The second week of a climate class action against the federal government has wrapped up in Melbourne.
Launched by Torres Strait Uncles Pabai Pabai and Paul Kabai the case argues that the federal government has failed to protect the region against climate change.
The Melbourne hearings come after a series of on-country hearings on the Torres Strait Islands of Saibai, Boigu and Badu, and additional hearings being held in Cairns.
The focus in Melbourne has been on the scientific evidence linking the federal government to the rising sea levels in the region. Uncle Pabai says he’s confident their evidence has been compelling.
“It’s very strong evidence, the judge can not ignore the truth.
He has the evidence (through) his own sight, on seeing what is happening.
We did take the court around the communities, and to sight evidence, it’s very important that he knows that really well.”
Rising sea levels have been flooding communities all across the strait.
Uncle Kabai says he doesn’t want to be forced out of his home as sea levels erode his community.
“We don’t want to relocate from our own islands, we don’t want to become climate change refugees.
We don’t want to be relocated to mainland Australia or anywhere else.”
This week the hearings heard from coastal engineers Stuart Bettington, Dr Matthew Barnes and Dr Bruce Harper who argued that Saibai and Boigu, being classified as low-lying mud islands, were most prone to inundation.
The pair also highlighted how Boigu’s current seawall will be insufficient in preventing inundation in the future, and that in an 100-year-flood “the whole community would be flooded from all sides apart from maybe directly over the wall”.
Bettington and Bairns also pointed out the lack of regulation around coastal seawalls in Australia.
They say Australia has not yet adopted comprehensive design standards, which would include serviceability and survivability measures.
They continue to argue there is a trade off between building highwalls that protect people, but impact residents, especially children’s, ability to connect with the oceam.
Chelsea Aniba is a leader from the Dhoeybaw clan of Saibai Island, she has joined the legal team on the bench, sitting alongside Senior Counsel Fiona McLeod AO SC.
She says she’s worried about the impact rising sea levels will have on her community.
“It’s personal for me because i’m a mother of two, I’ve got an older son who is 23 and a younger one who is 12.
I’m thinking about the next generation and how I’m going to be a grandmother one day, is Torres Strait going to be there?
If I’m living through this when climate change was an issue when I was growing up, and to now have my kids, last year going into school witnessing salt water on the road.
What’s my grandchildren going to go through, what’s the future going to look like for them.”
Hearings will continue until the end of the month.
Image Credit: Catherine Black