Wet Tropics and Rainforest Aboriginal People (RAP)

    The Cairns Institute (TCI) is partnering with Rainforest Aboriginal People (RAP) in progressing the management of the Wet Tropics biocultural region to help protect and enhance cultural and natural values. TCI is contributing to the partnership through support for the RAP Cultural Values Project and identifying processes to realise the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of RAP for land use and management activities.

    This progresses the work supported by TCI in 2012-2015 in developing with RAP, three discussion papers on realising the cultural values of the region, which had been registered on the National Heritage List in 2012. The discussion papers were adopted by RAP at their regional forum in 2016. The one this project progresses is Cultural Values Project Steering Committee. (2016). Which way Australia’s rainforest culture: Towards Indigenous-led management. Discussion paper about Rainforest Aboriginal peoples-led management of the cultural values of the Wet Tropics region and World Heritage Area. Compiled by Allan Dale, Iris Bohnet and Rosemary Hill with and on behalf of the Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples and the Cultural Values Project Steering Committee: Cairns, Australia.

    Since the listing of the Wet Tropics of Queensland as a World Heritage Area in 1988 for its natural values, there has been significant national and international progress in statutory and policy settings, and emerging trends in Australian society, that emphasise the important rights and roles of Indigenous people in the range of management practices impacting across their traditional estates.

    The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) has established the FPIC principle that upholds that when governments or other parties propose laws or activities that would affect First Nations peoples or their Country, parties should negotiate with the aim of obtaining Indigenous peoples’ consent.

    However, the Wet Tropics process to realise the implementation of FPIC have yet to be effectively articulated and adopted. RAP and TCI are leading the way and provide practical clarity around this important principle by identifying how FPIC could be implemented across the scaled cultural authority across the region. The scaled approach recognises RAP principles upholding that cultural authority is held in the apical family level, that registered native title body corporates (RNTBCs) have responsibilities to the affected native title holders, and the regional RAP leadership works to support the on-ground authority and outcomes. In the Wet Tropics, a regional, scaled FPIC process must recognise 300+ apical families formally recognised in Australia’s native title legislation and the 21 RNTBCs that support the apical families and their plans for Country, culture, and community.

    TCI’s Professor Allan Dale is working closely with RAP representatives to develop an FPIC manual that outlines the rights, roles and responsibilities of RAP and Wet Tropics parties, and how they can work together and negotiate consent for activities. The manual identifies how traditional custodian legal entities can operate as the coordination point between external parties and RAP Traditional Custodian groups to ensure a process that provides sufficient information, time and opportunity for informed decision-making and empowers Traditional Custodians, to consent, or not, to proposed activities.

    As these processes become accepted and embedded for the management of the Wet Tropics, it is anticipated that natural and cultural values will be better protected and this will provide better outcomes for all people connected to this critically important Country, which is, internationally, the second-most irreplaceable World Heritage Area of all.

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