Speaking out in one voice

Panelists discuss urgency of climate action at a public forum in Brisbane, 22 October 2013

“We must speak out in one voice” was the key message from an event held on Tuesday night to raise public awareness about climate change issues in the Torres Strait Islands.

A crowd of 40 people gathered at Wesley House in Brisbane CBD to find out how climate change impacts were affecting island communities and what actions were being taken to address them.

Senior Elder Thomas Sebasio from Erub/Darnley Island began the panel discussion explaining Torres Strait Islander people’s strong connection to the land.  Mr Sebasio described how global warming is delivering negative consequences to people on the islands by damaging essential infrastructure including houses, roads and even cemeteries and other sacred places that have cultural and spiritual significance for Torres Strait Islanders.  He called on Torres Strait Islanders across the country to come together in unity and speak in one voice to advocate for the future of the islands.

The second panellist, Nancy Bamaga expressed concerns about the impact of climate change on people’s culture and identity.  In 1948, Nancy’s grandfather was forced to relocate from the island of Saibai to the mainland on the tip of Cape York due to severe flooding.  Houses were drowned by seawater and people were evacuated out of the island.  Nancy was born in Bamaga (named after her grandfather) and has never been to Saibai yet she retains strong cultural and spiritual ties with the island.  She stressed the importance of strengthening the Torres Strait Islander culture to mobilise support and to protect the islands from erosion, flooding, sea level rise and other climate change impacts.

Holding governments to account was the emphasis of the third panellist, Stefan Armbruster who is one of few journalists who has been covering news of climate change in the Torres Strait.  He argued how the Torres Strait’s call for funding to construct seawalls in worst affected islands of Boigu and Saibai fell on deaf ears of the federal and state governments, and the $12 million funding finally awarded by the Gillard Government is now up in the air with the election of a new government.

The organisers of last night’s forum, Friends of the Earth Brisbane Frontlines and The GOODNESS Inc, are asking people to show their support by writing a letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, urging him to honour the funding commitment made by the previous government for the construction and repair of the much needed seawalls.  An online letter can be sent to the Prime Minister by clicking here.

The forum also included the screening of ‘Dire Straits’, a photo-documentary capturing the images of flooding in Saibai, produced by Zoe Reynolds during her visit to the island earlier in the year.

People living on low-lying islands in the Torres Strait are among the first and worst affected by climate change and need their fellow Australians to recognise this and join them in advocating to all levels of government.

For enquiries, contact [email protected]

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