Labor has always strongly supported this outstanding program. We increased the number of rangers when in government and worked closely with indigenous communities and Traditional Owners on important issues such as turtle and dugong management, national and world heritage listings and expanded the Indigenous Protected Area network.
The Working on Country program recognises Indigenous Australians’ strong relationship to country. The conservation work done by these rangers is invaluable in the protection of our environment, making up over a third of Australia’s National Reserve System.
Indigenous rangers are also role models in their communities, with the program providing a pathway to work and improving outcomes in health, income, crime rates and Indigenous incarceration rates.
The Productivity Commission’s Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2016 report cited the Working on Country program as an example of ‘success in engaging Indigenous Australians on country in meaningful employment to achieve large scale conservation outcomes.’ The Social Ventures Australia review of the programs released in February 2016 reinforces this finding and states:
By facilitating reconnection with country, culture and language, the Indigenous Protected Areas and Working on Country programmes have achieved exceptional levels of engagement amongst Indigenous Australians, driving the achievement of positive social, economic, cultural and environmental outcomes, delivering a mutual benefit for all key stakeholders
During the 2016 Federal election campaign, Labor promised to provide just over $200 million over 5 years to double the number of Indigenous rangers under the Working for Country program, from 775 full-time equivalent rangers in 2016-17, to 1550 by 2020-21. Bill Shorten reaffirmed this commitment in his 2017 Budget in Reply speech.
This would ensure Indigenous rangers are able to continue and expand their work in the management of cultural sites, heritage values, fire regimes, biodiversity, feral animals, weeds, land disturbance, pollution and climate change impacts.
By contrast, the Turnbull Government has refused to provide job security for Indigenous rangers, leaving the Working on Country program mired in uncertainty.
Labor will fight to defend the Working on Country program, which is helping close the Indigenous disadvantage gap by achieving a broad range of cultural, social, education, health, employment and economic development outcomes.