Report of the 6th National Conference

Indigenous involvement in natural resource management

Page last updated: 07 July 2008

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Kevin Giles, Swan Catchment Council – Indigenous Cultural Heritage Program, WA

“I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and thank the Elders present. As time is an issue I will get on with this presentation. As you can see, I have now been promoted to Cultural Heritage Program Manager. Basically, when I finished my university degree with my second application I applied for a job with the Swan Catchment Council. It was everything that had been taught to me in university, so I thought it was timely. When I got there my manager couldn’t tell me exactly what I had to do. At that time it was a requirement of all Catchment Councils to have an Indigenous person on staff as part of the consultation process, which was a good thing as he couldn’t even set me a task.

I just started going around talking to people. Firstly, I identified groups like land councils and traditional owners and started going out on consultation, talking to these groups. However, going round and doing this I found there were a whole lot of groups that didn’t get talked to at all. So I started branching out to talk to all the people on the ground. I think in Perth, the Swan region, we have 30,000 people there. Again, I did as many as I could. A lot of these people worked in government agencies and you get talking to these people from this agency and that agency, discovering that a person might be limited in what he can do, so you are transferring this information back out to community. I think it puts you in a good position, because you are actually providing this information back out to community people. So you know what people are doing, and in doing that you are actually going out to those people who may not know what a government agency has planned for that community, which helped me. It’s information sharing. Like I said, it is important to take information and share it with the communities. Identify opportunities when you go out to the communities, sit down and share that information. You can see your opportunities through your natural resource management or whatever information you have from government agencies and help them.

Most of the time it is to give a person a phone number in order for them to contact a person who deals with an issue. I think the most important thing I learned when going out and talking to a community was not to make promises you can’t keep - not be the ‘fly in, fly out’ person. Instead, go in, sit down and have a cup of tea with the people. Have a good yarn look at the issues, and work out ways of solving these. These photos were part of my consultation, so I went out and talked to a lot of people, and took a lot of photos wherever I went. It’s just that if anyone asks about who you have been talking to, then it’s documented – these are the photos. The bottom right is an envirofund application we put through - a 40-page document just for $5,000.

Indigenous Engagement in Strategy Development:

  • Vision – present the vision to the community in the Swan region.
  • Environmental sustainability is essential in maintaining cultural heritage.
  • Aspirational target be developed.
  • Regional delivery programming is essential.
  • Multiple benefit outcomes.
The Swan Region NRM Strategy was the final document. In that process of development we had to go out and talk to community members and identify assets of the region - land, air, biodiversity, cultural heritage. I came along and talked to my manager, and with the help of the community I identified cultural heritage as an asset of the region. When you look at cultural heritage there are other things that are part of that, like land, air and biodiversity. They all sit under that, so we have actually included them in the NRM Strategy. At the time I was looking around the country to see how many strategies had been written and what had been done with them. I looked at about three of them, with not one picture of an Aboriginal person in any, so we went ahead and put this in there. The CD Rom on the right is written into the document. As soon as you open the strategy, you have the creation story of the south-west. This actually gives meaning behind what they are doing – environmental management. This hasn’t been there in the past. The second one – When The Sea Level Rose - the timing for that is right, as the sea level is actually rising at the moment due to climate change and other issues. The artwork for that cover we put out to the southwest of WA in an art competition, and we chose this one because it fitted the story. The girl won $500 and her works are on all the CDS, and it was a good way of getting interaction of all different portfolios. A couple of months ago that artwork was in an art gallery down south and sold for $2000, so we have actually recognised an artist.
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The Cultural Heritage Inspirational Target is to protect, enhance and incorporate cultural heritage values within the region in order to achieve sustainable natural resource management outcomes. They won’t achieve sustainable NRM outcomes if they haven’t got this information in there. Again we have foreseen what we have had to do. We’ve put it in there and now all agencies, local governments, etc, are using this method. The photos at the bottom of the slide – the Advisory group, I will talk about in a minute. They actually asked me to look at some of the environmental projects around Perth. We then organised a site tour consisting of going around looking at some of the environmental restoration projects happening in the Swan region, but again we added the Aboriginal element to it. The Elders were over here telling the stories, while we went around. The main thing I learned was you will have a good outcome - it was a good opportunity to get Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people on the bus together – those who would not normally meet with each other and exchange ideas.

To that aspirational target these are the Management Action Targets developed by the Aboriginal community, and again we went through a long planning process for six to twelve months. It was reviewed, and we developed an expert panel made up of Aboriginal people in the Swan region. They sat down and reviewed it. We put the ‘smart’ analysis over it – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound. There were eight of them, and they all became amalgamated. The first one is to research, record, and publish Nyoongar history of the Swan region by 2009. We are doing that at the moment through the CDs we are producing, books, through our programs and all our information is being accumulated and being put together.

Review and identify opportunities in policy and legislation to include Indigenous cultural heritage by 2009. This is happening in the Swan region and in the state. We are going through the legislation, and while we are trying to do programs this is actually pinpointing some of the flaws in the legislation. However, we can’t do anything, so we are actually picking them up and putting them back to the government agencies responsible. If you can’t help us do this, then your legislation needs to be reviewed.

Increase Indigenous employment and participation in NRM activities locally and regionally by 2009. In the Swan region we have actually increased that by 1300%. The Indigenous Advisory NRM Group is made up of 10 people, myself, two other officers, an Indigenous marine and coastal officer, an Indigenous wetlands officer. Hopefully I will have more officers on board.

Achieve 75% increase in the number of community, local governments and state government agencies involved in NRM incorporating Indigenous cultural heritage included as part of their processes by 2009. We are going a long way to achieving this. In the Swan region we have 37 local government authorities, and nearly all of them are knocking on the door now wanting to be involved with the Advisory Group, seeking advice from them, and state government agencies are knocking on the door.

The next one, to establish partnerships to further incorporate NRM principles into heritage protection by 2008. This is essential, as no program is going to survive by itself unless it is rich. Again you have to develop partnerships. Someone else always has something to offer, and if you can acknowledge that you will go a long way towards achieving it. Quantify investment outcomes – that was added in 2005 by the Advisory Group I established. It is basically a social return on investment matrix. A $100,000 project – we can actually monetise the entire program, and put it into an Excel spreadsheet so that every part of your program gets monitored over a five-year period. Your $100,000 investment actually returns $5M back into the whole community, so it is a good way of justifying what you are doing and cementing what you are doing. At the end of the day you can find economic rationalising principles. That’s how the government works, so this is how we can counteract that by putting these mechanisms in place to actually ensure that we what we are doing continues:

Swan Catchment Strategy: Current Indigenous Involvement:
  • Indigenous Land Management Facilitators Network (13 in Australia).
  • Indigenous NRM Coordinator Network.
  • Indigenous NRM Advisory Group made up of 10 people with 5 subregions in the Swan region.
  • Indigenous Marine and Coastal Officer and Indigenous Wetlands Officer – are about being a conduit for local government and other agencies, and are in heavy demand, producing cultural heritage plans in the Swan region.
Swan Catchment’s current Indigenous involvement:
  • Indigenous Stories – we have just had approval to do more - a third CD, and are selling 30-40 CDs a week. Profits go back into Indigenous NRM programs. The success of the stories is great, so it is a saleable mechanism for future management. The CD Rom is popular with about 10 tourists a week ringing up and wanting copies, so it is a good message.
  • Indigenous site mapping – everything we do is being documented onto a map. We are upgrading both site information and the Department of Indigenous Affairs Science Registrar.
  • Cross-cultural awareness training – we do that with community groups and local government – whoever wants it, we will deliver it.
  • Maali Foundation is set up to supplement the shortfall of funds allocated to the Indigenous component in NRM.
  • Indigenous Environmental Agreement is an agreement with the Department of Indigenous Affairs, South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Counci, to put us in a position where we can approve environmental restoration in the Swan Region.
  • NRM Site Tours - programs that teach about the Aboriginal significance of land, learning how to make spears, etc. It doesn’t only have to be kids learning this stuff. We are also trying to incorporate this stuff into the education curriculum – this is where it should be. It will create your environmental engineers of the future.
Swan’s Future Indigenous Involvement:
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  • Indigenous Natural Diversity Officer by next year.
  • Indigenous Trails Program.
  • Indigenous NRM Traineeships/Rangers.
  • Over the last five years we have put in 10 submissions for these, and have received knockbacks on funding. However, we continue to ask for funding.
Of the new arrangements when they closed ATSIC, the first thing they did was recognise regional representative structures. That is what is said in the document, so I am at the doors as soon as they open as we deal with NRM.

Overview of the Regional Representative Structure:
  • Swan Catchment Council – one Indigenous representative.
  • Swan Catchment Council Indigenous Advisory Group.
  • My position, the Marine Coastal Officer and the Wetlands position - so there are only three plus the advisory group. Again, other agencies are beginning to follow our steps - even the Land Council, which is actually advertising and employing NRM officers now, picking up on this so it is getting bigger. I think you will find this is the case across the country.
Looking at the COAG compendium document last year, I found it confusing. Under COAG there are 42 ministerial councils. The State Ministerial Committee for NRM and Salinity, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forest, and the Primary Industries Council administer the national heritage trust money, and that’s where the NRM stuff happens. The Ministerial Council and MCATSIA are developing bilaterals to better serve us, but again it is not filtering down to the bottom. I have read the bilaterals for our state, and communities don’t have a say in that. There’s no mechanism for community.

What this flowchart is actually showing is our representative area. If you go across the bottom of the slide, the work of the Reference Group and the project officers are recognised as a regional structure going back to the OIPC. When that happens, out of that should be a regional partnership agreement, a government strategy developed between government agencies, and out of that should become Indigenous NRM-specific funding arrangements. Underneath that are your shared responsibility agreements or your lever for community.

This is how they said it should be working, and we have put the model before them yet they still haven’t got back to us. On the right there (of the slide) is an advocacy strategy. I basically targeted all those groups, compiled discussion papers and sent copies to every one of them. The Ministerial Council and the National Indigenous Council sat down with the chair of the National Indigenous Council, and actually explained what we are doing. They talked about setting up a 20- year plan and everything underneath that. We have done a 50-year plan, with management targets under that. It is a sort of proven method of how we have gone about it, yet again we still haven’t received any response. I saw just a couple of weeks ago that they’ve actually indicated that the Indigenous NRM will be allocated $48M next year for regional and remote areas, but I think it is just a mechanism for CDEP.

Going down to the bottom right (slide) shows all the other strategies that I have had input into – Aboriginal Economic Development Strategy, Aboriginal Development Tourism Strategy, etc. Again, having input into them so when it hits the ground like Aboriginal tourism, NRM stuff is actually in there, and it is part of the work plan of the role of the coordinator. We then have all these other links into all these other programs. Again, going back to the COAG, all agencies were supposed to develop an Aboriginal reconciliation action plan. I think I have found about three. This is an exercise of how you have input into the ministerial framework.

Ministerial Councils are made up of State and Federal Ministers, Australian Local Government President. It has sort of evolved a bit now. Under the Swan Catchment Council we just call it the Indigenous Cultural Heritage Program. In the middle is the Swan Catchment Council, on the right is the Maali Foundation and on the left (slide) is the Indigenous Advisory Group and other. The Indigenous NRM Advisory Group is the Maali Foundation. It is an actual lever to funds where we can do work, cut through the red tape, and get on with it. The Indigenous Cultural Heritage Policy is underneath (slide), the Indigenous Cultural Heritage Program Manager then we go down to the program itself. The reporting side of it – NAC-funded programs to report under the national cultural heritage indicators in the state environment reporting. On the other side, are those that are agency-funded, overcoming Indigenous national disadvantaged indicators. Again this is all good, and in the middle of all that we have the social return on investment which actually shows the monetisement return on everything we are doing I think the logo is good – we sort of borrowed it from the State and reshaped it with red, black and yellow. Maali means ‘black swan’. This is the way we are going to create our autonomy in the Swan region – do what we want to do and not what agencies want to do. The most important thing is to get out and talk to people, as you don’t know what is going on unless you get out there. A lot of agency people don’t see the need to go out to talk to people. They develop plans and then go out there and do it. However, if you go out there and do it to start with, you actually deal with some of the problems before they happen”.

For Further Information

Kevin Giles
Indigenous NRM Program Manager
Swan Catchment Council
80 Great Northern Highway, Middle Swan, WA 6056
Ph: 08 9374 3308 Email:
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