Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (11:47): There is no doubt the Indigenous rangers project is delivering across Australia a good result on many fronts. It’s been around a while now. Last August, I had the opportunity to visit the site of the first Indigenous Protected Area in Australia at Nantawarrina, near Nepabunna, which is in the northern Flinders Ranges and adjacent to the Gammon Ranges National Park. It’s a beautiful part of the world. Unfortunately, at this moment, it’s just a tad dry, I’d have to say. This project has been running there for 20 years and it was the first. I think it’s quite encouraging that we’ve seen so many other projects around Australia being able to spin off the back of this—on the success of what was done there first in the Flinders Ranges. Now there are so many projects across Australia. In fact, 10 of them are in the electorate of Grey. Five are in the APY Lands—where I was last week. I call it my milk run. It takes me a day to get to the turn-off, which is 1,000 kilometres, and then it takes eight hours to drive to the border, which is another 500 kilometres, and I work my way through all the communities and talk with a number of people who are working on these programs—not just on this trip but on others as well. They work on two levels.
The prime reason we invest in the Indigenous rangers program is that there are vast areas of Australia that are under Indigenous control. My electorate, for instance, covers 908,000 square kilometres, around 12 per cent of which is in Indigenous hands, in full ownership. It stands to reason. In fact, most of that area is in native state: it still has the scrub on it; it’s not cleared country. It rests in its natural state and it needs management. We know the damage that invasive weeds and pests do to these areas. In fact, I have torn my hair out looking at some of the weeds that are coming in. Our best weapons against those invasive weeds are feet on the ground—people who know where the problems are and who can go out and address them. That’s what the Indigenous ranger projects do right across the range.
In the APY Lands, for instance, a good friend of mine has been involved in one of the projects for some time in the Flinders Ranges—the preservation of the black-footed rock-wallaby, the yellow-footed rock-wallaby and a whole range of other species. Down in the south on Yorke Peninsula—which is in farming country—an island, Wardang Island, leapt to fame in the national consciousness here 15 years ago because it was where the calicivirus escaped the quarantine station. It probably delivered a huge environmental benefit to all Australia, I must say. The local group down there is now working through a new process of putting new facilities out there for the Indigenous rangers to work and stay in when they’re working across the island. There have been significant new plantings going on there, for instance, re-establishing native species. So that’s the angle of the environment, but I don’t think we can undersell the value of the employment as well, particularly in these remote regions where there are very few alternatives to employment. It is one of the things I’ve spoken about many times in this parliament: that we are maintaining and supporting populations in areas of Australia where there is no natural economy. Consequently, finding jobs, even with the best will in the world, is extremely difficult—there are just not enough of them. Where a task sits in front of us, which is, very importantly, looking after the environment, it is right that we should redirect some of the national resources to do exactly that, which is what the Indigenous rangers project does.
My understanding is that across Australia the project employs around 1,000 FTE, which washes down to about 2½ thousand people that actually have work as Indigenous rangers. For those people who are employed in this program, particularly in remote communities, as I said, it is the heart and pride about them. When they come into work in the morning you can see that they are proud of what they do: they’re looking after country. I think it’s very important to support the culture of these areas and the structures that have built them, so I support the program strongly.