Environmental and Native Title legislative intersects: Is there scope to create benefit for Traditional Owners

Tuesday, 3 June 2014
Melissa George

The Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) is the Australian Government’s central piece of environmental legislation and provides a legal framework to protect and manage matters of national environmental significance. It also clearly defines the role of Indigenous peoples in the protection and use of biodiversity and Indigenous knowledge.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act (GMRMP) also formally recognises the role of Traditional Owners in the management of their sea estates through established regulatory mechanisms such as Traditional Use Marine Resource Agreements and the currently explored Plan of Management provisions (s39AZ). The impending deregulation agenda, although not without raising some serious concerns, potentially create an opportunity to reform the current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 (Cth) to improve its implementation ensuring broader protection of Indigenous heritage.

While these pieces of legislation ensure the engagement and recognition of Traditional Owners, they still operate in isolation of specific provisions within the national native title regime, in particular Division 3, Future Acts mechanisms. We would like to explore this more broadly with the following cases:

  • Traditional Owner species conservation mechanism - supporting the aspirations and native title interests of Traditional Owners around cultural keystone species
  • EPBC regulatory reform and environmental offsets.
  • Australian Government Deregulation agenda - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act (ATSIHPA).

Issues relating to the current environmental regulatory reforms are complex and time critical, and determining the potential opportunities for Traditional Owners requires serious consideration. This session will provide an overview of some of the potential opportunities and barriers to creating effective, long lasting opportunities for Traditional Owner groups.