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Energy Minister Chris Bowen talks with First Nations Clean Energy Network

The First Nations Clean Energy Network has been at the forefront of getting First Nations people involved in the energy revolution and to ensure that they will be part of the new energy industry into the future.

First Nations people from Canada, who've already been involved in many new clean energy initiatives, have combined with Indigenous people from Australia to help shape an energy outlook that can not only include First Nations people, but be part of the leadership to help meet Australia's energy targets.

This is an excerpt from an interview Roderick Chambers from The Wire did with Karrina Nolan, co-chair of the First Nations Clean Energy Network, and Freddie Campbell, Energy and Climate Senior Manager with Indigenous Clean Energy from Canada.

They had just come from their meeting with the Energy Minister, Chris Bowen.

Journalist: Can you outline the main points of discussion with Minister Chris Bowen?

Karrina: So we've been talking about three key things.

To really improve First Nations access and engagement with a clean energy revolution, engagement and consent is necessary to make sure that our Traditional Owners are at the table and that there's genuine benefits from the renewable energy.

The second one is around energy access, and by that we mean access to clean, affordable, reliable power, and ideally projects that can be developed on Country that don't actually destroy Country but can be sustainable for generations to come.

And the third one is really about building capacity, and also resourcing our Traditional Owner groups and making sure we're not just responding to proponents who come onto our Country. Actually making sure that our mob are also proponents.

Journalist: Now, I presume we're talking about solar and wind, or are there other things as well that you're talking about?

Karrina: Well, we can learn a little bit from our friends, from Turtle Island and from Canada.

But, you know, we've been talking about all things renewables. So, yes, predominantly in Australia it is solar and wind, but it's also hydrogen and also hydro.

Journalist: And Freddy Campbell, would you like to explain a little bit about what's been happening in Canada that could be helpful to us?

Freddie: Yeah, of course. So we're very grateful to be able to share a bit of a good news story from our country in that Indigenous nations are now the second largest asset owners of renewable energy, with thousands of small to large scale clean energy projects. So that is anything from solar, wind, hydro, bioenergy, one geothermal project, hydrogen in the works, and energy efficiency and housing.

Journalist: I noticed in the press release you mentioned a $100 billion renewable energy package for Australia. Is that something that has happened in Canada, that you've had this investment?

Freddie: We've had quite a large amount of investments for Indigenous clean energy projects over the last few decades.

This has been due to a lot of hard work by Nations asserting their rights and their sovereignty through renewable energy projects, as well as a lot of capacity building with Nations coupled with policy advocacy and different blended finance models within the country.

Journalist: So Karrina, what's Chris Bowen coming up with then on the table for you?

Karrina: I was just going to add the hundred billion dollar ask [by a coalition of organisations in Australia, for new federal investment and spending over ten years to build the industries of the future] is also off the back of the Inflation Reduction Act in the US. I think it was around $720 million put aside for First Nations, for tribal communities.

So that is one of the things we did talk with the Minister about today, is that, you know, this industry is moving at a very rapid pace and we need First Nations leadership in order to get the transition done. But it needs to be done with justice at the centre of it.

There's some pretty big projects that have been talked about. The one that comes to mind in the Northern Territory is the The Sun Consortium which has had a bit of a checkered past.

Journalist: What are the chances of Indigenous people getting involved in those sort of projects?

Karrina: Look, we've spent some time talking with those communities, and people I think are keen for that project, but also are trying to understand what the benefits could look like.

And this is one of the things I think we haven't talked about yet - there's a reset of the relationship with industry that needs to happen in this country.

We've seen a lot of damage and destruction to our lands and waters and sacred places. And so we want to make sure that this industry doesn't repeat those mistakes.

So that also means that we need to lift the aspirations of our communities about what's possible and what you can ask for and what those benefits could look like. And so it needs to be more than a one-off royalty payment.

It needs to include local jobs, potential equity. It also needs to include local power, installation of solar, you know, a whole range of different benefits.

But for people to understand what those benefits are, we need to look to other examples and and draw allies and say, well, here's what could be possible. So I think we're trying to be optimistic about that.

And I think there's still room to influence the real outcomes of that.

Freddie: And maybe if I could just add on in our experiences, when communities are at the centre of the projects, the projects are so much more impactful, like the spin-off benefits are unimaginable even for communities when it comes to socio-economic issues, economy, and long term sustainability of the environment, of the lands.

And so ensuring that communities are at the heart of projects and have opportunities to have decision-making powers and ownership structures really does also de-risk the project in the end and creates opportunities for more sustainable and lasting solutions.


Listen to the full interview with The Wire here