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First Nations benefit to be written into Future Made in Australia Act: Minister Chris Bowen MP

The Australian government has announced it will incorporate First Nations benefit as one of the key principles in the Future Made in Australia Act. Federal Minister Chris Bowen MP also wants to see more First Nations jobs, and ownership of and equity in clean energy projects.

Speech by Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen MP at the launch of the First Nations Clean Energy Network’s Powering First Nations Jobs in Clean Energy report launch in Parliament House on 25 June 2024.


Firstly, this is a very important input to our work and a very important report. 

We have a massive opportunity for renewable energy jobs over the next six years or so.

We need, for example … 32,000 new electricians between now and 2030. That's a lot of electricians for our system to have to produce. 

At the moment, we're working at about 2% First Nations participation in renewable energy, clean and energy jobs.

I think we can do a lot better than that. And this report will help us do a lot better than that. 

Ownership and equity

Secondly, of course, is ownership and equity.

You've helped me learn more about Canada. I learned more about the 20% of renewable energy projects that have some form of First Nations ownership or equity in them.

Again, we are running a bit under 1%. We can do much, much better.

It's something I discussed with my ministerial counterpart, Steven Guilbeault, and I had a delegation of First Nations people from Canada here to see me in Parliament. 

That is the second piece and a very, very important one.

We know that First Nations people did not share in ownership and equity when it came to oil and gas for example, often and on First Nations land.

We can't make that same mistake again and we won't make that mistake again. 

First Nations benefit

The third piece is, of course, making sure that First Nations people can benefit from the advantages of renewable energy. 

You know, I confess one of the things I was shocked to learn in my time as Minister is that First Nations people in remote communities in Australia have amongst the highest disconnection rates in the world – frankly at developing country levels. 

That is not acceptable to any of us in Australia in 2024.

It must be fixed and renewable energy is just the opportunity to fix that because you can't disconnect the sun if it's powering your house during the day, and you can't disconnect the battery if it's managed to store that energy. 

There's a great irony.

Many of the remote communities I visited to spend time in are amongst the sunniest, hottest places in the world, and yet we're working on diesel generators and people are being disconnected when they haven't put enough money in.

So there's a huge opportunity there for us.

First Nations Clean Energy Strategy

And all of this will feed into our First Nations Clean Energy Strategy

I want to thank the Network for your engagement with us, with the department, with ... the entire team, to help us bring together this Strategy.

There's been 1500 consultations with different communities and the feedback has ranged from what's taken so long and what's taking you so long and get on with it, to what's all this about again, and how's this impact on us?

And it's very understandable because there's a range of experiences across our country and a range of views and that's what makes it so important to get that consultation right. 

I think we are doing that and I'm looking forward to briefing and getting the engagement of my state and territory ministers at the next meeting of Energy Ministers in July in Melbourne, where we are going to put the Strategy to them because as you know, we have some leaders here in Canberra and they have a lot of leaders in the state systems and we need them engaged.

It's not going to work if just Canberra's engaged.

I need them - we all need them - engaged in that process and then we'll put it through the government processes later this year to make sure we get that right.

But [it would be] very useful for me to be able to say to my federal cabinet colleagues – the States are on board and we will participate and sign this off.

So it's a process we need to go through. 

But what I don't want to do is leave the impression that we are leaving all change and all reform to the First Nations Clean Energy Strategy, because we're not.

It's very important but we can't afford, having waited so long as a country to get this job done, to leave everything to that Strategy.

Hydrogen Headstart

We're getting on with the job in the meantime, for example, with Hydrogen Headstart - our very big investment in new green hydrogen in Australia. 

We've allocated $4 million for First Nations involvement now.

Someone said to me, ‘only $4 million Minister? Like this is outrageous! You know this is a multibillion dollar program!’

And with respect, I don't look at it that way because that $4 million is designed to unlock those billions for First Nations people to enable First Nations people to be in the front door as those projects are being designed.

It's not just an allocation of $4 million for First Nations people.

It's designed to ensure that First Nations people have a stake in that multibillion dollar project program [through] Hydrogen Headstart. 

We also have incorporated the criteria in Solar Sunshot and other key initiatives as well. 

Future Made in Australia Act

I'm pleased to announce this morning that in our Future Made in Australia Act, which we'll take through the parliament shortly, we are incorporating community benefit and First Nations benefit as one of the key principles and objects and criteria of the Act that will be written into the Act. 

We consulted with the Network about how to do that and that's an important initiative as well. 

Capacity Investment Scheme

I also want to touch on our Capacity Investment Scheme.

Now, this is the biggest investment in renewable energy in Australian history. 

Yesterday I released the figures showing that for the first option of six gigawatts, we've had 40 gigawatts bid to participate.

So that shows what huge interest and how competitive the Capacity Investment Scheme will be, which will unlock 32 gigawatts of renewable energy investment between now and 2027 to build by 2030. 

One of the key criteria that we've put into the Capacity Investment Scheme design is First Nations benefit.

It'll be a two-step process to get through to the second round. Proponents will have to show us their plans to engage with First Nations people – that they have engaged with First Nations people and they'll continue to and that there will be benefit, and they won't make the second round unless we're satisfied with that level of engagement in the first round.

Now, I've got to tell you, as I said, 40 gigawatts competing for six gigawatts is very competitive and they'll want to make the second round. There’s no point bidding in if you haven't met that key criteria. 

And in the second round, we'll look at the details for those who've made it about First Nations benefit.

Now, we're not prescriptive about what that is. That is, we're not designing that here from Canberra.

That is up to the local First Nations people and the proponents to co-sign.

It might be shared ownership, it might be equity, it might be offtake agreements - could be any number of things.

But I want to see - my department wants to see - real First Nations benefits and equity and stakes in what we are unlocking. 

We're not doing this 32 gigawatts just to see a roll-out without our communities benefiting, without labour standards, without real community benefit for the communities hosting it and front and centre with our First Nations benefiting as well.

So that's a key criteria for us. 

Continuing First Nations participation

I want to thank Karrina [Nolan] and Heidi [Norman] and the Network for engaging with us and helping us design that Capacity Investment Scheme criteria…

We don't hold all the wisdom here in Parliament House. We couldn't do it without that engagement which has been key for us going forward.

And then of course we’ve also got to ensure that First Nations voices are heard at the top tables of our key decision-making organisations. 

I'm very pleased to appoint Virginia Marshall to the Climate Change Authority last year… I think I'm right in saying she’s the first Indigenous person to serve on the Climate Change Authority…

I will be making further announcements and appointments soon about some of our other key government organisations in the renewable energy and climate change space, and ensuring that First Nations voices are around those board tables - which they currently are not. 

And if we're going to get our key investment vehicles and other key decision makers engaging with First Nations people, it's very important to have some voices around those tables who understand the issues.

They might not understand every community, I don't pretend that, but understand the sorts of questions those boards need to be asking themselves as they're talking about the investments going forward. 

I want to thank the First Nations Clean Energy Network for your engagement with me and us and frankly, for your leadership when there wasn't much interest in this building in First Nations involvement in renewable energy — when you were swimming against the tide, when you were trying to get attention.

Now you push on a much more open door.

But the work in both cycles is important.

Important to be flying the flag when this building wasn't so interested, and important to be engaging with us as we are vitally interested, because this is the biggest economic transformation that our country's undertaken since the industrial revolution, in a shorter time period. 

And we will have failed if First Nations people aren't at the centre of it, if we're not ensuring that First Nations people are benefiting from projects on First Nations land, and more broadly.

Because this is that, when we say that First Nations people are the Traditional Owners of land, we have to mean it right across our country.

And that means also having an ownership in our renewable energy future. 

I'm determined to make sure that's the case.

You're determined to make sure that's the case.

I know together, we'll get it done. 

 


This is a transcript of a speech by Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen MP at the launch of the First Nations Clean Energy Network’s Powering First Nations Jobs in Clean Energy report launch in Parliament House on 25 June 2024.

Access the report Powering First Nations Jobs in Clean Energy here.

Other speakers at the launch included Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney MP, and: