First Nations people can and should benefit from the renewable energy revolution, including from small community-based projects to large scale export-focused initiatives, and also through the development of new supply chains and industries.
Many First Nations communities at the forefront of the devastating impacts of climate change, and are struggling with unreliable and expensive power.
At the same time, First Nations groups have substantial rights, interests and responsibilities through traditional ownership, cultural heritage, native title and land rights schemes across Australiaʼs land and seas.
It's time to position First Nations as co-designers and drivers of systems, policy, legislation, and projects needed to facilitate the transition.
The energy transition can be fair and just by including and embedding -
- First Nations as partners in the energy transition, and
- the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) in systems, policy, legislation, programs, funding arrangements and projects.
Doing so will mean the energy transition in Australia occurs at the pace necessary (and avoids legal contestation), while delivering mutual cultural, social, economic and environmental benefits to people and Country.
The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water's Hydrogen Headstart program presents an important opportunity to take practical steps to include and embed First Nations in the development of Australiaʼs hydrogen industry.
While there is broadly goodwill from the renewable energy industry, we must translate this into action, working in a respectful partnership.
Engaging early, and in a genuine manner, will be critical.
No Traditional Owner wants to hear about projects for the first time through the media or on schematic diagrams on government websites.
Companies and the industry must listen to and learn from traditional knowledge and culture about proposed renewables sites, and consider what the benefits look like over generations.
First Nations organisations must be properly resourced and equipped to engage with the industry and the pace and scale of the transition, so that opportunities can be realised as they become available.
Programs, policies and funding arrangements to support First Nations to take up the economic development opportunities associated with the transition must be developed now.
Best Practice Principles to inform clean energy developments
These Principles place First Nations people and their communities at the centre of the development, design, implementation and opportunities for economic benefit from renewable energy projects.
The First Nations Clean Energy Network has developed the Principles anticipating they will aid governments with the design of policy and regulatory frameworks and also assist industry in its efforts to engage and partner with First Nations in the development of clean energy projects.
We recommend the Principles as an aid in the development and design of the Hydrogen Headstart program.
Develop systems for clean energy projects that respect First Nations’ rights to self-determination and which implement principles of Free, Prior and Informed Consent
Systems that presently exist in Australia and which regulate access to land, waters and resources for activities like mining, oil and gas, pastoral activities, infrastructure etc. typically establish by design an adversarial relationship with First Nations and First Nations rights and interests.
The tone set by these existing (Commonwealth, State and Territory) policy and legislative systems presupposes First Nations opposition, invites legal contestation, and ultimately generates additional and unnecessary project risk for proponents.
This is counterproductive, particularly in an age where ESG (environmental, social, governance) metrics are increasingly important and where markets and the finance sector wishes to understand the impacts of projects and capital on host communities, and particularly First Nations.
For clean energy projects too, designing an inclusive system that respects First Nationsʼ rights makes additional sense, given the opportunity to attract First Nations as active participants and supporters.
Accordingly, rather than the present system which is adversarial by design, we have the opportunity to design policy and legislative systems that enable and empower First Nations to participate in, make real decisions about, and benefit from activities that will impact on First Nationsʼ land, sea, waters, rights, interests and responsibilities.
Thanks to Anthony Rampersad for the photo!