A new alliance of First Nations groups, clean energy industry bodies, unions and research groups has been established to ensure that Australia’s First Nations share the economic benefits of the booming market for renewable energy projects.
The First Nations Clean Energy Network, unveiled on Tuesday, will serve as a key forum to support First Nations communities and businesses to partner with clean energy projects while also ensuring the protection of First Nations heritage and respect of native title interests.
The initiative will seek to avoid a repeat of the mistakes made by the mining sector, and ensure renewables are used to help improve the supply of power to remote and regional communities that have often been dependent on expensive, unreliable and polluting diesel generators for the bulk of their power supplies.
Executive director of Original Power, Karrina Nolan, a key initiator of the network, said it would help position First Nations groups as core participants in Australia’s transition to clean energy sources.
“The Network will ensure First Nations people are key players in Australia’s clean energy revolution,” Nolan said.
“We’re ready to partner with governments and industry to develop clean energy projects that will deliver benefits for all Australians.”
“Indigenous land title is now recognised over more than half the Australian continent, with rich renewable energy resources including sun and wind power. As demand drives new renewable energy zones, our consent will be more critical than ever.”
Australia’s first Indigenous silk, Tony McAvoy SC, who will also serve as a Network Steering Group member, said that the new network would help ensure Australia’s renewable energy sector respected the participation of First Nations people in the development process.
“Not only is Australia failing to pull its weight internationally, but it is failing to ensure that the renewables boom is regulated in a manner that protects First Nations rights and incentivises First Nations’ participation,” McAvoy said.
“Renewable energy is a real alternative to fossil fuels and can be compatible with First Nations’ views. However, if we are not at the table as owners, experts and spiritual custodians of the landscape the renewables explosion will be yet another action done ‘to’ rather that ‘with’ us”.”
The network will also include industry bodies the Clean Energy Council and Smart Energy Council, community groups including the Renewable Energy Alliance and the Community Power Agency, as well as research groups that include the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the ANU and the Climate Council.
Recent years have seen a boom in renewable energy projects in parts of Australia that are controlled by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditional owner groups, including massive wind and solar projects proposed in Western Australia and the Northern Territory in regions dominated by the presence of resources companies.
While wind and solar projects are generally less destructive than resources projects – the latter often involving the permanent destruction of heritage sites – many wind and solar projects still require permanent changes to land and the negotiation of land use agreements with traditional owners.
Many interactions with major resources companies have proven to be problematic – which has included the use of unconscionable tactics in interactions with traditional owners to secure land use agreements and the reckless destruction of sites with substantial heritage value in the pursuit of resources – leaving some apprehensive about the sudden growth of renewable energy development.
A recently concluded parliamentary inquiry into the destruction of caves at the Juukan Gorge – that had been host to heritage sites dating back 46,000 years – by resources giant Rio Tinto found that the incident was just one example of many such disasters “where cultural heritage has been the victim of the drive for development and commercial gain.”
The final report of the parliamentary inquiry called on new industries, including the renewable energy industry, to learn from the mistakes made by the mining sector when working with First Nations communities and areas of significant heritage value.
“The same principles apply to other industries, particularly in the context of a transition to renewables, opening the way for them to learn from the mistakes of the mining boom and pay respect to the living heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” the Juukan inquiry report says.
Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton said the creation of the new First Nations Clean Energy Network would help ensure the renewables sector is working collaboratively with First Nations people.
“The clean energy industry wants to put its best foot forward through genuine collaboration with First Nations communities, respecting the Indigenous Estate, sharing the benefits of clean energy through sustainable and equitable practice and protecting an ancient culture. This Network will be invaluable in achieving this mission,” Thornton said.
By Michael Mazengarb 16 November 2021. Read full story here.