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  • In northern Australia, only US$11 million was designated to manage 154,000 square kilometers with over 650 Indigenous rangers.

    In northern Australia, only US$11 million was designated to manage 154,000 square kilometers with over 650 Indigenous rangers. | Photo: Reuters file

Published 9 May 2019

The Labor Party proposes to expand “long-term support and recognition for the highly successful” Indigenous ranger and IPA programs

As the election nears, Australian Labor Party (ALP) has pledged to significantly increase funding for Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs), if elected, nationwide amid Indigenous rangers’ struggles for adequate federal government funding.

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Australia Opposition Promises MultiMillion-Dollar Indigenous Development Budget If Elected

"Labor will double the funding available for Indigenous Protected Areas over five years and provide ongoing funding into the future," ALP's candidate for Grey, Karin Bolton, said. 

According to recent figures, the entire IPA program received only a total of US$35 million of federal funding for the five-year period from 2008 to 2013 - which amounts to a mere 6% of the country’s conservation estate budget.

The Labor Party proposes to expand “long-term support and recognition for the highly successful” Indigenous ranger and IPA programs and establish a First Nations Voice in government to circumvent funding disparities.

"As part of our commitment, we will consult on how best to allocate this new funding. First Nations peoples have cared for their country for tens of thousands of years — we want to make sure there is enough government support," Bolton added.

In northern Australia, US$11 million was designated to manage 154,000 square kilometers with over 650 Indigenous rangers, while the 165,000-square kilometers northern government conservation estate was allotted US$192 million - 20 times that of IPAs.

Chief executive of the South Australian Aboriginal Lands Trust, John Chester, welcomed the ALP’s proposal, saying the IPAs helped improve Indigenous communities' role in "protecting their country" by creating employment and tourism opportunities.

The party promises US$140 million in funding to double the number of Indigenous Rangers over half a decade.

"If the funding is increased we would be looking at trying to enlarge our existing area and employ more rangers," Nepabunna Community Council chief executive, Maurice Barclay, said.

Indigenous-owned land for biodiversity and cultural conservation, the IPAs, make up almost half of Australia’s conservation estate, and many of Australia’s endangered species and ecosystems depend on them.

The many state-based hurdles, which the opposition vows to eliminate or revise have created the recurring setbacks for the IPAs.

One such initiative, Australia’s National Landcare Program - which, according to the government, protects and conserves the country’s water, soil, plants, animals and ecosystems and support productive and sustainable use of these valuable resources - had total funding of US$700 million from 2017-21, but only US$10 million was set aside for new IPAs.

"We would certainly be looking to the government to negotiate taking over about another 50,000 hectares [near Nantawarrina] and that would, of course, require more rangers and employees," Barclay explained.

One major issue is that the government protected regions have a sustained budget but the IPAs do not. The latter’s management and funding are also separated which further complicates the security of the program.

Management falls under the purview of the prime minister and cabinet, while funding was moved from the Natural Heritage Trust to the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS), in July 2018.

Over the years, the Australian government has skewed the IAS operations more toward welfare programs, such as education, employment and health, while largely ignoring conservation and by extension the Indigenous rangers.

The IAS was put in place to fund and create programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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