Original Power: Deep Dive

Executive Summary


Original Power (OP) is working to ensure Australia’s First Nations communities benefit from the renewables boom. It uses a collective-action model to resource and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to self-determine what happens on their country. First Nations people are critical stakeholders in the transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to one powered by clean, renewable energy. OP supports communities in their efforts to protect cultural heritage, challenge fossil fuel developments (if this is what communities decide), and create a just transition to renewables.[1] OP’s work can support the rapid roll out of large-scale renewables as an alternative to fossil fuel projects, in turn reducing Australia’s emissions.


OP is proving to be an effective advocate for clean energy alternatives to fossil fuels. It has established renewable demonstration projects in Marlinja and Booroloola. It developed a Clean Energy Economic Recovery Plan for the Northern Territory. It is leading the First Nations Clean Energy Network: a network that includes First Nations people, community organisations, land councils, unions, academics, industry groups, technical advisors, legal experts and renewables companies. The co-benefits of these projects include improved health for communities and the environment, reduced reliance on fossil fuels, increased energy security, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.


Additional marginal investment could help OP scale up these programs, supporting communities to address the barriers to clean, affordable and reliable power and advising First Nations communities and business enterprises seeking to set up medium- to large-scale export-focussed clean energy projects.


Traditional Owners have special rights over 52 per cent of Australia’s land.[2] While these rights usually fall short of veto power, they can influence the scope and speed of both fossil fuel and renewable energy developments. Backing new clean energy projects will help First Nations people play a role in addressing climate change, including by reducing emissions from coal and gas projects. Supporting First Nation peoples to organise, assert their rights, and advocate for clean energy alternatives is a clear yet neglected route to limiting Australia’s growing greenhouse gas emissions.


OP’s research, training, organising, and advocacy is building the power of First Nations communities to make decisions which determine their future and protect their country, culture and sacred sites. This may include, if they choose, challenging the expansion of coal and gas on their lands. See, for example, OP’s efforts to support Traditional Owners to challenge an Underground Coal Gasification project in South Australia.


While the renewable energy industry is expanding quickly, it does not yet have clear policies guiding best practice agreement making with First Nations people. OP, working with academics and other experts, is helping close this critical policy gap with best-practice guidance that empowers First Nations communities and ensures that renewable energy projects deliver benefits for the local Indigenous peoples on whose land they are built.


Based on OP’s achievements and strategic approach, we recommend it as one of our top organisations for influencing Australian climate policy.



Installing solar, Marlinja NT. Photo credit: First Nations Clean Energy Network.

Giving Green’s Research


The Giving Green Australia: 2021 Research Process details how we identified the highest impact organisations working to improve climate policy in Australia. The process involved expert interviews, an expert survey, focus groups, and desk research. We focused on organisations that are using the three key approaches our research determined are the highest priority for delivering policy change: ‘insider advocacy’, ‘outsider advocacy’ and ‘changing the story’. OP seeks policy change through ‘outsider advocacy’ and ‘changing the story’. Furthermore, OP was nominated 9 times by the 52 experts surveyed, which was the fourth highest number of votes any organisation received. OP would also likely deliver substantial returns from additional marginal investment.


In our assessment of OP’s impact, we spoke with representatives from OP and interviewed a number of climate policy and advocacy experts and practitioners. We also reviewed publicly available information on OP, including its website and reports, as well as media coverage of the organisation.


Organisation overview


Established in 2018, OP uses a collective-action model to build the power, skills and the capacity of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander peoples to strengthen self-determination. This work means First Nations communities have the access to the resources and knowledge they need to decide which projects they want, and to challenge developments that do not have their informed consent. OP’s work is paving the way for more clean energy projects that are owned by and benefit First Nation communities, both now and into the future. They are also supporting community-driven efforts to protect the community, country and climate from harmful developments.


In just three years OP has grown into an organisation with six board members and 9 employees. They have people in the Northern Territory (NT) and Western Australia (WA), and staff in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.


OP raised $1.2 million in the 2020-21 financial year, most of which came from individual donations, trusts and foundations.[3]


OP’s recent launch of the First Nations Clean Energy Network and associated media reports in outlets including the ABC, the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age, The Canberra Times and RenewEconomy is a signal of their growing influence.


Context


Historical importance of First Nation activism


Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the traditional custodians of Australia, with highly sophisticated cultures and spirituality centred on ‘caring for country’, which includes the climate. Their knowledge of the intricate interrelationships required to protect the health of Australia’s unique ecosystems, and understanding of humanity’s custodial role in maintaining ecological balance, comes from experience accumulated over tens of thousands of years and passed down from generation to generation.[4] Aboriginal cultural practices are increasingly recognised as climate positive, with the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard biodiversity (see, for example, fire management techniques known as Cool Burns).[5]


Australia’s First Nations people are also the continent’s first activists, having immediately organised resistance to the British invasion of 1788. Suffering the crimes of colonisation, Australia’s First Nations people have survived by continually engaging in political activism to fight injustice and advance their rights. Today, First Nation activists are at the forefront of many social and environmental issues, including the fight for climate justice.


About Native Title


On 3 June 1992, the High Court of Australia overturned the doctrine of ‘terra nullius’ and recognised the existence of native title. Known as the Mabo decision, the ruling brought into common law the recognition that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders had, and still have, rights to their traditional lands. In response to the Mabo decision, the Keating ALP Government introduced the Native Title Act with fierce opposition by the Liberal National Coalition and national mining, pastoral and agricultural lobbies.[6]


Native title is the recognition by Australian law of Aborginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s traditional rights and interest in land and waters held under traditional law and custom.[7] Traditional Owners have the ‘right to negotiate’ for mining and exploration activity. It is often held concurrently with other land rights, such as mining rights, and usually but not always falls short of the power to veto developments (veto is enabled under the Aborginal Land Rights Act at the exploration phase).[8]


The Native Title Act sets up processes to determine where native title exists, how future activity that impacts upon native title may be undertaken, and when native title is impaired or extinguished. Those who are recognised to have native title have the right to be consulted and, in some cases, participate in decisions about activities proposed to be undertaken on the land.[9]


First Nation peoples hold native title 52 per cent of the Australian continent,[10] with rights to more than 70 per cent of the NT and 90 per cent of WA.[11] However, in practice these rights don’t always equate to the ability to determine what happens on country or protect cultural and environmental heritage. Many communities are remote, under-resourced and under pressure from complex social and economic factors. These issues are exacerbated by the power imbalance between communities and powerful mining companies operating with government backing.


OP’s self-determination work is helping to address this power imbalance by bringing First Nation communities together, supporting them to determine their own futures, and providing access to the resources to organise and advocate. Through the First Nations Clean Energy Network, OP is working to support communities to address the barriers to clean, affordable and reliable power, securing good jobs and strong economies. The Network will also advise First Nations communities and business enterprises seeking to set up medium to large scale export-focussed clean energy projects.


The importance of First Nations advocacy


1. First Nations land can be the site of renewable projects and fossil fuel extraction


There is substantial overlap between proposed fossil fuel developments, renewable energy resources, land held under various forms of First Nations title, the National Energy Market’s Renewable Energy Zones, and projects that are underway or proposed for construction.


With native title rights to approximately 50 per cent of Australia's land, First Nations people are a critical stakeholder in the climate policy change conversation. Traditional Owners can (and are already) playing a significant role both in confronting fossil fuel extraction and advocating for a just transition to renewable energy. (For example, see the Wangan and Jagalingu people’s campaign against Adani’s Carmichael coal mine, and the Adnyamathanha people’s fight against underground coal gasification in South Australia.)


2. First Nations people should be well-positioned to share in the benefits of renewable energy


Renewable energy projects, from small community-based projects to large-scale and export-focussed initiatives, are gaining momentum across the country. Despite a lack of significant Government investment or an appropriate regulatory environment, Australia is seeing the world's fastest rollout of renewable energy per capita, with 24 per cent of Australia's total energy generation currently coming from renewables. While not fast enough alone to keep the planet at 1.5 degrees warming, this is a significant revolution in energy production in this country — but it’s a revolution that does not yet adequately include and engage with First Nations peoples.


Notwithstanding emerging opportunities, there are significant barriers which need to be addressed to ensure First Nation peoples are a part of the economic transition to clean energies and enjoy the benefits, alongside all Australians, of commercial and other opportunities that will arise.


OP is working both in communities on the frontline, and alongside industry, investors, academics, technical and legal experts and policy makers, to make this a reality.


3. First Nations people are uniquely exposed to the impacts of climate change


Another reason for supporting a First Nations organisation is that many communities are on the front-line of climate impacts. The United Nations’ Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues acknowledges that “Indigenous peoples are among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change, due to their dependence upon, and close relationship, with the environment and its resources.” Further, “Climate change exacerbates the difficulties already faced by indigenous communities including political and economic marginalisation, loss of land and resources, human rights violations, discrimination and unemployment.” As such, it is critical that justice-focused climate policy centres the voices of Australia’s first people. One of the best ways to do that is to support First Nations organisations working on climate advocacy through self-determination, defending Country and advocating for renewable energy alternatives.


Within this context, OP stands out as an exceptional organisation that is creating positive network effects within First Nation communities. As well as supporting self-determination so Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities take control of decisions that affect them, OP is ramping up its work, in collaboration with others, to ensure that clean energy is done the right way and driven by First Nations communities. This is inspired by the belief that First Nation peoples should have energy security - knowing there's power available for future generations, and that it can be developed in a way that does not compromise Country.


Activities and tactics


The largest part of OP’s work is supporting First Nations communities to determine what happens on their Country, empowering communities to decide which projects they give consent to, or not, and ensuring the projects are owned by and benefit communities in future.

OP’s work falls into four interrelated categories:


  • Self-determination. OP develops resources, training and mentoring programs that support and empower First Nations people to organise and drive their own solutions to local issues. This includes the development of resources that support communities and individuals to lead campaigns, and conducting research and analysis to assist communities make informed decisions.


  • Defending Country. OP supports communities to self-determine what happens on Country and to protect and defend Country and culture from harmful developments.


  • Powering renewable alternatives. OP assists communities to co-create their own renewable energy projects that provide affordable, reliable power. OP is also working with academia, policy makers, investors and the clean energy industry to develop best practice guides to agreement making between renewable developers and First Nations communities.


  • Incubating new organisations, networks and partnerships. OP works in a collaborative way to develop networks, such as the First Nation Clean Energy Network, which is supporting community-owned renewable projects to deliver lower-cost, reliable energy, powering job opportunities and strong economies and forming strong industry partnerships, so everyone benefits from a renewables-rich future.


Achievements


Original Power has made a substantial improvement in identifying the regulatory and technical barriers that exist for Aborginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in transitioning to lower cost, clean energy and being able to manage and benefit from mid-to-large scale clean energy projects. They are working to lift significant federal and state regulatory barriers and stoke government investment. They have also identified the need for best practice agreement making between First Nations communities and clean energy developers, helping to develop resources to support the engagement of First Nations people in the renewables boom.


Below we discuss OP’s specific achievements:


Self-determination


Building Power Guide


Original Power’s Building Power Guide is a resource for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander changemakers and facilitators. The guide’s purpose is to provide the resources to enable First Nations people to make informed decisions that provide for community needs, including what may be helpful in deciding whether to say yes, or no, to fossil fuel developments being offered or imposed on First Nations communities, and the ingredients needed to negotiate clean energy projects. It brings together tools and processes for community visioning, campaign planning, power mapping and leadership development.


The practical guide offers 32 process guides and resources organised around OP’s six ingredients for building self-determining communities: knowledge, motivation, leadership, community processes for decision making, resourcing, agency and power.


The project evolved from working with and collecting stories, lessons and case studies from First Nations communities around Australia. Insights came from campaigns to stop a nuclear waste dump, resistance to the imposition of fracking, and lessons from the many communities challenging the existence and expansion of mining.


The Message Stick Project


Passing the Message Stick is the first ever messaging guide specifically developed to empower First Nations peoples to change the story and build public support for self-determination and climate justice.


The project was led by a steering committee supported by Original Power in collaboration with GetUp and Australian Progress. It was supported by a cohort of 19 First Nations Fellows, who took part in a five month messaging research and communications fellowship in 2019-20, and had input from over 500 First Nations advocates.


The main objective of the project is to counter the unhelpful ‘deficit-based’ narrative frame that often excludes First Nations voices from dialogue on public policy in general, and climate and energy in particular. Because of Australia’s colonial legacy, dominant messages tend to relegate First Nations people to the object position rather than as capable subjects in their own story.


The research project uncovered three key messages that can help First Nations people increase public support for self-determination and lay the foundation for transformative change. They are (1) First Nations people are strong and capable, (2) Current injustices exist and there are unfair barriers that persist today, and (3) The solution is First Nations people making decisions, because they know what’s best for their communities.


Defending Country


OP provides practical and strategic support for communities that have decided they want to oppose the development of harmful projects on Country. For example, 90 per cent of the Adnyamathanha people of South Australia have united together to resist a plan for underground coal gasification near the towns of Leigh Creek and Copley. With support from OP, this First Nation community has asserted its rights to protect the health of their Country and people from a dangerous extractive process that is already banned in Queensland, effectively stalling the project for three years. See here for more information.


Powering Alternatives


Policy: Clean Energy Economic Recovery Plan for the Northern Territory


Original Power’s Clean Energy Economic Recovery Plan for the Northern Territory is a rapid response report prepared for the Northern Territory Government’s Economic Reconstruction Commission in 2020 that demonstrates the potential for First Nations community-owned clean energy to lead the regions out of the COVID-19 economic crisis through the creation of sustainable jobs on country.


The report highlights key renewable energy generation projects, infrastructure and development models that can underpin the growth of fairer, more resilient and prosperous local communities and economies, and contribute to a safer climate for all. It shows case studies for how these solutions can increase Aboriginal economic participation, reduce running costs for households and businesses, create new skilled jobs in solar energy, and help remote Aboriginal communities address energy insecurity from over-reliance on expensive diesel-generation. The report also proposes a ‘territory connect’ high voltage direct current (HDVC) cable between Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs as a central transmission link connecting the NT’s existing electricity grids.


The proposed plan was adopted by the NT Government as a key recommendation of the Economic Reconstruction Commission. The model is also being considered by Indigenous communities developing solar grids in Central Australia, the Barkley and Gulf regions.


Community Solar Power Demonstration Projects


OP has teamed up with local First Nations communities in Marlinja and Borroloola to create two solar power demonstration projects.


Marlinja is home to 60 people in the Barkly tablelands and one of the many remote Territory communities experiencing extreme energy insecurity, with high household power costs and lengthy system outages which means residents experience regular electricity disconnection. With Wet season temperatures in the mid-40s and overcrowded, poorly designed houses, the inability to afford electricity for essential needs has been an ongoing concern.


The Marlinja Community Solar Project, supported by OP, is a community-led initiative to improve household and community-wide energy security for residents of Marlinja outstation. The second phase of the community solar project is now underway, with the planned installation of a 100kw solar array, inverters and home battery systems, providing enough power for the 13 community household’s daytime and overnight needs.


Borroloola is a community of over 1300 people in the Gulf of Carpentaria that has sought to design, develop and build its own clean energy supply for residents, families and businesses in the region. Solar power for Borroloola will provide energy security, reduce the high cost of electricity and create local training and job opportunities.


The objectives of both these renewable demonstration projects is to demonstrate the benefits of lower cost, reliable energy to First Nation communities, create a blueprint for other communities to develop and own their own solar projects, and to change policy to enable streamlined regulatory approvals process for community solar project grid connection.


Through planning, preparation and implementation of solar projects at various levels, from individual households with pre-paid power card meters and the issues integrating them with solar PV and billing, to community-scale projects in Marlinja and Borroloola, OP have identified both barriers and solutions to the uptake of clean energy in Indigenous communities. They have begun engaging with the relevant utilities and government agencies to address these challenges. These actions, undertaken as part of actual installations in communities, have provided important insights into best practice and process and helped to streamline some of their activities going forward. These on-the-ground insights are informing the initial policy work of the First Nations Clean Energy Network. The process has already been critical in OP’s work with key stakeholders to establish how they can implement such projects at scale and develop more efficient, streamlined and cost-effective processes that will allow for a faster rollout of renewable assets in future.


Incubating new organisations, networks and partnerships


First Nations Clean Energy Network


Alongside their work to protect Country, OP is driving new initiatives to ensure that First Nations people share the benefits of the clean energy transformation through ownership, equity, investment and participation in the clean energy revolution. OP has been a key driver of the First Nations Clean Energy Network (FNCEN), an important first step to build a forum to develop a body of knowledge, a shared vision, and coordinate efforts to ensure energy production is secure, cheaper, accessible and sustainable for generations to come.


With the FNCEN launching in November 2021, the long-term impact of this initiative remains to be seen. However, the creation of the Network — which has been endorsed by leading climate and energy policy groups, universities, impact investors, unions, and top tier climate and environmental advocacy organisations — demonstrates OP’s ability to incubate and birth new projects and initiatives to improve neglected areas of climate policy, clean energy and First Nations’ justice.


OP led 18 months of initial stakeholder roundtables, community and First Nation organisation conversations, discussions with industry experts, technical advisors and renewable energy practitioners. It was clear that there was a broad appetite to build a national network to meaningfully engage First Nations in the rapidly developing clean energy sector.


The FNCEN is focused on community-building, policy reform and industry partnerships that put First Nations people in the driver’s seat of the clean energy revolution. The goals are to remove barriers to First Nations people setting the terms for clean energy developments, to ensure benefits are shared and that best practice principles for project development, design and implementation are followed.


To achieve these goals, the FNCEN plans to: Create a platform for people with different areas of expertise, influence and experience, from which people can collectively organise and advocate from; Enable oversight and a collective approach to research and policy reform; Develop best practice standards and principles for industry and investors to ensure community engagement in planning, design and benefit sharing models; Connect First Nations energy businesses with each other, and providing a network of specialists and experts for communities to access where technical advice is needed; Generate resources to share information, innovation and support networks, while delivering capacity building and mentoring for communities or First Nation organisations who want to develop their ability to manage projects or are currently considering their options in relation to renewable energy projects.


Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the Australian National University


For OP and the FNCEN to build an even stronger program, based on evidence, analysis and policy work, they have partnered with the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the Australian National University (the ANU).


Original Power has also supported the work of the ANU to develop the Clean Energy agreement making on First Nations Land guide, and additional research on large scale renewables projects. OP, working with the FNCEN, will provide resources for First Nations communities wishing to develop their own projects. It will also support them to negotiate strong and equitable agreements with the clean energy industry wishing to establish projects on Country, including the proper management of cultural heritage and sacred sites as part of this process.


Theory of Change


Original Power’s theory of change is based on a collective-action model which resources and supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to self-determine what happens on their country. OP supports communities in their efforts to protect cultural heritage, challenge fossil fuel developments (if this is what communities decide), and create a just transition to renewables.[12] OP’s work can support the rapid roll out of large-scale renewables as an alternative to fossil fuel projects, in turn reducing Australia’s emissions. This work is critical because, as Australia’s traditional owners, First Nations people have unique rights over 50 per cent of Australia’s land, making them critical stakeholders in the transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to one powered by clean, renewable energy.


For the purpose of our assessment of organisations’ Theory of Change and their ability to achieve the goals outlined, the primary input is funding.


Activities


Original Power uses its funding and networks to support First Nation peoples seeking to self-determine on issues of culture, protecting Country and securing the benefits of the clean energy revolution for their communities.


Outputs


Through research, training, and education, Original Power supports First Nation peoples with the information and connections they need to assess whether projects are in their interests, advocate for those that are beneficial, and reject those that may harm Country, community, and the climate. OP’s industry and policy networks enable them to inform and support communities in necessary advocacy and lobbying efforts.


Outcome


Greater First Nations self-determination on climate and energy has the potential to protect Country from harmful projects, remove the barriers to renewable energy developments, and ensure that developments on Aboriginal land fairly benefit First Nations people.


Impact


Emissions are reduced from fewer or delayed fossil fuel projects. First Nation communities are better positioned to lead and benefit from the renewable energy boom. The clean energy industry has best-practice guidelines for agreement-making with First Nation communities. Emissions in the broader economy are reduced, as is Australia’s contribution to global warming.


Assumptions behind theory of change


Below, we discuss and evaluate each of the assumptions related to the Original Power theory of change. For each of the assumptions identified, we assess whether the assumption most likely holds, may hold, or is unlikely to hold. For each assumption, we assess whether the best available evidence, primary or secondary, suggests whether the assumption will plausibly hold or not.


If training and organising work is implemented, and collective power is built, First Nations people will have greater capacity for self-determination and collective action (most likely holds)


OP’s capacity building activities, training programs and organizing tools have already had a positive impact on the ability of First Nation communities to self-organise and engage in collective advocacy. OP’s activities have led to the creation of new organisations such the First Nations Clean Energy Network. It has supported Traditional Owners to advocate that the West Australian government co-design the controversial Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2020 and draft stronger laws that protect sacred sites. The Message Stick project has engaged thousands of First Nations people with powerful and persuasive messaging for self-determination. The Adnyamathanha people have been supported to resist underground coal gasification in South Australia. Policies for a clean energy COVID-19 recovery have been adopted by the Northern Territory government. These all demonstrate the ability of Original Power to engage Traditional Owners and support communities to advocate for positive change.


With support, First Nations people can organise to protect Country from projects that harm Country, water and the climate. (most likely holds)


With Country, culture, health, water and climate at risk from extractive industries, First Nations people are already some of the most vocal opponents of fossil fuel projects in Australia.


For example, over the past decade the Wangan and Jagalingou people have spearheaded direct action, lobbying and legal interventions that have drastically slowed Adani’s Carmichael coal mine development in the Galilee Basin. Their stated motive for resisting Adani is because it is their custodial responsibility as Traditional Owners: “The sacred beliefs of our culture, our religion, is based on where the song lines run through our country. These song lines connect us to Mother Earth. Trees, plants, shrubs, medicines, waterholes, animals, habitats, aquifers – all these have a special religious place in our land and culture.”[13]


Although as we have seen the decision of communities to push back on certain developments alone isn't enough. Original Power works to connect communities with each other, share lessons and case studies and support cross-community collaboration and power.


In addition the policy work OP is doing can pave the way for best-practice agreement making between First Nation people and the renewable energy industry.


If First Nations people oppose fossil fuel projects, will they be able to defeat them? (may hold)


It is very challenging to ‘defeat’ fossil fuel projects in the current political climate, however First Nation communities that self-determine to oppose fossil fuel projects can be very effective campaigners.


First Nation advocacy for due process and proper consultation can slow developments and challenge the scope of projects that may harm Country, culture, health, water and the climate. As Traditional Owners over more than half of the continent, First Nations communities have unique rights and a moral authority that is increasingly being recognised, especially in the wake of recent, high-profile failures by mining companies.


The Juukan Gorge disaster, in which Rio Tinto destroyed 46,000 year-old, historically significant Aboriginal rock shelters, has brought into sharp focus the importance of proper consultation with First Nations communities.[14] This high-profile failure resulted in executive resignations from Rio Tinto, and activated the company’s investors to block executive bonus packages. The resulting Senate inquiry recommended new, strong Federal and state cultural heritage laws. There are strong and united calls from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, business and others for First Nations people to have a voice and a seat at the table when it comes to companies making decisions that impact their Country and cultural heritage.


Despite all this, we have rated this assumption may hold due to the current political situation in Australia where governments overwhelmingly support mining over First Nation people’s rights to say ‘no’ and where projects, once proposed, are difficult to challenge in the public arena and the judicial system.


If First Nations people receive more support for self-determination and collective action, and are supported with the resources they need to actively engage in the clean energy revolution, then Australia will see more and speedier renewable energy development (most likely holds)


First Nations communities understand the benefits that affordable, clean, renewable energy can bring to bear on health, employment, and local economies. They just need support to make it happen.


Many remote First Nations communities are seeking energy security. Often powered by diesel generators with prohibitively high fuel costs, renewable energy is seen by many as a solution to cost-of-living pressures, to protect against more extreme temperatures coming with climate change and ensure essential health and educational opportunities. Clean energy also provides a way to live in-line with cultural responsibilities to protect Country. The extremely positive response to the initiation and launch of the First Nations Clean Energy Network is evidence that there is growing support for First Nations communities to quickly realise the benefits of renewables and for Original Power to support additional clean energy projects such as those being implemented in Borroloola and Marlinja.


Risks


There are three key risks associated with OP achieving its aims. First, that federal and state governments remain intransigent and fail to reform laws and regulations which currently frustrate securing a just, equitable and rapid transition to renewables. Second, that the clean energy industry does not sufficiently engage with or prioritise the interests of First Nations people as the renewables boom gets underway. Third, that First Nations communities, because of the actions of the fossil fuel industry which works to maximise profits at the expense of First Nations people, and because of a lack of alternate economic and job opportunities, have limited options around coal and gas development, and may risk losing country and culture without any compensation. However, much of OP’s program is about mitigating these risks. By pursuing just economic and employment benefits for First Nations people from renewables, OP is building the social license and political capital needed for a rapid and just transition to renewable energy within First Nations communities, the clean energy industry and policy makers.


As a small organisation, OP carries personnel risks. Its ongoing effectiveness relies on retaining and attracting talent at all levels of the organisation. There can be challenges from building and managing a team of very diverse people and skills, working in communities where there may be limited equipment and internet access. To mitigate these risks, OP has recently brought on more staff and is implementing a peer-to-peer mentoring program to up-skill and support its team. OP is also offering additional support for remote staff, including helping the whole team develop systems that better acknowledge the diversity of language and literacy skills, as well as access IT hardware and support. This will be important as the organisation grows and works to expand its efforts across the country.


Room for additional funding


Additional funding could help Original Power expand their on-country community engagement program, evaluate the community and climate impact of clean energy demonstration projects, and to further scale the important community, industry partnerships and policy reform work of the First Nations Clean Energy Network.


Original Power’s priorities for 2022 are community, policy, and industry partnerships. They are developing plans for improving First Nations energy security and household power, which will help communities gain access to cheaper, more reliable energy, job opportunities and better health and social outcomes. On policy and industry, as discussed above there is currently no framework to guide how First Nations people can work productively with the clean energy industry.


Given the importance, tractability and significant effort required to achieve OP’s aims, any marginal investment is likely to have an outsized positive impact on greenhouse gas reduction and climate justice efforts in Australia.


Conclusion


We believe that OP is making a significant contribution to ensuring Australia’s First Nations communities benefit from the renewables boom. Increasing First Nations communities’ access to clean, reliable energy will help them deal with more extreme temperatures brought by climate change. Securing equitable arrangements for medium- to large-scale renewable projects on First Nations land will provide an alternative to new, polluting coal and gas projects. Additional donations would enable OP to align the interests of First Nations people and the clean energy industry, making possible the mass deployment of renewables in a way that benefits First Nations communities. Based on OP’s achievements, strategic approach, and the impact that additional funding would have, we recommend it as one of our top organisations for improving climate policy in Australia.


Support Original Power.

Endnotes


[1] https://www.originalpower.org.au/about_us [2] National Native Title Tribunal as of October 2021 [3] According to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), Original Power is a registered Australian charity (Original Power Ltd, ABN 98627048373) and is up-to-date with all required charity reporting. The Australian Tax Office’s Original Power profile confirms the organisation registered as a charity on 26 July 2018, and is endorsed as a Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR). [4] See Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu for more on the cultivation of land by Australia's First Nations people, and Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta for the importance of Aboriginal philosophy in addressing the climate and ecological crisis. [5] https://www.watarrkafoundation.org.au/blog/aboriginal-fire-management-what-is-cool-burning [6] https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2017C00178 [7] https://www.austrade.gov.au/land-tenure/native-title/native-title [8] https://www.legislation.gov.au/Series/C2004A04665 [9] https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/aboriginal-land-rights-act; https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/declaration-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples.html [10] https://www.austrade.gov.au/land-tenure/native-title/native-title [11] https://www.austrade.gov.au/land-tenure/native-title/native-title-in-the-northern-territory; https://www.austrade.gov.au/land-tenure/native-title/native-title-in-western-australia [12] https://www.originalpower.org.au/about_us [13] https://wanganjagalingou.com.au/who-we-are/ [14] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-05-18/one-year-on-from-rio-tinos-juukan-gorge-blast/100145712