Twenty-two initiatives are currently funded to help indigenous communities run conservation programs on land covering 15 million hectares, or 6 per cent of Australia’s land mass.
At $5 per hectare, I wonder how this investment in public monies compares with the cost per hectare, within the publicly-owned protected area estate?
Federal parliamentary secretary for the environment, Greg Hunt, says “We weren’t expecting social impact but what we’re finding is when people are doing meaningful work in remote Indigenous communities, there’s been a decrease in domestic violence, a decrease in drug and alcohol and other substance abuse and an increase in social cohesion.”
No doubt the economic beneficiaries of recurrent funding on the public estate also enjoy the social benefits of employment in the name of conservation, but surely the greater challenge for Australia is the development of sustainable economies on indigenous communities that meaningfully revitalise traditional care for country.
The major difficulty, as I see it, is the environmental functions and mandates of government land management agencies are not regarded as business activities; therefore, they are not required to maintain competitive neutrality. The supply of environmental goods and services on public estate is heavily subsidised to provide the illusion of free or nominal-fee entry, excluding fair trade upon non-government tenures.
Australian Government’s Tourism White Paper states:
The tourism industry is only meeting half the market demand for Indigenous tourism experiences. International visitors are clearly interested in experiencing these cultures but, at this stage, our tourism industry has not been able to develop sufficient Indigenous tourism product to meet that demand. Visitors are particularly interested in learning, experiencing and interacting with Aboriginal people, with authenticity an important aspect of the experience. Germany, the United Kingdom, other European countries and North America show the strongest potential demand for Indigenous tourism experiences in Australia.
Tourism offers particular opportunities for Indigenous Australians. In many areas of regional and remote Australia it offers the prospect of a pathway to economic independence. A significant proportion of the Indigenous population resides in regional and remote Australia. Developing Indigenous tourism can provide much needed opportunities for employment, social stability and preservation of culture and traditions.