‘Like colonisation all over again’: Torres Strait Islanders build seawall at Parliament House
Islanders are calling for the government to take stronger action against warming temperatures. Photo: AAP
More than 100 kilometres away from the coast, a seawall of sandbags stands outside federal parliament.
Traditional owners from the Torres Strait built the wall in Canberra on Monday, to call for stronger action against climate change.
The protest coincided with the start of the United Nations’ 27th climate change conference, or COP27, attended by ministers Chris Bowen, Pat Conroy and Jenny McAllister.
“By building a seawall outside Parliament House, we urge the Albanese government to protect our island homes, as the international community exhorts them to take stronger action on climate change at COP27,” Warraber man Kabay Tamu said.
The rally was led by members of the Torres Strait Eight, a group of Indigenous people who won a landmark case at the UN.
In September, the UN Human Rights Committee found the Australian government had violated its human rights obligations to Torres Strait Islanders by failing to act on climate change.
“Rising seas are threatening our homes, swamping burial grounds and washing away sacred cultural sites,” said Mr Tamu, who was one of the UN claimants.
“If the government fails to take enough action, we could be removed from these islands we have called home for thousands of years.
“Removing a race of people from our islands is like colonisation all over again for us. You can’t put a price on the connection we have to the land and the sea.”
Climate change has presented an existential challenge to the Torres Strait Islands.
Rising sea levels, tidal surges, erosion and land degradation have all impacted the traditional owners’ livelihoods.
“Every high tide, every monsoon season, I see the damage of coastal erosion on my island home of Warraber,” Mr Tamu said.
“Across the Torres Strait Islands, we lose metres of land all the time. It’s happening more often now.”
Although there has been a change of government since the group took its complaint to the UN, the campaigners called on the Albanese administration to do more.
They want the government to commit to more renewable energy and transition away from fossil fuels, help communities adapt to climate change and push other world leaders to keep warming under 1.5 degrees.
US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and other world leaders have travelled to Egypt for COP27, along with Torres Strait Eight member Yessie Mosby and his 12-year-old son Genia Mosby.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will not be attending due to other commitments.