving all of these outcomes, documenting it, putting it back to government and delivering on their priorities, but somehow there is no funding to do anything. Where does all this money go? Again, if we had that central bucket in the middle through the ILMF or through the regional network we would have more stuff happening on the ground.

What is happening now is that the Aboriginal Land Trust is funding positions around the state to keep going with this land and sea management. We have only got so much funds there, and they have nearly run out but, again, we are setting community up to look after themselves. They are writing business plans now. They are doing good stuff out in the communities. We just need to document that.

Another problem with NHT is that there is no marketing stream or marketing promotions. We should have funding there to promote and market what we are doing. We have had to go out of the box and record the stories through CDs to get the funding to do it. These are creation stories. What we have done is we have compiled three of them with an animation, and we have another two animations to do. These things are raising the awareness across the board.

Senator HUTCHINS —Is that because there is a stream of funding available for those projects?

Mr Giles —Yes. A lot of us have been to every one of these strategy developments. Like I said before, all these positions are happening now. There is a great opportunity for the Australian government and the state government to get on board and back what we are doing to show true results. What has been happening under the NRM umbrella holds the key to climate change, but we have another climate change ministerial council; it should be under the same one. That is my belief. Why create another blockage when we can just put them all under a multilateral agreement with one in the middle for true service delivery. It also brings in the other ones that makes all the other agencies accountable, both state and Commonwealth. It brings more focus on the bilateral process. Heritage management planning would develop the heritage management plan template. I have already told you about that, so I will not comment any further on that.

Senator HUTCHINS —Can I just ask a quick question?


Senator HUTCHINS —There are some issues that need to be addressed in your submission. The first one up the top is proper wages for Indigenous managers. Can you explain to us why this is an issue?

Mr Giles —Yes. It is a problem. It is the whole NRM structure. You have different pay rates for all different people in the same catchment council. An example is there is a manager in one of the catchment councils and then you have line managers. They should be all the same, but one is a level eight, one is a level seven and one is a level six. It should be the same across the board. When you talk about accountability, then there should be rewards. It comes back to the performance indicators. If you are doing a good job there should be reward systems set in place for these people to keep them there. The ASX guidelines on good governance actually spell out the remuneration side of it. We could set it up like that and say to them, ‘If you do good stuff then you will get rewarded.’ There needs to be incentives built into it to keep people there, because there is no incentive to stay in the catchment groups and keep working there.

Senator HUTCHINS —Are you losing staff because of that?

Mr Giles —Yes, I lost me.

Senator HUTCHINS —I was going to ask that. I saw that.

Mr Giles —The program is still there but since I have gone they have quickly put it back under the other programs. Again, the investment planning process will come back and just be distributed into the other programs. That is another problem. There is no reporting on it. All the cultural heritage and Indigenous work we are doing has no reporting mechanism for me to report back on. I have got to go back under biodiversity, land, water, air or whatever. What we have done is developed the monitoring way we assess it. We do what we do. We line it up against the overcoming Indigenous and disadvantaged indicators and also the natural and cultural heritage state of environment indicators, which I have based the cultural heritage component on in the first place.

Senator SIEWERT —Where do you report that through? Is it through the catchment council reporting?

Mr Giles —No. There is no system to do that. This is what I mean.

Senator SIEWERT —Do you do that separately?

Mr Giles —Yes.

Mr Kelly —This is quite a significant issue, because what it says is that there is no mechanism built into this program which recognises the other aspect of NRM and what it means. This is part of that barrier process, the recognition of the perspective.

Senator SIEWERT —Is it now being recognised in the new program?

Mr Kelly —Not as far as I am aware.

Mr Giles —No. With this new program there are six priorities of the Commonwealth and then you have the state priorities. Indigenous engagement is a priority. The Commonwealth have whacked it under community capacity building or something. It is the same thing going back to the regional level where it goes out and it does not get this.

Senator SIEWERT —So it still has not been picked up properly.

Mr Giles —Yes. They should just call it the Aboriginal NRM or whatever. They should just put it there and let us do something, because we work with everyone anyway.

Mr Kelly —That has been part of the dialogue since year dot and is reflected in here. It is similar to when the CDEP programs were knocked and replaced by this new thing. Why are Indigenous NRM activities not seen as contributing towards the national priorities in relation to reserve management, land rehabilitation or whatever? Why are cultural activities not viewed or understood as being contributing towards ameliorating some of the priority issues that have been pointed out in NRM programs, going right back to Landcare.

I do not know whether I am happy about it or not. Happily or unhappily the Indigenous phrase ‘caring for country’ has been coopted at a national level. Perhaps that consciousness is starting to build and perhaps that is a positive sign that there is a growing consciousness that this other thing needs to be recognised, but currently it does not seem to be, and it would be good if it was.

Mr Giles —We will keep producing these CDs and animations. You will see it on the TV one day. One day there will be a movie made about this stuff and you may be the ones to trigger that. I am not trying to influence anything.

CHAIR —Feel free if you have some additional information that you wish to provide to this committee.

Mr Giles —I will send through the discussion paper. It shows the COAG framework and flowchart, how you can do this from the ground level and how it should work. In 2005 we completed that paper. We have given it to them and distributed it throughout Australia and even across the world, but nothing has happened. What they are doing now is talking about national representative structures and all that stuff, but we have done the work already. All they need to do is adopt the model that we have put there and that will fix the problems, or have a good go at it anyway.

CHAIR —Senator Adams.

Senator ADAMS —I come from Kojonup so I am fully aware.

Mr Hayward —Named after the stone axe.

Senator ADAMS —That is exactly right and our interpretative centre is very good too, and employing a number of Nyungar people there. I would like to ask about the catchment councils. Of the six councils how many Indigenous people who are on those are catchment council members?

Mr Kelly —In terms of members of staff?

Senator ADAMS —No, a member of the council.

Mr Kelly —I would not be able to answer that question.

Mr Giles —There is one at the catchment council here.

Senator ADAMS —Do you know about the south west?

Mr Kelly —I am not certain.

Mr Hayward —The south west are a leading light but you would have to ask Damien.

Senator ADAMS —I will do that.

Mr Hayward —I know there is not enough.

Mr Giles —We have a chairperson in South Australia.

Senator ADAMS —Do you work with the subregional bodies?

Mr Giles —No. They are competing with the catchment councils. With this new funding stream, it is all competitive now.

Senator ADAMS —Do you work with the subregional councils on the ground?

Mr Hayward —That is the kind of scope or project in mind. It is about people working together to look after the environment. In that way you are going to break down barriers and the people get their hands dirty together. It is about Caring for our Country. Our spirits have said, ‘Okay, you can take that as a concept but include us. Include Aboriginal terms of reference in the delivery of programs.’ It is the inclusion game. If you have one Aboriginal person working with wadjula people, then you are going to have the spirits of that country with them, and the outcome is going to be good. That is the way that we look at it.

Aboriginal terms of reference have been lacking. One person left a job over an issue in an NRM group because he was not allocated a vehicle. He needed a vehicle to engage his community. There needs to be the autonomy. I believe that in our neck of the woods, you need the autonomy. There are many examples throughout Australia where through the wisdom of the elders the community has been included in a partnership that is equal, and the results are amazing. In the gulf country there are classic examples of information that will benefit our country. NAILSMA are pretty cruisy in how they are doing things. Nothing is perfect, but if you have the autonomy coming through our land council, which is a representative body of our people, and then there were representatives of the land council with an elder on these regional committees, then it is going to be different.

Mr Giles —I do not think you will get an argument from us.

Senator ADAMS —These are the questions I was asking earlier.

Mr Hayward —As the oldest member of this panel, I would like to say that in hearing what has come out from all of us I feel that we have delivered some expansive knowledge for you, and that is what the idea of coming here was. I would like to thank you very much.

CHAIR —We do thank all of you.

Proceedings suspended from 11.36 am to 11.58 am