'We can’t separate climate justice from First Nations justice': Senator Lidia Thorpe's first speech to parliament

‘We can’t separate climate justice from First Nations justice’: Senator Lidia Thorpe’s first speech to parliament

Lidia Thorpe

Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe says there can be no separation of climate justice from First Nations justice, and that Australia must establish a treaty with Indigenous people.

In her first speech to parliament on Wednesday, Senator Thorpe said we have watched “in real time the full horror of the climate crisis” and have witnessed what happens “when you stop caring for country”.

“When we don’t show genuine care for the country that nurtures us, we all suffer. And that’s why we can’t separate climate justice from First Nations justice,” she said.

“We can’t maintain the protection of our land if its traditional custodians are locked up, disenfranchised and dying in the numbers that represent an outrageous human rights abuse.”

Senator Thorpe, a Gunnai and Gunditjmara woman, said a genuine treaty would be a first step in healing the damage that has been done from the time of colonisation and would elevate Aboriginal voices. She it could be a blank canvas that could reframe the story of who we want to be as a country.

“A genuine national treaty would elevate Aboriginal voices and reframe us as a more caring society, where nobody is left behind,” she said.

“We can celebrate what unites us, protect the rights of First Nations people and acknowledge injustices, both past and present.”

Senator Thorpe shared some of her background, telling the parliament about growing up in poverty, and how her early experiences and years of activism will influence what she brings to the parliament.

“For an Aboriginal girl raised in poverty and public housing, who left school at 14, the idea that I could make it all the way to this nation’s parliament was laughable,” she said. “People like me where not meant to end up in place like this.”

“Our voices were silenced, sidelined and written out of the story of our own country but I never gave up believing that better days were possible.

“I come from a lone line of strong, Black women who taught me to stand up for what’s right and never let injustice and racism beat you down.”

On climate change, Senator Thorpe said Australia was holding back the rest of the world when it comes to a global effort to address the challenge.

“This is our moment to grow as a nation and we must be brave. The devastating bushfires that ripped through this land were a wakeup call for those who deny we must act decisively to address the reality of a warming planet,” she said.

“At a meeting of Indigenous leaders, we wept as we shared our collective grief over the destruction of our land. From the fires tearing through the Amazon, to the devastation in our own backyard. Here in Australia, we have seen Rio Tinto blow up the Juukan Gorge…blasting 46,000-year-old Aboriginal rock shelters in an act of cultural and environmental vandalism.”

“As custodians of this land for thousands of years, we understand that the health of the community is only as strong as the health of our environment,” she said.

“We’re tired of watching governments and their agencies pay lip service to acknowledgement of country while at the same time destroying the very land they claim to respect.”

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