The second week of hearings as part of a climate class action against the Australian government wraps up in Cairns today.
The hearings began last week on the Torres Strait Island of Boigu south of Papua New Guinea before heading down to Badu, Saibai and Cairns.
The class action was submitted by Torres Strait Islander men Uncle Pabai Pabai and Uncle Paul Kabai in October 2021.
They argue the federal government has failed in their duty of care for Torres Strait Islanders by failing to prevent climate change.
Uncle Paul Kabai led the on-country hearings on Saibai Island.
he says having the hearings on country highlights the reality of the class action.
“That will give them the exact idea of what we put in our statements …
They can see in through their own eyes what’s really happening,” he said.
Uncle Kabia says the community took the federal court to Saibai’s gardening areas showing how the soft ground has made it impossible to plant cassava and sweet potato.
The federal court was also shown the Island’s foreshore.
“There used to be a beach running across the foreshore of the island.
Now the beach is all gone,” Uncle Kabai said.
He says it’s having a cultural impact as well
“For us as cultural people, we are the seafarers.
We don’t need a calendar, we don’t need anything that white people are looking at now.
What we do is we read the sky, when you look north from Saibai Island you see the constellations in the sky which we call Tagai
Tagai is a person standing on a canoe with a spear.
So when the spear points up, we know its a dry season, when the head of the spear points down to the west we know it will be monsoon season,” Uncle Kabai said.
Climate change is interrupting this process as harsh weather patterns hit the island more frequently and severely.
Maluwap Ali Nona was present at the hearings in Badu last week.
He says he wants to see the commonwealth doing more to support the Torres Strait.
“These things are affecting us, and if the Australian government doesn’t do anything to rectify it …
Islanders have no choice but to say ‘listen you other people in Australia, we’re not going to suffer and we’re not going to go down like Jesse James.’
This is the stance we are taking in this part of the world.
If they have to spend billions of dollars in infrastructure development, and making sure we can maintain our culture, and we can have the opportunities like all other Australians so be it,” he said.
Once witnesses finish giving evidence in Cairns today, the class action will resume in Melbourne at the end of the year where scientific evidence will be discussed before the court reaches an outcome.
Image Credit Ruby Mitchell, Grata Fund