30 April 2021
Joint Submission to the First Nations Voice Co-‐Design Process
We are a group of individuals and organisations based in the Northern Territory – First
Nations and non-‐First Nations and from a range of sectors – who share a deep concern
about the climate crisis and are committed to working towards climate justice in the
Northern Territory. We are making this joint submission to the First Nations Voice co-‐design
process as we believe that a constitutionally-‐enshrined First Nations Voice to Parliament, as
called for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, is essential for achieving climate justice in
Climate change is projected to have significant impacts on lands and livelihoods in the
Northern Territory by as early as 2030, and extreme impacts by 2070, including more severe
cyclones, increased droughts, changed fire regimes, more erratic rainfall, and extreme
temperatures (Webb & Hennessey 2015). Oppressive heat will see Darwin experience over
300 days per year of temperatures over 35 degrees Celsius by the year 2090 (Webb &
Already, the Northern Territory’s experience of the impacts of climate change has been
startling. Its three principal ecosystems, the northern savannas and coastal mangrove
forests of the wet/dry tropics in the “Top End”, and the arid zone interior of Central
Australia, all meet the criteria to be classified as “collapsing” (Bergstrom et al. 2021).
Mammal populations in the Northern Territory are in sharp decline, with many at risk of
extinction (Fitzsimons, Legge, Traill, & Woinarski 2010). Australia’s key environmental law,
the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (“EPBC Act”), has been
ineffective at preventing such outcomes here and elsewhere in Australia (Samuel 2020). As
Professor Samuel stated in his review of the EPBC Act, “Australia’s natural environment and
iconic places are in an overall state of decline and are under increasing threat. The current
environmental trajectory is unsustainable” (Samuel 2020).
Climate change will exacerbate existing entrenched inequalities in housing, health,
infrastructure and employment, with impacts felt disproportionately by First Nations people
and lands in northern Australia (Green, Jackson, & Morrison 2009). After two “failed” wet
seasons in 2018 and 2019, some remote First Nations communities across the Northern
Territory came close to running out of water, in addition to being crammed into
overcrowded housing without air conditioning amid searing temperatures (Allam 2019). The
Territory’s own Environment Minister acknowledged recently that the NT as a whole may
become uninhabitable for humans if we continue on our global carbon emissions trajectory
Taking action on climate change must involve mitigating Australia’s contributions to the
causes of climate change as well as adapting to its present and future effects. In deciding
what actions to take, it is essential that a climate justice approach is applied: recognising the
capitalist and colonial origins of climate change, its unevenly distributed effects that
particularly impact First Nations peoples, and therefore prioritising climate solutions led and
supported by First Nations communities, and that simultaneously work to reduce existing
vulnerabilities and inequalities (see for instance Schlosberg & Collins 2014; Whyte 2020;
Howey & Grealy 2020).
However, it is impossible to achieve just climate outcomes when our present constitutional
structure does not allow for First Nations voices to be consistently heard on the climate
crisis, or any other issues. A legislated First Nations Voice to government or to Parliament is
not sufficient: the Voice must be constitutionally enshrined so that it cannot be destroyed
by the government of the day, as other First Nations bodies have been in the past (Mayor
2021; Davis 2021).
Enshrining a First Nations Voice to Parliament in the constitution is an essential step
towards climate justice as it will allow First Nations concerns and solutions to be heard. Our
collective answers to the intertwined social and environmental crises that we currently face
must be informed by the knowledge and governance systems that First Nations people have
developed over the many thousands of years they have been caring for and living
sustainably on Country.
As Indigenous scientist and Nyikina Traditional Custodian Dr Anne Poelina powerfully argues
(quoted in McInerney 2017):
We need … to recognise that traditional ecological knowledge is Indigenous science
because it’s thousands and thousands of years of observation, recording and
transmission of knowledge over generations. Not only knowledge production but
knowledge adaptation to complex and changing systems… So our voices need to be
in there, they need to be valued, and they need to be part of the collaboration on
how we right-‐size the planet and the wicked problems in the world we have created.
Supporting this point, in a study that encompassed sites in Australia, Canada and Brazil,
Indigenous land management practices have been shown to be equally or more effective at
preserving vertebrate biodiversity than existing protected areas (Schuster et al. 2019). In
addition to biodiversity benefits, there are already excellent examples in the Northern
Territory of First Nations leadership on climate change – in particular, the development of
the Indigenous carbon industry.
When we walk with First Nations peoples in a movement for a better future, as the Uluru
Statement generously invites us to do, we are and will be walking together through a
climate-‐changed world. A constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice to Parliament is an
essential first step in ensuring that First Nations people will always be able to speak and be
heard on policies that affect Country and policies that will impact on the ability of First
Nations people to live on country as the climate changes.
We add our voices to the many others inspired by the gift of the Uluru Statement in
calling for a constitutionally-‐enshrined Voice to Parliament, and specifically that:
1. The Government to honour its election commitment to a constitutional
referendum once a model for the Voice has been settled;
2. Enabling legislation for the Voice to be passed after a referendum has been held in
the next term of Parliament; and
3. The membership model for the National Voice to ensure previously unheard
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the same chance of being
selected as established leadership figures.
This joint submission is from the following organisations and individuals:
Dr Karen Edyvane Honorary Research Fellow, Fenner School of Environment & Society, The
Australian National University
Stacey Ella Managing Lawyer -‐ Northern Territory, Environmental Defenders Office
Julie Fraser Labor Environment Action Network
Dr Liam Grealy Postdoctoral Fellow, Housing for Health Incubator
Dr Kirsty Howey Co-‐Director, Environment Centre NT
Shar Molloy Co-‐Director, Environment Centre NT
Dominic Nicholls Chief Executive Officer, Mimal Land Management
Dr Simon Quilty Visiting Fellow, Research School of Population Health, The Australian
Dr Kamaljit K Sangha Senior Ecological Economist, Research Institute for the Environment and
Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University
Dr Michaela Spencer Research Fellow, Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University
Alex Vaughan Policy Officer, Arid Lands Environment Centre
Allam, Lorena, and Nick Evershed. December 18, 2019. “Too hot for humans? First Nations
people fear becoming Australia’s first climate refugees”. The Guardian (online).
Bergstrom, Dana M., Barbara C. Wienecke, John van den Hoff, Lesley Hughes, David B.
Lindenmayer, Tracy D. Ainsworth, Christopher M. Baker, et al. 2021. "Combating ecosystem
collapse from the tropics to the Antarctic." Global change biology 27(9):1692-‐1703.
Davis, Megan. March 2021.”Voice at a crossroads”. The Monthly.
Fitzsimons, James, Sarah Legge, Barry Traill, and John Woinarski. 2010. Into oblivion? The
disappearing native mammals of northern Australia. The Nature Conservancy, 2010.
Green, Donna, Sue Jackson, and Joe Morrison. 2009. Risks from climate change to
indigenous communities in the tropical north of Australia. Department of Climate Change,
Commonwealth of Australia.
Howey, Kirsty and Liam Grealy. March 12, 2020. “Who is the Law For? Drinking Water
Governance and Climate Justice in Northern Australia.” Sydney Environment Institute.
Mayor, Thomas. March 29, 2021. “Raising our Voice: it’s time to demand constitutional
recognition”. Crikey. https://www.crikey.com.au/2021/03/29/voice-‐to-‐parliament-‐
McInerney, Marie. March 4, 2017. “Climate Justice: a call to broaden science with
Indigenous knowledge”. Croakey. https://www.croakey.org/climate-‐justice-‐a-‐call-‐to-‐
Roberts, Greg. September 19, 2019. “NT targets zero emissions without costings”. The
Canberra Times (online). https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6396279/nt-‐targets-‐
Samuel, Graeme. October 2020. Independent Review of the EPBC Act – Final Report.
Canberra: Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
Schlosberg, David, and Lisette B. Collins. 2014. "From environmental to climate justice:
climate change and the discourse of environmental justice." Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews:
Climate Change 5(3): 359-‐374. doi: 10.1002/wcc.275
Schuster, Richard, Ryan R. Germain, Joseph R. Bennett, Nicholas J. Reo, and Peter Arcese.
2019. "Vertebrate biodiversity on indigenous-‐managed lands in Australia, Brazil, and Canada
equals that in protected areas." Environmental Science & Policy 101: 1-‐6.
Webb, Leanne. and Hennessy, K.J. 2015. Climate change in Australia: projections for selected
Australian cities. Australia: CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology.
Whyte, Kyle. 2020. "Too late for indigenous climate justice: Ecological and relational tipping
points." Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 11(1):e603.