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National parks overhaul must bring Traditional Owners to fore: report

Tom Zaunmayr -

Taking power from Canberra and placing it with First Nations staff on the ground will be key to rebuilding the deteriorating relationship between Traditional Owners and Parks Australia, a Federal probe into national parks has found.

The Senior Advisory Group report commissioned by Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley last week released a list of 24 recommendations to overhaul management of Commonwealth-control national parks.

Key recommendations included moving jobs and decision-making authority from Canberra to the parks, funding Traditional Owner-filled roles to explain the significance of their ngurra to visitors, business development support and addressing barriers to financial sustainability.

Ms Ley has already revealed new investments in Indigenous employment, a stronger decision-making voice for Traditional Owners and steps to modernise management in response to the report.

Central Land Council chairman Sammy Wilson called on all political parties to commit to all the recommendations.

"We've been asking for these reforms for a very long time and have taken part in too many reports already," he said.

"There is an election coming and Anangu want to know what the parties will do to help us become equal partners on our land at last."

The report found trust between Traditional Owners and the Director of National Parks had eroded due to a lack of respect for traditional knowledge and culture.

"The wishes of Traditional Owners on important issues had all too often not been sought or had been overridden by Canberra," the report said.

"Traditional land and biodiversity management practices have been given insufficient place in park management and Western methods have predominated.

"The value that Traditional Owners can add to cultural tourism in explaining their Country to visitors has not been fully appreciated.

"Unmet commitments to increase the employment of Traditional Owners are a particular source of tension as jobs on park are scarce but are important to allow Traditional Owners to work on park."

Ms Ley said the report was "unapologetically stark".

"I will work through the recommendations with the Traditional Owners and Parks Australia but have already asked Parks Australia to implement further measures to improve joint management, and to undertake major analysis to identify options for modernising parks business," she said.

Some $10.6m will be invested in reforming existing employment framework, and $38m will go towards operational funding to better meet Traditional Owner objectives.


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