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AQIS has a program of Indigenous engagement across Australia's Top End


 

 
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Piers Peters-Snow, a Community Liaison Officer for AQIS, shares some little-known operations of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) in Australia’s Top End.    
AQIS has a program of Indigenous engagement in the area stretching from The Kimberley, across the top of the Northern Territory and to Cape York in Queensland. Under this program AQIS contracts with Indigenous ranger groups on a fee for service basis. These rangers are trained by AQIS to carry out basic scientific work.
There are four elements to the training; ant monitoring, mosquito monitoring and rearing, debris management and plant collection to monitor for weeds or plant diseases. These traditional rangers have access to areas that would otherwise be unfeasible for AQIS to reach.

 
All sorts of terrains are visited, from native title lands to coastal islands such as those of the Buccaneer Archipelago.     
For the rangers on the coast, debris management is important, with possible sources including Indonesian fishing boats and old camp locations. If anything is found, the rangers take samples for AQIS, whose entomologists, botanists and plant pathologists identify the sample and make the appropriate risk assessment. If required, a full scientific survey would then be undertaken.

 
Rangers use GPS equipment to mark sites where material has been collected. Satellite phones are often used to keep the communication channels open between AQIS and the 35 community groups throughout the target area, which stretches from Cape York to The Kimberley coast.

Ranger groups sign up to an activity plan with AQIS and must work in accordance with the plan to earn their fees for service. This keeps motivation high.

 
Part of the success of the operations so far is the relationships that have been established with the Indigenous rangers as well as the people within traditional communities.     
The feedback that the rangers give to their communities has helped make AQIS a respected organisation, one that helps them protect their country and one which the elders value. The fact that AQIS hands control of the monitoring to the community has also helped build up trust and respect.

 
Rangers can also receive training, qualifications and accreditation from Technical and Further Education (TAFE) colleges, helping to build a work ethic around the program and enhancing the fieldwork the rangers do for AQIS.     
The rangers also develop their interpersonal skills in dealing with government agencies, broadening their approach to how society operates. AQIS also employs Indigenous Liaison Officers to assist communities to engage with AQIS and its operations.

Weekly phone meetings and twice yearly workshops help the Community Liaison Officers across the region to maintain a consistency in their operations and to share information on progress and issues.

 

The communities benefit from this approach and the operational success of the ranger program means that the cycle of benefits continues, one that maintains the unique biodiversity found in our north.

Text: V.B. November 2009.

Images from AQIS show in order:
Image one: a wrecked yacht on the Dampier Broome Bay coastline
Image two: Piers Peters-Snow, AQIS Community Liaison Officer
Image three: Minyirr Park Rangers inspect beach debris on Cable Beach WA
Image four: Piers (second from left, rear) with Bardi Jawi Rangers on debris patrol

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