Torres Strait Islanders opposed by Morrison government at the United Nations

Contributed by Joe Montero

The Morrison government has had the gall to ask the human rights committee of the United Nations, to vote against a claim by the Torres Straights Islanders, that climate change caused rising sea level is having an impact on their human rights.

Lodged 12 months ago, the complaint claims that the Australian government has failed to take adequate steps to reduce emissions, and that  this constitutes a breech of fundamental human rights obligations to Torres Strait Islander people.

Photo from AAP: Lobster fishing in the Torres Straight Islands

The Morrison government’s position is not to deny global warming and that this is what it is causing the sea level to rise. The evidence is now too overwhelming to do so. There has been a shift to denying responsibility, because Australia is not the only country to emit carbon into the atmosphere.

It is the argument being used in the Torres Strait Islander case.

The second leg of the legal argument, is that the Torres straight Islander submission should be inadmissible, for the reason that it concerns future risks, rather than the impacts being felt now.

The Australian government, it is suggested, cannot be held responsible for what might happen at a future date. This is being backed by the claim that the impact of climate change is not being felt today.

Further details of the Australian government’s case have been withheld from the public.

The Torres Straight Islanders say that Australia has violated article 27 (the right to culture); article 17 (the right to be free from arbitrary interference with privacy, family, and home); and article 6 (the right to life).

Battling over legal technicalities misses the point. It is also immoral. Arguing over technicalities might suit a government trying to hide and the pockets of lawyers. But it does not make it right.

Just like the evidence for climate change is overwhelming and undeniable, so is the evidence that this is causing rising sea level right now, and If not checked, the rise will eventually submerge the ancestral lands of these people. This is detailed in a report from the climate Council.

Low lying Pacific islands are disappearing under the impacts of rising seas, and increasingly severe storms and tides. Data collected via satellite, shows that the Torres Straits are included in these impacts. If unchecked, the population will eventually be forcefully displaced.

Australia may not be the only emitter of carbon into the atmosphere. But Australia does have a responsibility for its own actions and can have have global impact through example. Furthermore, by leading in the export of fossil fuels, Australia is acting as a major global enabler. It adds to the responsibility to act appropriately.

This case highlights a running away from responsibility to service an industry, to which the Morrison government is bound hand and foot. No legal argument can hide this.

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