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Hearings for landmark Australian Climate Case begin in Zenadth Kes

Emma Ruben -

The Zenadth Kes (Torres Strait) duo who filed the Australian Climate Case against the Australian Government have now begun participating in hearings for the landmark case on Boigu, Badu and Saibai islands in Cairns.

In October 2021, Uncle Paul Kabai and Uncle Pabai Pabai filed a case against the Australian government and argued the Commonwealth has a legal duty of care, arising from negligence law, to ensure Torres Strait Islander peoples are not harmed by the climate crisis.

Since launching their case, successive Federal governments have responded and now hearings began on Country on Monday June 5.

Community members have collected evidence and the court will tour the islands to see the damage climate change has had on cultural sites, food supplies, homes and their way of life.

The main worry for Uncle Pabai and Uncle Paul are the homes of residents in Zenadth Kes which could disappear due to rising sea levels, in turn creating Australia's first climate change refugees.

The two men are seeking orders from the court that requires the Federal Government to take steps to prevent this harm to their communities including cutting greenhouse gas emissions in line with the best available science.

"I was born to Boigu. I belong to Boigu," Uncle Pabai said.

"I will lose everything if I am removed from my own Country.

"I am taking this case for the betterment of my Country, the betterment for my family and my community. It's not only for me, it's for the ancestors and the land that I am born to."

Uncle Paul said there is no option for the residents of Zenadth Kes to be left with nothing.

"We have to bring this case because our islands are sinking," he said.

"We have to do it for our younger generations, otherwise we will become climate refugees.

"We want to hold onto our own land, because our culture and identity stays there, if our islands go under we will be nothing."

The Australian government currently has a 2050 'net zero' emissions target.

Fiona McLeod, Uncle Pabai and Uncle Paul's barrister getting ready for opening statement

Fiona McLeod, Uncle Pabai and Uncle Paul's barrister getting ready for opening statement. (Image: Ruby Mitchell)

Uncle Pabai and Uncle Paul are being represented by Fiona McLeod SC.

On Monday Ms McLeod presented the court with opening statements and key submissions including information detailing how sea levels in Zenadth Kes has risen by approximately six centimetres per decade between 1993 and 2019.

"The evidence that will be led in this case will show that the Commonwealth has and continues to ignore the dire and existential threat to the lives of its own citizens," she said.

"Its failure to act is a failure of the fundamental duty of a government to protect its citizens and First Peoples from harm.

"It is a failure to protect fundamental human rights including the right to life and the right to self-determination. At its most basic, it is an abrogation of the social contract."

Hearings will continue this month.

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