Water rights and energy top Indigenous talks agenda

Article by Rudi Maxwell for the Australian Associated Press as seen on MSN

Professor Peter Yu believes understanding and recognising Indigenous water rights are vital for the health, wellbeing and survival of this country’s First Peoples.

“It’s really inseparable from our worldview about social, cultural and economic importance,” he said.

The urgent need to improve Indigenous people’s access, control and say over water to improve their health, wellbeing and economic outcomes will be the theme of a roundtable at the Australian National University in Canberra on Tuesday and Wednesday.

At the same time in Alice Springs, a separate community roundtable will examine how Indigenous people and communities can participate in and benefit from the clean energy transition.

Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek is attending the Canberra roundtable which is a joint initiative of the ANU First Nations Portfolio, the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation and the National Native Title Council.

In April, Ms Plibersek announced $9.2m in funding to develop a First Nations water holding model, in partnership with Indigenous organisations.

Professor Yu, vice-president First Nations at the university, said recognising Indigenous people’s rights to water was vital to addressing historical injustices of exclusion and denial, and to advancing reconciliation.

“This has been neglected space for a number of years now,” he said.

“And we’re pleased that the government is moving towards engaging First Nations interests in a very serious way.

“While First Nations Australians have access to more than 50 per cent of the Australian landmass through native title and land rights, we have access to less than one per cent of water allocations.

“That’s inequitable and doesn’t reflect the very serious nature of the obligations and imperatives that Aboriginal people have regarding water – not just from a cultural and social point of view, but also in terms of economic opportunities.”

In Alice Springs, the First Nations Clean Energy Network’s three pillars of community, industry partnerships and policy reform will be on the agenda.

Luritja steering committee member Chris Croker said the roundtable is an opportunity to identify ways to accelerate participation in the transition to clean energy.

“Our people are being left behind,” he said.

“Compounded by extreme weather events such as heat waves and flooding, the need for an initial urgent overhaul of energy security and efficiency measures for First Nations people is clear.

“First Nations communities struggle with unreliable expensive power and poor quality housing stock and the impacts are worsening as the costs of living rise.”

Mr Croker said that recent analysis of the NT Power and Water Corporation’s electricity disconnection data showed that First Nations households with prepaid meters experience a high rate of energy insecurity.

“In Australia’s world-leading consumer uptake of rooftop solar, social housing and First Nations communities are the last to benefit,” he said.

“Getting off diesel and installing solar photovoltaics or community-led power generation shouldn’t have to be a pipedream.”

Karrina Nolan, a descendant of the Yorta Yorta people, said support for the clean energy roundtable from energy ministers means an opportunity to discuss what Indigenous people need.

“With offshore wind, solar, green hydrogen and critical minerals developers and investors already knocking on doors, the key equity and resourcing issues facing First Nations’ negotiation of small and large-scale projects must be unpacked and addressed,” she said.

“First Nations have a chequered history with mining projects and the extractive industries on their land.

“The moment is ripe for doing development right this time, protecting country and sacred sites while delivering reliable power, jobs and economic opportunity for our communities.”

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