First Nations groups in box seat to set clean energy agenda

Article by David Prestipino for the National Indigenous Times.

Speakers discuss the power First Nations groups have in Australia’s clean energy transition. (Image: Twitter)

First Nations groups across the country are setting the agenda with private sector companies as Australia ramps up its renewable energy transition.

The first day of the First Nations Clean Energy Symposium in Adelaide on Thursday discussed the opportunities for FIrst Nations in the clean energy race, which included land tenure negotiations with proponents, initiating community-led projects, while highlighting global trends in financial markets to accelerate First Nations engagement to reach Australia’s renewable energy targets.

Key First Nations leaders and associated experts said clean energy partnerships on First Nations land and businesses across the supply chain could establish long-term economic and social benefits for Indigenous communities.

“Despite having Native Title, and all the levels of recognition you can get through a colonial system, the outcomes are still not certain for us,” Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation CEO Daniel Miller told the audience.

“To have support from government about what we’re bringing to the table is really important … that recognition, it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s necessary because we, as Traditional Owners, need to have the confidence to build community benefit models that work.”

First Nations groups knew they had the land and waters needed for the country’s energy transition and “there’s power that comes with that … regardless of tenure arrangements,” one representative said.

“Companies not prioritising First Nations leadership are making poor and risky business decisions.”

Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation representatives Sonja Dare and Jason Bilney said Indigenous groups were starting the transition from a strong position.

“Because they’re all competing for our land, they have to outbid each other … sometimes you end up with a better deal,” Ms Dare said.

Mr Bilney suggested First Nations groups could review old agreements and leverage technicalities that could possibly be renegotiated for a better outcome.

“Some companies won’t offer ownership, so do shares, and get the dividends of that project. We need to get in so that in the future we have a stake,” he said.

Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation group CEO Joe Morrison told the symposium’s first-day audience projects were de-risked when First Nations organisations were deeply involved.

“Real equity in our businesses going forward is critical,” said Mr Morrison, a sentiment shared by Karrina Nolan, co-chair of the First Nations Clean Energy Network.

“It’s not just about clean energy, it’s about our futures and also about the nation’s future,” she said.

“We can’t move forward without First Nations front and centre of Australia’s energy revolution.”

Professor Robynne Quiggin, one of the First Nations Clean Energy Network’s 12 steering group members and a member of the Net Zero Agency Advisory Board, said impending legislation would set up free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) more permanently.

“It starts with consent … we will define what consent is, not the parties that come to us,” she said.

“No project just starts and finishes – FPIC needs to be applied at every stage of the process.”

Recent modelling by Net Zero Australia estimated 43 per cent of all clean energy infrastructure required for Australia to reach its net zero emissions target by 2060, would need to be sited on Indigenous lands.

Workshops at the two-day symposium examined steps different First Nations groups must make to ensure they were at the table in major clean energy project negotiations on their Country.

First Nations Clean Energy Network co-chair Chris Croker said other advanced economies understood “the road to net zero runs through First Nations lands”.

He cited 15 significant First Nations clean energy partnerships in Australia, compared to Canada’s more than 200 large-scale revenue-generating projects with Indigenous participation and ownership.

“Government has talked up First Nations partnerships in the energy transition, but where’s the action on the ground? There’s been no change in major policy or action,” Mr Croker said.

He called for significant investment and access to capital similar to the investment by the United States into tribal nations and Canada into First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.

“None of us want a repeat of the past. We know this is a massive opportunity, for jobs, business and wealth generation,” he said.

National Native Title Council chair Kado Muir said the extraction of resources from country without Traditional Owner consent had formed Australia’s economic foundation.

“The clean energy revolution is an opportunity for industry and government to redress this exploitation and work to address this historic injustice, with Traditional Owners as equity partners in projects,” he said.

Energy Minister Chris Bowen will release a draft First Nations Clean Energy Strategy “in coming weeks” for consultation, with access to reliable clean energy established as a human right.

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