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Untangling Indigenous land

I was just about to start my role as a ceremony sound manager at a friend’s wedding when Jeremy Russell-Smith rang and asked me about being involved in a paper on carbon projects and Indigenous land tenure.

I like these kind of calls! I was up for it.

But like most people who dip their toes into the rigorous academic world of peer reviewed papers, I was about to find out what that phone call meant.

Just over a year later, after a couple of rounds of peer review and editorial exchanges, our paper on Carbon projects and Indigenous land in northern Australia has been published in a special edition of The Rangeland Journal (published by CSIRO) on savanna burning. PhD anyone?!

Does it give you all the answers? No.

On reflection, doing this paper has made me realise how complicated the CFI is. Even though I was only exploring one aspect of carbon projects, the regulation surrounding land tenure can quickly descend into a legal soup of ifs and maybes with advisers reaching for an advisory opinion from the Clean Energy Regulator (they don’t give these).

One paper can’t give you all the answers about how the rangelands proposal will play out in WA, how savanna will work in a Qld post land reformed world, whether the NT will implement carbon legislation, or whether the discrimination against native title in carbon legislation will continue, but it can set out the framework for how to think about these things.

The unfortunate truth is that with 20 pieces of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land legislation, 10 pieces of carbon legislation and a federal CFI Act, things are far more complicated than they could be.

Hopefully the patterns of simplicity will fall out over time. I’ll be keeping watch. Thanks to the co-authors and Jeremy Russell-Smith for starting it off!

The paper abstract:

Land activities contribute ~18% of total greenhouse gas emissions produced in Australia. To help reduce these emissions, the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) was implemented in 2011 to encourage land projects, which reduce the production of greenhouse gases and/or sequester carbon in the land. Prospective projects include savanna fire management and rangelands management, which have high relevance in northern Australia where Indigenous landholding is strong. This paper explores the land-tenure requirements necessary for these kinds of carbon projects to be approved by the Clean Energy Regulator. It provides an introduction to the CFI before discussing the land tenure requirements in the states of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia with respect to both emissions reduction and carbon sequestration projects. Potential issues with the current framework are highlighted, especially in relation to native title.

The paper details:

Carbon projects and Indigenous land in northern Australia

Dore Jeremy, Michael Christine, Russell-Smith Jeremy, Tehan Maureen, Caripis Lisa (2014) Carbon projects and Indigenous land in northern Australia. The Rangeland Journal 36, 389–402


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