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May 7th 2008
Valuing biodiversity is key to its protection says Island's 2020 Summiteer

Melissa George There were only 1000 Australians invited to the Prime Minister's April 2020 Summit and one of them happened to be a Magnetic Islander. She is Melissa George and Magnetic Times caught up to her to hear about the ideas she took to Canberra.

The Summit was divided into topic areas and Melissa contributed to the, Population, sustainability, climate change, water and the future of our cities stream.

Melissa is a Traditional Owner from Magnetic Island's Wulgurukaba people and is also a Queensland based Indigenous Network Co-ordinator. She attended as an individual, but supported the approach of Northern Australian Indigenous Land & Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA).

The NAILSMA aim is to bring about an Indigenous Culture Based Economy which, according to the Kimberly Land Council's Peter Yu, "supports the cultural business of Indigenous land and sea management, supports the credibility and integrity of cultural transactions locally and across the North, and leads to innovative commercial opportunities".

According to Melissa, "This view is strongly supported by Aboriginal peoples in Northern Australia."

At its core the concept Melissa most wanted to convey is one of recognising that in much of northern Australia there will be resources ranging from mines to agricultural potential to high biodiversity for which Indigenous people will have a say over management. These people, she says, have every right to seek the benefits of cash and infrastructure from mining ventures on their lands as much as they may seek to create economic development opportunities based around stewardship and biodiversity protection that may also present themselves.

"I made the point that not every black fella or traditional owner group want to be rangers and they cannot be dictated to. All opportunities need to be made available."

She then puts a more difficult concept, "If you are serious about protecting Australia's biodiversity you need to determine the value of that biodiversity.

"Most of northern Australia (about 48% ) is Aboriginal owned and managed land and sea so you need to determine the value of that biodiversity in terms of things like conservation and eco-tourism. We need a biodiversity audit which can lead to something like a scheme which is parallel to carbon trading."

But just what could such a scheme entail? One example draws directly from carbon trading. It is the Western Arnhem Land Fire Management Agreement which mitigates the production of massive amounts of CO2 from wildfires in the north. Each dry season huge amounts of grass and other scrub becomes fuel for massive fires.

Valuing biodiversity is key to its protection says Island's 2020 Summiteer
May 7th 2008
I think Melissa's George's, and NAILSMA's clear focus on firmly securing a future place for an Indigenous Culture Based Economy in a rapidly encroaching, globally warmer future .. must be strongly commended as a far-sighted, socially just endeavour that will be valuable to us all!!

It is also highly commendable that some of the organisational structure (ie A National Indigenous Knowledge Centre established and maintained by indigenous people) necessary to bring such vision into being .. actually made it onto the list of top ideas from the "Population, sustainability, climate change, water and the future of our cities" stream of the 2020 Summit!!

Let's hope we'll hear more along these lines falling out of the 2020 Summit, with full support from the new Commonwealth Government!!

May 8th 2008
Congratulations Melissa!
A complex subject incisively summarised.
Especially the issue of placing a value on bio-diversity.
Would that many of our LGA representatives grasp those fundamentals.
If they did we would truly have a 'ground-up' driven momentum.

Jenny Stirling
May 8th 2008
I think what Melisa says has a lot of merit but when I hear the term 'audit' in relation to valuing bio-diversity, alarm bells begin to ring for me. There is a big debate raging as to whether to place a dollar value on our environment in order to save it, as if that were the principal measure of a thing's worth. That kind of thinking got us into this mess. It is true that people destroy what they do not understand so there needs to be a big push to understand what a treasure our bio-diversity is, for many reasons including its intrinsic value. And the economic potential is a valid part of that picture but it should not dominate the whole show, as it too often does.

That said, as Melissa alludes to, there needs to be meaningful work and a reasonable standard of health, education and well-being for all people who live in these areas. I am sure we can work it out if we try and we will have to try really hard and not just give lip service to such goals. Many, many children's lives depend on it.
Christina Macpherson
May 8th 2008
What a thoughtful article! And what a thoughtful, sensible and comprehensive set of ideas from the Population, sustainability, climate change, water and the future of our cities, stream.

And - hooray for Melissa - bringing attention to the importance of biodiversity! Well - maybe you shouldn't put a dollar value on biodiversity - but it's a darn site better idea than putting no value at all on it. The "no value" idea seems all too prevalent, in the current famous "resources boom".
Christina Macpherson
Mal Hamilton
May 10th 2008
The fundamental problem is that we "modern" folk think we own the planet and we see it as our god-given resource/playground/battlefield. I suggest we all read "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight" by Thom Hartmann (Bantam). This is a book that will really get you thinking.

What do you think? Send us your comments.

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