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Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs)

Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) are areas of land and sea Country managed by Indigenous groups in accordance with Traditional Owners’ objectives. IPAs deliver biodiversity conservation outcomes for the benefit of all Australians, through voluntary agreements with the Australian Government.

Some areas of IPA land are recognised as part of the National Reserve System, for protection of the nation’s biodiversity and cultural heritage. 

Most IPAs are dedicated under International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Categories 5 and 6, which promote a balance between conservation and other sustainable uses to deliver social, cultural and economic benefits for local Indigenous communities.

IPAs provide a framework for Indigenous communities to combine traditional and contemporary knowledge to collaboratively manage their land and sea Country, leverage partnerships with conservation and commercial organisations and provide employment, education and training opportunities for Indigenous people.

IPA projects are supported through multi-year funding agreements. Many Indigenous organisations also supplement this funding through fee-for service or other income generating activities, as well as support from private sector and philanthropic organisations.

The Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA) Program has been supporting Indigenous communities to voluntarily dedicate and manage their land as protected areas since 1997. In addition to environmental resilience and cultural heritage protection, IPA program participants report benefits of empowerment, cultural connection and wellbeing, as well as broader socio-economic benefits for local communities.

Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) 2022
Dedicated IPAs 81
Total terrestrial area 85,202,331 hectares
Percentage of National Reserve System 49.63%

Project locations

Progress

  • Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA) Program was established by the Australian Government in 1997.
  • In 2021, the Australian Government announced a complementary Sea Country IPA Program as part of the Oceans Leadership Package.
  • There are now 81 dedicated IPAs that make up over 49 per cent of Australia’s National Reserve System, managed for the benefit of all Australians.
  • More than 760 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are employed in full-time, part-time and casual jobs under the IPA program.
  • Almost 70 per cent of IPAs have management activities delivered by Australian Government-funded Indigenous ranger groups.
  • On 27 August 2018, the Nantawarrina IPA celebrated its 20th anniversary, being the first IPA dedicated by Traditional Owners in 1998.

Sea Country Indigenous Protected Areas Program

On 23 April 2021, the Australian Government announced a $100 million investment to protect Australia’s ocean habitats and coastal environments and contribute to the global task of reducing emissions. As a component of this package, the Government committed $11.6 million over two years to June 2023 to expand the IPA network to include additional sea Country.

The Sea Country Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA) Program seeks to expand the IPA network to include coastal and marine areas. The program seeks to strengthen the conservation and protection of Australia’s unique coastal and marine ecosystems, while creating employment and economic opportunities for Indigenous Australians.

The Sea Country IPA Program Grant opportunity opened on 18 October 2021 and closed on 29 November 2021. On 7 May 2022, the Australian Government announced funding for ten Sea Country IPA consultation projects. The projects will support Indigenous-led consultation with Traditional Owners and other stakeholders, management planning, and the delivery of on-ground/water management activities. The projects are expected to generate up to 37 jobs for Indigenous Australians in remote and regional communities.

For more information refer to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s Indigenous Protected Areas webpage.

Funding to support Indigenous Protected Areas

The National Indigenous Australians Agency has committed $82.8 million to support Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA) through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy between 2018 and 2023.

In the 2017 Budget, the Australian Government committed $1.1 billion for the next phase of the National Landcare Program – this included $15 million to support the development of new IPAs through the Natural Heritage Trust. This funding for expansion of the IPA program 2017-2023 is administered by the National Indigenous Australians Agency through a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

The Sea Country IPA Program Grant Opportunity was announced in October 2021 as part of the $100 million Oceans Leadership Package. This provided an additional $9.7 million in grants over two years to June 2023 to support expansion of the IPA network to include coastal and marine areas. Further information on IPA projects supported through the Natural Heritage Trust and Oceans Leadership Package can be found on the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s Indigenous Protected Areas webpage.

Evaluation of the Indigenous Protected Areas Program

The evaluation of the Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA) Program has started.

The National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) are overseeing an evaluation of the IPA Program.

The evaluation will assess the extent to which program objectives and associated environmental, cultural, social and economic outcomes are being achieved. It will also guide continuous improvement in future program design.

On 12 November 2021, the NIAA engaged the services of Ninti One Limited to design and carry out the evaluation.

The evaluation will be conducted in two phases:

  • In Phase 1, Ninti One will carry out a desktop review of existing information to guide the collection of new data during Phase 2.
  • In Phase 2, new data will be collected and analysed to produce an evaluation report. This will include direct engagement with IPA managers through site visits to 10 IPAs. The evaluation report will make recommendations to the NIAA and DAWE about how to strengthen future program delivery and outcomes.

Ninti One commenced contacting IPA managers and key external stakeholders from March 2022 to test their interest in participating in Phase 2 of the evaluation. Phase 2 is anticipated to start following ethics clearance by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

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