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Setting the gold standard to make sure all of us do projects right this time

Australia’s climate ambition relies on the rapid growth of large scale clean energy projects.

With First Nations’ rights and interests now legally recognised over more than half the Australian continent, it’s critical that First Nations consent, interests, aspirations and rights are front and centre of the clean energy transition.

Our member-based First Nations Clean Energy Network was formed in November 2021 with the support of many partners across sectors - including the Clean Energy Council, to ensure that transition is done at pace and with justice, with First Nations people as key partners.

Australia has a history of land acquisition and resource extraction at any cost. As we know, this has had a major impact on our families and communities, and on our land and waters.

We all know that way of operating isn’t sustainable or commercially sensible in this new climate. The clean energy transition is driving the necessity of doing everything differently. The old ways are more costly, increase project and reputational risk, and diminish the value for end-users and investors.

After a year of talking with and consulting with our First Nations members, the Network launched the Best Practice Principles for Clean Energy Projects in November 2022. 

These ten Principles seem like common sense but we know that common sense is sometimes not common. 

The Principles seek to support better engagement, improving economic and social benefits, mutual respect, clear communication, cultural and environmental considerations, landcare, business employment opportunities, and free, prior and informed consent, or FPIC.

The Best Practice Principles, developed by First Nations people, set the gold standard for making sure all of us do projects right this time - working together cooperatively, fairly and respectfully in our joint mission to power the nation and to transition away from fossil fuels.  

We’re thrilled the clean energy industry has quietly begun to adopt these Principles, and this new guide, Leading Principles: First Nations and Renewable Energy Projects co-authored by the Clean Energy Council and KPMG, goes a step further towards practically implementing them. 

Importantly, the guide presents another opportunity to reset relationships, with the clean energy industry leading the way.

In Australia, the number of projects that have strong partnerships with First Nations groups is limited. With just 14 significant First Nations clean energy project partnerships in development to-date, there is obviously much more work to be done by all of us.

However, overseas First Nations communities are making great strides with many countries and regions well-advanced with First Nations groups working closely in the development of clean energy projects on their land, owning a stake or even initiating their own projects.

In Canada for instance, Indigenous nations are now the second largest asset owners of renewable energy, with thousands of small to large scale clean energy projects.

It can happen here too. Together, we must build an equitable transition with First Nations as partners and developers, stemming from meaningful engagement, informed consent, and a seat at the table.

The Australian government is ‘taking a leaf out of Canada's book in co-developing a First Nations Clean Energy Strategy’, as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said last week, which after a year of consultation, is likely to see serious investment in this May’s budget, and implementation soon after that.

The lessons from Canada have demonstrated the sound social and business logic for engaging with First Nations communities - project delay, cost and risk is significantly reduced - and community support, social licence and reputation is massively increased.  This of course translates into better outcomes for the Nation and better commercial outcomes for projects - First Nations ownership, leadership and genuine engagement is a competitive advantage for projects. 

This new guide shows us how to operationalise these principles. 

It shows us that greater collaboration with our people can de-risk projects, that when agreements are negotiated well, with early free prior and informed consent, everyone can benefit, and when done meaningfully, it can speed up permissions and approvals because cultural knowledge has contributed. 

The guide will allow us all to get it right from the beginning. 

First Nations are ready to partner with industry and governments to develop clean energy projects that will deliver benefits for all Australians, including sharing jobs and economic benefits, protecting sacred sites, and respecting Country for generations to come.

We know that for some proponents, it can be confusing to know which First Nations group to talk to, what legislation applies, how to incorporate cultural heritage, what land and water management looks like, and many other things. 

That’s why the Network is developing an Information for Proponents toolkit which aims to answer all questions. Together with our Best Practice Principles and this new guide operationalizing those Principles, we want to make sure there is no confusion in getting this transition right.

The last best practice principle in the new guide is about disclosure and reporting back.

First Nations communities around Australia look forward to hearing from you on your engagement journey with this guide in hand.

We look forward to more participation, inclusion, partnerships, equity, ownership, and benefit-sharing to be modelled as a result of this guide being implemented by the clean energy industry.


This is an excerpt from a speech by Chris Croker, co-Chair of the Network, at the launch of Leading Principles: First Nations and Renewable Energy Projects - a guide for the clean energy industry.

Photo is of Ethan Godfrey, Marlinja NT (Original Power)