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ClientEarth Communications

13th November 2019

Climate accountability

Australian Prime Minister refuses to visit climate-hit islanders

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused an invitation to visit the climate-hit homes of indigenous Australians who are bringing a human rights complaint against their government.

Morrison turned down an invitation to see for himself the effects of climate change on the low-lying Torres Strait Islands, as did Minister for Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor.

One of the complainants, Yessie Mosby said: “We’re very disappointed the Prime Minister will not visit our communities. Just like those battling bushfires on the mainland, our islands are on Australia’s climate frontline.

Yessie said the islanders hope Australia will significantly ramp up climate action, as required by the Paris Agreement, ahead of the world’s next big climate summit, COP 26 in 2020.

“We’ll wait and see what Canberra declares in coming months, as will our fellow islanders across the Pacific.

Add your voice to support the Torres Strait Islanders

“This is not a problem for another country to sort out. Bushfires, floods, droughts, extreme heat and in our case rising seas – this is the reality of living in Australia now,” he added.

Islander Kabay Tamu personally delivered the invitation to Australia’s Ambassador in New York, where he was addressing the global climate summit in September.

Kabay is one of eight complainants from four islands threatened by rising seas. In May this year, they lodged a world-first complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee over the threat to their human rights posed by their government’s climate failure.

The islanders argue that by failing to do enough to reduce emissions or to build proper adaptation measures on the islands, Australia is violating its legal human rights obligations to Torres Strait people

In their letter to the PM, the islanders described how rising seas are threatening homes, swamping burial grounds and washing away sacred cultural sites.

With the steady erosion of coastlines, communities are being inundated, infrastructure damaged, flood defences breached, fresh water contaminated and crops spoiled.

Our lawyers are representing the islanders, with support from Torres Strait land and sea council Gur A Baradharaw Kod, barristers from 20 Essex Street Chambers in London, and environmental group 350 Australia.