Traditional knowledge and biodiscovery

Commencement of the Traditional Knowledge Code of Practice

On 27 August 2021, the Traditional Knowledge Code of Practice commenced. The Code aims to assist biodiscovery entities meet the traditional knowledge obligation under the Biodiscovery Act 2004.

In Queensland, biodiscovery is regulated under the Biodiscovery Act 2004 (the Act). Biodiscovery involves the take and use of minimal quantities of native biological material (e.g., plants and animals) for molecular, biochemical or genetic analysis for commercial purposes (e.g., pharmaceuticals and insecticides).

The Act establishes an access and benefit-sharing framework for biodiscovery in Queensland. Further guidance on the definition of biodiscovery and the approvals and agreements required under the Act is available on the Business Queensland website.

Reforms to the Act in September 2020 introduced protections for the use of traditional knowledge in biodiscovery, to improve the alignment with international standards such as the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing. The Nagoya Protocol requires that biodiscovery only be undertaken with the prior informed consent of Indigenous communities who hold traditional knowledge about the resources. It also requires that the benefits of biodiscovery are fairly and equitably shared.

The introduction of the traditional knowledge obligation requires that biodiscovery entities must take all reasonable and practical measures to ensure that traditional knowledge for biodiscovery is only used under an agreement with the custodians of the knowledge. This protection applies to the use of traditional knowledge about native biological material collected from anywhere in Queensland (including all State, private, freehold, and leasehold land, and all Queensland waters).

To support biodiscovery entities and First Nations peoples understand and comply with the traditional knowledge obligation the following resources are available:

  • The Traditional Knowledge Code of Practice (PDF, 1.8MB) (the Code) outlines the minimum requirements for biodiscovery entities to meet the traditional knowledge obligation under the Act.
  • The Traditional Knowledge Guidelines (PDF, 734.4KB) (the Guidelines) provide practical information and best practice advice for biodiscovery entities to meet the Code requirements and engage in a culturally appropriate way with First Nations peoples when seeking permission to use their traditional knowledge.
  • A Capacity Strengthening Toolkit (PDF, 1.9MB) provides information in plain English to assist First Nations peoples to decide whether to participate in and/or initiate biodiscovery projects, and support collaboration between industry and First Nations peoples.

The Code and Guidelines have been developed in close consultation with the department’s Traditional Knowledge Roundtable, which includes First Nations peoples’ and experts in traditional knowledge, as well as representatives from biodiscovery entities.

Public consultation was also undertaken with other First Nations peoples and biodiscovery entities on the Code and Guidelines. The results of this consultation are available in the Traditional Knowledge Code and Guidelines Consultation Report (PDF, 650.6KB) .

Traditional Knowledge Code of Practice

The Code is designed to assist those entities involved in biodiscovery research, or the commercialisation of native biological material or biodiscovery research products, to meet the traditional knowledge obligation under the Act. This obligation must be met before traditional knowledge can be used in biodiscovery.

The Code:

  • describes the circumstances under which the traditional knowledge obligation applies and what is meant by the use of traditional knowledge.
  • outlines the principles, performance outcomes and minimum requirements for the use of traditional knowledge. This includes practical steps for identifying the custodians of the knowledge; obtaining free, prior and informed consent for the use of the knowledge; and establishing benefit sharing on mutually agreed terms.
  • outlines other requirements for the use of publicly accessible traditional knowledge; addressing custodianship claims after biodiscovery has already commenced; and keeping and maintaining records to demonstrate compliance with the Code.

The traditional knowledge obligation can also be met in other ways provided the outcome achieved is equivalent to that which would have been achieved under the Code.

Traditional Knowledge Guidelines

The Guidelines provide:

  • information to assist biodiscovery entities to understand and meet the Code’s requirements and performance outcomes
  • general principles to support respectful and positive engagements between biodiscovery entities and First Nations peoples
  • advice on best practice in negotiating the use of traditional knowledge and benefit-sharing between biodiscovery entities and First Nations peoples
  • practical considerations and further explanation of concepts, processes and terms in the code
  • links to external resources.

The Guidelines have been developed for biodiscovery entities as these are the organisations that must comply with the Act’s traditional knowledge obligation. Biodiscovery entities seeking to go beyond compliance should adopt as many of the actions in the Guidelines as possible.

Capacity Strengthening Toolkit

The Department of Environment and Science engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers Indigenous Consulting (PIC) to develop a capacity strengthening program to support First Nations peoples to participate in or initiate biodiscovery.

This program included the development of a toolkit of resources to increase awareness amongst all stakeholders about the need to protect traditional knowledge, support the capability of First Nations peoples to engage in biodiscovery, and build cultural capability of biodiscovery entities.

The toolkit has been developed in consultation with First Nations peoples and biodiscovery entities.

The toolkit (PDF, 1.9MB) includes:

  • Fundamental concepts related to biodiscovery
    This resource provides a broad overview of biodiscovery and the link to rights of First Nations peoples and the international frameworks that support First Nations peoples’ rights such as the Nagoya Protocol.
  • Protections for traditional knowledge under the Act
    This resource provides a broad overview of the new requirements in the Act around obtaining free, prior and informed consent from First Nation peoples and sharing benefits.
  • Information for First Nations peoples or organisations
    This resource provides information to support First Nations peoples decide whether to participate in, or initiate their own, biodiscovery projects. Information on the options, including the choice to say ‘no’ to sharing traditional knowledge, is available to help the decision-making process.
  • Information for biodiscovery entities
    This resource provides resources to inform biodiscovery entities about their obligations in biodiscovery projects and how to engage with First Nations peoples.

Additional toolkit resources will be released following further consultation and development. This will include template documents to support negotiations around using traditional knowledge in biodiscovery.

Further information

Email for more information about the traditional knowledge obligation, the Code, the Guidelines or the capacity strengthening material.