On the eve of the Ruddster’s 2020 version of the vision splendid, Environment Minister Peter Garrett is showing a decidedly old fashioned propensity for getting in trouble. The fact he has alienated the Aboriginal land management movement across northern Australia is even more puzzling given his professed support to programs concerned with “caring for country”.

And there’s the rub.

“Caring for country” has been far and away the most powerful “brand” for Aboriginal land management groups throughout the north. It’s a catch cry that has resonated over at least two decades, and has always been regarded as a solely Aboriginal property. Many years ago the Northern Land Council registered “Caring for country” as a business name to keep it out of the hands of the National Farmers Federation when it was schmoozing with the ACF, a one time fiefdom of the new environment minister.

But that hasn’t worried Garrett’s Department of Environment, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA). With little fanfare it has expropriated the brand, slightly (and ominously, according to many) rebadging it as “Caring for our Country”.

This has provoked a furious storm of emails flying around the country DEWHA purports to be caring for. It has been provoked by somewhat prosaic email from one Angela Stokes of the Australian Government Envirofund:

Good morning,

As you are aware the Australian Government’s new initiative to protect Australia’s unique environment and pursue sustainable management of natural resources – Caring for our Country – commences on 1 July 2008. As part of this initiative a Community Coastcaregrants program is scheduled to open in mid-May to support communities to undertake coastal restoration and preventative activities.

We have commenced a call for individuals interested in contributing to the assessment of applications for Community Coastcare. Further information is available on the Caring for our Country website, www.nrm.gov.au and will also be advertised in major newspapers this weekend.

And this sparked the first shot across DEWHA, and Garrett’s, bow:

Folks

This is the first email I have received with the Commonwealth flying its new “caring for our country” banner through the text.

Despite its statement that the name has been picked up the Commonwealth “with the greatest respect”, a great damage has been done to the indigenous land management movement and the great “caring for country” branding — a branding that originated absolutely with Aboriginal people, not Government.

Now I have look twice at things to see whether they are “caring for country” or “caring for our country”, two distinct brands but now branded with almost indistinguishable names.

Imagine, folks, how an entity like Toyota would feel if DEWHA had decided to call its new program “oh what a wonderfully environmental feeling!”.

The Aboriginal land management movement it seems to me now MUST abandon the name Caring for Country because it is too ambiguously linked to the new Government brand. Well, the choice is fight the feds about it in a serious way or just walk away. It cannot be left with two brand names that sound so similar. What a bad and sad start to indigenous/AG partnerships under Kevin 07.

It was the first of scores of such email messages. It’s difficult to know how Garrett will respond. DEWHA claims that it has consulted with Aboriginal people — presumably ones inside the department, but certainly not from the land management movement itself. You’d think it’s the last thing Garrett will want to know about as he co-chairs his session of this weekend’s talkfest.

Peter Fray

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