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5 August, 2021

Queensland’s Wet Tropics Traditional Custodians meet to focus on Regional Agreement refresh

The next steps in an historic agreement to increase participation in decision making from Traditional Custodians for the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, were discussed in Cairns in a three-day Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples’ Regional Forum from 23-25 July.

Participants of the 2021 RAP Forum in July.

Traditional Custodians of North Queensland’s Wet Tropics met with key partners and agencies to discuss what is needed to refresh and deliver the Wet Tropics Regional Agreement in partnership with the Australian and Queensland governments.

The Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples’ Forum involved 60 participants including representatives of Rainforest Aboriginal Prescribed Bodies Corporate, Registered Native Title Bodies Corporate, and Cultural Heritage organisations representing the region’s more than 20 Rainforest Aboriginal tribal groups.

The Honourable Craig Crawford, Member for Barron River and Minister for Seniors and Disability Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, gave the opening address.

“It’s critical the Rainforest Aboriginal people are at the centre of the management of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area,” Mr Crawford said.

“The Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area Regional Agreement is a shining example of an agreement-making model.

“This direct and flexible agreement-making process means government agencies and land users are able to seek the certainty they require, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parties are empowered to exercise their cultural heritage management rights.”

Dr Jackie Huggins AM and Mr Mick Gooda, Co-Chairs of Queensland’s Treaty Advancement Committee, known for their long-term work in advocating for reconciliation and social justice, also attended and spoke at the Forum.

The Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples’ Regional Forum—an annual event hosted by the Wet Tropics Management Authority since 2017—facilitates an opportunity for local Traditional Custodians to get together and discuss matters of importance to Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples across the Wet Tropics biocultural region. It also provides government, non-government and other non-Indigenous agencies the opportunity to meet and share information and learn from Traditional Custodians.

The key theme of this year’s forum was to progress work to refresh the  Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area Regional Agreement.

The Regional Agreement was signed in 2005 and provides for the increased participation in management of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area by Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples and the Australian and Queensland governments.

The central principles of the Agreement are to recognise Rainforest Aboriginal people's rights and interests and to afford them the opportunity to define and negotiate their own priorities, needs and aspirations for management of the Wet Tropics.

Last month’s forum started the journey to progress a supplementary agreement to secure ongoing commitment from government and other potential partners to deliver a refresh of the Regional Agreement. The Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples’ Think Tank (RAPTT) has been established to be the vehicle to lead the refresh of the Regional Agreement.

Ms Chrissy Grant, Wet Tropics Management Authority Board Director, said the refresh would honour the original agreement and reflect the long-term goals of Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples.

“The purpose of refreshing the Regional Agreement is to stay true to its original intent while acknowledging future aspirations and the changes that have occurred in the last 16 years—when the agreement was first signed there were only two Native Title determinations in the Wet Tropics, and now there are 20,” Ms Grant said.

Mr Barry Hunter, a NRM Terrain Board Member and a member of RAPTT said, “The Honourable Craig Crawford MP has agreed to champion the work of the RAPTT to “advocate for the agreement to be progressed and delivered.” This is a great opportunity for Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples.”

The forum, held at Rydges Esplanade Resort in Cairns from 23 to 25 July, was also supported by Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science, Terrain NRM, Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and The Nature Conservancy Australia.

Other participants included Queensland’s Department of Seniors, Disability Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and the North Queensland Land Council.

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