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Calls for Australian Government to support Indigenous Climate and Health alliance

Rhiannon Clarke -

Groups are urging the Australian Government to provide funding for a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Coalition on climate and health.

It comes as the Lowitja Institute and prominent climate and health organisations put pressure on the federal government to take a more serious approach to climate and health by enlisting Indigenous leadership.

In a pre-budget submission, the Lowitja Institute has emphasised the importance of ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices are at the forefront of climate policy decision making.

This call for action is also backed by various influential Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, as well as climate and health bodies, as highlighted in an open letter of support published by the Institute.

Lowitja Institute chair, Selwyn Button, emphasised the need for immediate action.

"Climate change is having significant impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' health and wellbeing," Mr Button said.

"Urgent action is required – our peoples contribute the least to climate change, yet suffer the most.

"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are intimately connected to Country, our knowledge and cultural practices hold solutions to the climate crisis.

"We need a governance mechanism that empowers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership that forces government departments to listen and to work with us on this."

In November 2023, the Lowitja Institute published a position paper and business case outlining the establishment of the Coalition.

This followed extensive discussions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals throughout the country, focusing on the effects of climate change on community health and wellbeing.

The position paper and business case highlight the main priorities and concerns expressed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives.

They also provide a blueprint for the Coalition, which serves as a crucial mechanism to enhance Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership in this field and ensure that diverse voices are acknowledged and valued.

"Funding a Coalition empowered to work alongside government would enable bold action on climate change and health – action led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' deep knowledge of Country and holistic understanding of health," Mr Button said.

On November 16, 2023, the Lowitja Institute leadership and prominent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives gathered at Parliament House for a roundtable discussion.

The purpose of this meeting was to share stories from communities and express concerns to government officials.

Among the attendees were Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, Ged Kearney, Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Jenny McAllister, Senator Dorinda Cox, Senator Jana Stewart, and Ambassador for Global Health, Dr Lucas de Toca PSM.

During the roundtable the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives strongly advocated for the establishment of a Coalition.

In December 2023, representatives from the Lowitja Institute, including CEO Adjunct Professor Janine Mohamed and Deputy CEO Paul Stewart, travelled to Dubai to continue their advocacy efforts.

Their main objective at the COP28 conference was to call for the establishment of a Coalition.

Adjunct Professor Mohamed had the opportunity to speak at two side-events, one held at the Monash University Pavilion and the other at the Australian Pavilion.

"At COP28 we connected with incredible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, and Indigenous leaders from across the world working to ensure that cultural practices are at the heart of the climate response," Mr Button said.

"Our health and the health of Country are one and the same. This is why our leadership in this space is so vital.

"We invite the Australian Government to join us in being ambitious when it comes to tackling the immense challenges we face. A Coalition like this, if empowered to work with and across government departments, could truly make a difference to our collective futures."

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