Statement by the Director of National Parks, Jody Swirepik regarding the Senior Advisory Group Advice
As Director of National Parks, I welcome the Senior Advisory Group’s advice as an important step in affirming the aspirations of Traditional Owners of the Commonwealth’s jointly managed National Parks – Booderee, Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta.
The Director of National Parks and Parks Australia are unreservedly committed to progressing the interests of the Traditional Custodians of the three jointly managed Commonwealth Parks, and we recognise and respect their cultural authority over their lands. We are committed to taking action to deliver improvements in each of the areas identified in the advice.
Parks Australia has diverse responsibilities over a large footprint, including the three jointly managed National Parks, three island parks (Norfolk, Christmas and Pulu-Keeling), the Australian National Botanic Gardens and 58 marine parks which cover more than 31 per cent of Australian waters.
We have a diversity of roles which we deliver on behalf of the Commonwealth - from preserving biodiversity, land and sea stewardship, protecting heritage and culture, utility and service provision, and supporting sustainable tourism.
Many Australians may not realise that Booderee, Kakadu, Uluru Kata-Tjuta are Aboriginal owned land leased to the Commonwealth as National Parks. These parks are a very important and visible part of Australia’s reconciliation journey.
Since taking on the role of the Director of National Parks last year, I have heard clearly that the Traditional Owners of these parks expect to derive more benefit from their lands to help build prosperous communities and keep culture strong. They want to enjoy the prosperity that the people who visit their lands seem to enjoy but in the main they do not.
While the model for jointly managing Commonwealth National Parks was innovative when it was first established more than 40 years ago, the Senior Advisory Group’s advice reinforces that it no longer reflects the desires or community expectations to empower our First Nations Peoples to manage their Country.
The Traditional Owners of these lands want to be more directly involved in the day-to-day management of Country. The Senior Advisory Group advice, commissioned by Minister Ley, provides a valuable guide for doing this better. It will help us work towards a shared vision for the future, based on relationships of trust and respect.
Over the past 12 months, with the support of the Australian Government, we have endeavored to turn a corner. Representation of Traditional Owners on the Board of Kakadu National Park has been increased, we’ve started refining our consultation processes in collaboration with Traditional Owners and land councils, and we’ve commenced the repair and upgrade of critical infrastructure on all parks. The Government has also increased resourcing for conservation, cultural and safety outcomes on each park.
We’ve worked alongside other government agencies to address long-standing commitments. For instance, last year we supported Minister Ley and Minister Wyatt to transfer the township of Jabiru, previously held by the Director of National Parks, to the Mirrar Traditional Owners, and we are now moving forward with a program of township renewal.
Parks Australia is a proud employer of Indigenous Australians. But it’s clear there needs to be more opportunities for young people to secure employment working on their Country.
The Australian Government’s new employment funding will create additional permanent jobs on each of the three parks and help to remove barriers to local employment.
We will be innovative in how we design and fill these and other jobs and we will place renewed effort into improving how we recognise traditional knowledge in employment decisions. The cultural knowledge this will embed in the management of each of our parks will be fundamental to nurturing a strong traditional culture.
In the 12 months I have been in this role I have seen that Parks Australia staff are passionate, dedicated and have tremendous respect for culture. They are proud to be working on lands where Aboriginal culture is so important. Issues with the systems of Park management and employment are not a reflection on existing staff.
The advice from the Senior Advisory Group makes it clear we have more to do. I am committed to working with Boards of management, land councils and other government agencies to align efforts and resources to take this important work forward.
A stronger voice and greater control for Indigenous people is a shared goal, and Parks Australia and I are committed to being a valued partner in the stewardship of our globally significant Commonwealth National Parks.
Director of National Parks
9 March 2022