First Nations leaders look to partner with government on clean energy transition

Article by Andrew McLaughlin for Riotact

Members of the First Nations Clean Energy Network join other groups at Parliament House on 17 October. Photo: First Nations Clean Energy Network.

Australian First Nations groups involved in clean energy initiatives have called on their Canadian counterparts to help develop partnerships with the Federal Government.

Members of Australia’s First Nations Clean Energy Network, the National Native Title Council, the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations and Canada’s Indigenous Clean Energy met with the Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen and Assistant Minister Jenny McAllister on Tuesday (17 October) in Canberra. They also joined other Members of Parliament and more than 40 clean energy leaders on Wednesday (18 October).

The First Nations Clean Energy Network comprises First Nations people, community organisations, land councils, unions, academics, industry groups, technical advisers, legal experts and renewables companies working to ensure First Nations communities share in the benefits of the clean energy boom.

The goal of the meetings was to secure government commitment to partner with First Nations rights holders in the clean energy transition. The network said otherwise, as had been shown in Canada, the transition wouldn’t happen at the pace and scale required.

Co-chair of the First Nations Clean Energy Network Karrina Nolan said now was the right time to reset relationships so past mistakes weren’t repeated.

“Ensuring First Nations access to affordable reliable clean energy, and opportunities for partnering, equity and ownership of projects, as Canada has done, is fundamental to accelerating Australia’s energy transition,” she said.

“Canada, and the US through its Inflation Reduction Act, have already recognised that partnering with First Nations is a sound investment decision that creates additional value.

“Australia can learn from Canada’s experience and accelerate equity and other genuine partnerships with First Nations and keep Australia in the global clean energy race by investing in a $100 billion Australian Renewables Industry Package over the next decade to benefit all Australians.”

Chris Croker, co-chair of the First Nations Clean Energy Network said First Nations in Canada had equity in more than 200 large-scale clean energy projects across their country, compared to a handful of partnerships in Australia.

“Government has the opportunity now to do the right thing, using strategic investment, policy levers and strong leadership to create the necessary certainty for First Nations rights holders – and industry – for the collective benefit of the Australian community.

“That includes ensuring early engagement and free prior and informed consent (FPIC) coupled with proper investment to ensure First Nations rights and responsibilities to Country are recognised and energy projects necessary for the clean energy transition can proceed.”

Indigenous Nations in Canada were the second largest clean energy asset owners and partners in the country, according to the network. It said thousands of these small to large-scale projects were underway and operating, many supported by government policy settings and investments.

These have led to wealth creation, economic stability, cultural revitalisation, and new jobs and business opportunities in indigenous communities, in addition to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Founding executive director of Indigenous Clean Energy, Chris Henderson, said relationships underpinned reconciliation.

“Governments, industry, and utilities must take time to build meaningful relationships with First Peoples to create an impactful clean energy transition,” he said. “New, just and fair relationships that catalyse clean energy projects for a better and more sustainably prosperous Australia.

“We have been on a clean energy evolution pathway for the past two decades (in Canada). Indigenous people are asserting their rights (and) forging clean energy project partnerships, essential to combat climate change.”

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