Box LAN15 Developing the north

Strong engagement with Indigenous communities in developing northern Australia (Australian Government 2015c) is crucial, in light of the increasing number of formal agreements and rights these communities are establishing on land and water; their presence on, and connection and responsibilities to, Country; their presence outside major urban centres; and the importance of their role in biocultural diversity. The white paper on developing northern Australia (Australian Government 2015c) presents new opportunities for engagement with Indigenous groups, who hold diverse formal land-use agreements and rights over at least 50 per cent of the region. Indigenous groups are also well placed to monitor and reduce biosecurity risks across the region—including incursions of exotic species, spread of pathogens and vectors, and landings by illegal foreign fishing vessels and other vessels that may carry pests or pathogens—and to conduct strategic weed and feral animal management (Marley 2007). However, they are unlikely to be able to reduce risks that come from external sources (e.g. increased movement of vehicles and goods).

Indigenous people represent 14.7 per cent of the population of northern Australia (Table LAN7) but a higher proportion of the population in the very remote areas (an average of 32 per cent) and in areas that are identified as Indigenous land interests (an average of 25 per cent) (see Figure LAN34). Indigenous people in these regions rely extensively on wild resources for food, culture, small enterprise and medicine (Jackson et al. 2012, Scheepers & Jackson 2012).

These remote communities face challenges as a result of distance, including limited transport and infrastructure, limited accessibility in the wet season, limited institutional capacity, and constrained opportunities for enterprise development and employment (Jackson et al. 2012, Altman & Markham 2014, Woinarski et al. 2014b). Although income generation opportunities through pastoral leases, cattle farming, and small enterprises such as fisheries, bushfood and tourism are increasing, protection and provision of ecosystem services is a major and undervalued activity in these regions.

Table LAN7 Indigenous land and sea interests in northern Australia and Indigenous populations in the region
 

Area (km2)

Area
(%)

Population

Indigenous population

Indigenous population (%)

Northern Australia

3,041,359

100.0

1,062,760

155,951

14.7

Indigenous land interests

1,752,790

57.6

385,552

96,838

25.1

Exclusive possession, NT

464,288

15.3

202,944

41,908

20.7

Non-exclusive possession, NT

720,861

23.7

316,405

56,737

17.9

IPA

359,220

11.8

101,435

23,816

23.5

ILUA

875,855

28.8

776,703

86,782

11.2

Australian tenure, Indigenous

858,221

28.2

132,674

63,847

48.1

ILUA = Indigenous Land Use Agreement; IPA = Indigenous Protected Area; NT = Northern Territory

Source: Petina Pert, CSIRO

Three catchments—the Mitchell, Darwin and Fitzroy—have been identified in the northern Australia development agenda. Water bodies in these catchments are integral to present-day Indigenous livelihoods, and can potentially sustain future water-related enterprises and employment (Scheepers & Jackson 2012). Indigenous people in the Mitchell catchment make up more than 90 per cent of the population on Aboriginal freehold lands, which occupy more than 10 per cent of the catchment area. The main formal mechanism of Indigenous involvement in land management in the Mitchell catchment is Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs). ILUAs occur in more than 60 per cent of the catchment, where grazing is the main land use. With only 9.5 per cent of the land under exclusive native title possession and more than 90 per cent of the region nationally categorised as very remote, conditions to support greater presence and economic independence of traditional owners on Country are limited.

Indigenous lands in the Darwin and Fitzroy basins are rich in culture, and represent some of the most intact and least disturbed areas in Australia. More than 90 per cent of both catchments are categorised as remote and very remote. Indigenous land interests in the Darwin catchment occur on 31.3 per cent of the catchment. Significantly, Indigenous people make up more than half the population on these lands (55 per cent), and Aboriginal language is still spoken by much of the population. ILUAs occur in less than 3 per cent of the catchment and are in place in important wetlands.

In the Fitzroy Basin, the availability of water is a precondition for the establishment of Indigenous communities (Toussaint et al. 2001). Indigenous land interests in the Fitzroy Basin occur in at least half of the catchment. They include ILUAs and native title, and support diverse land management activities, including protected area management, pastoral leases, food collecting and hunting. Indigenous people make up at least 50 per cent of the population. The high presence of Indigenous people and their close connection with Country support the continuation of language in the population, maintenance of culture, and sustenance of rights and responsibilities in water.

Source: Pethie Lyons and Petina Pert, CSIRO

Metcalfe D, Bui E (2016). Land: Box LAN15 Developing the north. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/case-study/land/box-lan15-developing-north, DOI 10.4226/94/58b6585f94911