Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rangers will now play a greater role in caring for country.
Indigenous rangers in Cape York and the Torres Strait now have the same enforcement powers as their colleagues following the completion of an intense training course.
22 rangers and four Indigenous compliance officers graduated from the Specialised Indigenous Ranger Programme (SIRP) at a ceremony in Cairns last Friday.
The programme is a response to long-held calls by Indigenous rangers for formal qualifications and recognition of the role they play in protecting the environment.
It provides rangers with the skills and authority to respond to unlawful behaviour on traditional land and seas.
Minister Nigel Scullion says the program has broken down old barriers that stopped Indigenous Australians from advancing in their chosen vocation.
“The reason I’m passionate about it is that it was emblematic of some of the passive racism that exists,” Mr Scullion says.
“We had an Indigenous rangers program but for some reason Indigenous rangers didn’t seem to have any enforcement powers. They were second class rangers.
“I’m so delighted to be here to see the men and women here from country, speaking for country.
“They can now enforce the rules that apply to their country. The outcome of that is the land use will be sustainable for everyone.”
Ranger Mick Hale was among four graduates from the Cooktown region.
“We’ve always considered ourselves full-fledged rangers,” Mr Hale says.
“We do exactly the same training as other rangers. We’re on country, we know country better than anyone else.
“A lot of people think rules just don’t apply because we’re so remote. But the rules are there to keep everyone safe and to keep country alive and healthy.
“We’re just doing our bit trying to enforce and Aboriginal and western law in the same context.”
Member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch, says the programme will provide new job opportunities for Indigenous Australians and greater regulate our seas.
“I’d especially like to acknowledge the great work of some of our local rangers, the Epong family and the Mandubarra Land & Sea Corporation at East Innisfail, Larissa Hale and the Yuku Baja Muliku Corporation at Cooktown, and Gavin Singleton and the Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation in Cairns,” Mr Entsch says.