Climate Change Is The Biggest Threat To Black Australia


There’s a growing movement of Aboriginal people standing up for our right to say no to extractive industries digging up our country. I know, because I’m a part of it.

In a speech to the Indigenous Business, Enterprise & Corporations Conference last month, Warren Mundine claimed “the Greens agenda will keep Indigenous Australians in poverty”.

He claimed it was “the greatest threat to the preservation of traditional language and culture”.

“Traditional owners treasure their rivers and land. They also treasure their culture and languages. Most want to remain on their country. But the greatest threat to their languages and culture, their way of life and their desire to live on country, is the inability to build a real economy,” Mundine said.

But his words are straight from the coal lobby playbook.

Without a doubt, climate change is the greatest threat to Indigenous people and the preservation of our culture.

As Australia continues to dig up, export and burn fossil fuels we’re locking ourselves in for further climate chaos that too often hits the world’s most vulnerable first and worst.

The Bureau of Meteorology has just issued a Special Climate Statement reporting that Spring 2014 was Australia’s warmest on record.

With roaring bushfires encroaching earlier and fuelled by drought, rising sea levels lapping the doorsteps of the Torres Strait Islands, and communities lacking resources to deal with deadly heat waves, it’s clear that Australians are facing the consequences whilst the fossil fuel industry continues to profit from it.

But for Indigenous people, the injustices go beyond the climate impacts.

The fossil fuel industry has been putting stress on Aboriginal land, culture and communities for decades. As an Aboriginal woman and self-identified ‘greeny’, I agree with Mundine when he says that our “main assets are rights over land and sea”, but what we do with those rights is where our disagreement stems from.

Using these rights to benefit from mining and fossil fuel developments, which is what Mundine’s comments crudely refer to, means locking our people into further climate chaos. Mundine is one person and his views don’t represent those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities. All across the country, Indigenous people are resisting the expansion of the mining industry onto their country in their own terms.

Communities like the Goolarabooloo fighting against gas in Broome; aunties and uncles at Muckaty uniting against nuclear waste dumps; the Gomeroi people standing strong against the Maules Creek coal mine, and young people standing up against proposals for the world’s largest coal port on the Great Barrier Reef.

Enough is enough. Like our Prime Minister, Mundine has failed to connect the dots between Indigenous affairs, climate change and the growing role that Indigenous people are playing in these “Green groups”.

Every day I work with young people who are holding on to what’s left of the oldest continuing culture in the world through their connection to country. Mundine talks about the greatest threat to culture being “the inability to build a real economy”.

However, if “building a real economy” means welcoming extractive industries to dig up our country, then I question how this helps us maintain our culture when it’s inextricably linked to the land?

The Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network is a shining example of a grassroots movement of people willing to do what it takes and show our government what true leadership on climate change looks like. Seed is a youth-led movement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people who have a vision for a just and sustainable future with strong cultures and communities, powered by clean energy.

Our vision and the fossil fuel industry cannot co-exist. Just two months ago, Indigenous young people from across the country came together for Australia’s first Indigenous youth climate summit.

We made our Declaration For Climate Justice and have already had thousands of Australians commit to stand with us.

Our young people are hitting the streets, mobilising the school yard and knocking on the doors of the Big Four Australian banks calling on them to not fund new coal ports on the Great Barrier Reef – or anywhere else on our country. But this is just the beginning – we’re just getting started. Even with the most at stake, there’s a huge opportunity for Indigenous people to lead the way in efforts to solve climate change.

We often look to our brothers and sisters in the US and Canada where First Nations and Native people are leading the transition from dirty coal and gas to clean, safe and renewable energy. Renewable energy is already powering millions of homes across the world, it delivers economic development, healthier communities, and addresses climate change.

Unless we take swift, ambitious steps to reduce our emissions, keep new coal in the ground and transition to renewable energy, Australia’s first people and our generation as young people will be condemned to catastrophic consequences from climate change. It’s time for Australia to listen to the voice of Aboriginal people standing up for justice, not to those of vested interests.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.