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Renewable energy developments on the Indigenous estate in northwest Western Australia
Energy is an intrinsic driver of economic, political and social development. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the Indigenous estate of northwest Western Australia - a region that hosts world class wind and solar resources as well as significant energy mineral deposits, all in close proximity to potential export markets in Asia. Commercial interest has now turned to the advantages of large-scale renewable energy development in the region, as technological advances introduce novel, potentially transformative possibilities for the ‘greening’ of future exports in the form of zero-carbon fuels, resources and products.
Nearly all of the available land for such development in Australia is recognized as being subject to Indigenous rights through successful native title determinations and Aboriginal land rights. In the Kimberley, for example, native title has now been declared over 93.5 % of the region.
Aboriginal people, communities and their representative bodies in this region have a long history of engagement with both the prospect and the reality of large-scale industrial developments seeking to exploit abundant natural resources, as well as a history of engagement with renewable energy technologies for productive purposes. Many remote living residents were among the earliest adopters of solar photovoltaics in their self-determined efforts to facilitate resettlement on traditional outstations and homelands. To date benefits have been unevenly distributed whilst energy costs remain high for many residents. The scale of renewable developments proposed for the region is now rapidly increasing and proponents point to potentially transformative socioeconomic benefit from this transition.
Through the ANU’s Energy Change Institute, CAEPR’s Brad Riley, Lily O’ Neill and Janet Hunt are engaged in investigating the context and implications of this rapid energy transition in the region, as part of the ANU Grand Challenge: Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia Pacific. They have set out to ask ‘How can First Nations people benefit from a transition to renewable energy sources across scales?’ and ‘What information, policy frameworks and resources can assist First Nations communities and organizations to engage equitably with the renewable energy industry?’. Their presentation will provide a brief overview of both the global trends supporting the prospect of a renewable energy transition, as well as the regional histories they see as instructive in understanding community responses to rapidly expanding renewable energy developments proposed for the Indigenous estate in northwest Western Australia.
Brad Riley is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic policy Research (CAEPR) at the ANU working on the ANU Energy Change Institute’s Grand Challenge: Zero Carbon Energy for the Asia Pacific. His research interests relate to renewable energy, community development and social benefit and impact.
Lily O’ Neill is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic policy Research (CAEPR) at the ANU working on the ANU Energy Change Institute’s Grand Challenge: Zero Carbon Energy for the Asia Pacific. Lily is a practicing lawyer whose research interests relate to renewable energy and agreement making.
Janet Hunt is Associate Professor at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR) at the ANU. Her research focusses on governance, self-determination, community development, successful Indigenous organisations and government engagement with Indigenous people. She is currently researching Aboriginal organisations in the Kimberley and the creation of public value; new Public Management and Indigenous organisations in NSW; and renewable energy and Indigenous people in the Kimberley.