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Submission Number
Arid Lands Environment Centre; Catholic Care NT; Elbow Workshop; Environment Centre NT; Indigenous Carbon Industry Network; Jesuit Social Services; Labor Environmental Action Network NT; Northern Territory Council of Social Service; Sisters of Charity of Australia; The Next Economy; Unions NT et al
Submission date
Main Submission Automated Transcript


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  &  
Hennessey  2015).    
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  
(Roberts  2019).  
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  
National  University  
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.  




We acknowledge the Traditional Owners and custodians of country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, waters and community. We pay our respects to the people, the cultures and the Elders past, present and emerging.