By Viliame Tawanakoro
More than 100 people from the Pasifika community sounded the alarm in the presence of Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen, during the recent PASIFIKA Empowered 2023 Event hosted at Pullman Hotel, Sydney Olympic Park.
In response to the plea, Mr Bowen has unveiled a comprehensive plan, assuring a robust 2035 climate.
“With high rents and rising energy prices, I had to move further West where housing is cheaper. Travelling to work and back takes longer. Rising costs forced me to work extra hours to stay afloat. The cost of living has made me poor with time,” This sentiment was shared by Tui Waqanibaravi during the Event.
The Fijian Native, who has been living in Australia for more than ten years, emphasised the toll that this harsh reality has on families and communities, saying, “We have no time for family, no time for community, and, most importantly, no time to cast a shadow over my son.”
Chris Bowen addresses members of the PASIFIKA Community on October 7, 2023, at the Pullman Hotel in Olympic Park. Photo: Viliame Tawanakoro
Mr Waqanibaravi said, “In the past, our Pasifika people had a faith, a religion, and a worldview in harmony with Moana and all creation. Things are different now.”
“The shadow cast by climate change is not the nurturing shadow of our parents and ancestors. Its darkness threatens our way of life – in the Pacific and here in western Sydney.”
The Pasifika leaders present at the event also stressed that their ancestral stories have always conveyed the importance of living sustainably and protecting the health of the land, skies, and seas. However, these values become increasingly challenging to uphold when the cost of living soars.
Mr Waqanibaravi made a heartfelt plea: “We need help so we don’t fall aside on the path. And our fear, Minister, is, to whom shall we pass this Talanoa (Open Dialogue) of tomorrow if we do not learn the lesson of today?”
Grandmother and Caregiver Share Her Story
Apii Tuaru, a resilient mother of seven, grandmother of twenty-one, and great-grandmother of four, has shared her heartfelt story of struggle and resilience in the face of climate change.
Originally hailing from the picturesque Island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, Ms Tuaru has been a resident of Australia since 1989, earning her citizenship in 1993.
From L-R: Pastor Joyce Tangi, Rev Vinnie Ravetali, Apenisa, Apii Tuaru, Tui Waqanibaravi, Dr Seforosa Carroll Nathan Tyson and Rosaline Parker at the Pullman Hotel in Olympic Park. Photo: Viliame Tawanakoro
Ms Tuaru resides in social housing in Mount Druitt, where she lives with her husband, children and grandchildren. Her life took a dramatic turn when her husband suffered a stroke five years ago, rendering him non-verbal and immobile.
“He’s not very mobile and has trouble understanding what’s happening around him. Disabilities are prevalent in my community – a lot of the time, people don’t know where to get help to control and manage it – so it just gets worse.”
“One of the major challenges I face is budgeting my finances every fortnight. We rely on the disability pension and a small carer’s allowance, which experienced a substantial drop compared to my previous income when I had worked for a pharmaceutical company.”
Ms Tuaru explained, “Most of [the income] goes to rent, then food, bills, and extra costs – even washing powder is expensive, and being a carer means I do a lot of washing. Electricity bills are tough to keep on top of.”
“This issue intensifies during the scorching Australian summer.”
“I vividly recall the hardship I endured during the 2019-2020 bushfire season when Mount Druitt experienced extreme temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius.”
“Our old, worn-out air conditioner kept cutting out. I can’t afford to buy a new one. With my husband’s disability and because he can’t communicate, if there is a problem, hot weather like this is even more dangerous for him.”
“Having energy-efficient appliances that would lower our electricity bills and help us keep safe and cool in the summer would be great, but we can’t even afford to make sure ours work,” Ms Tuaru lamented.
She also expressed the unaffordability of sustainable solutions like installing solar panels due to their social housing situation, leaving them with limited choices.
Ms Tuaru has urged Minister Bowen, present at the event, to know how tough it is and that climate change is worsening.
“When every day’s a struggle, you don’t have time to sit back and reflect on what is happening to you. You are so in the moment, just dealing with it all. You often don’t realise that many other people have the same problems and that people like us deserve the support we need to make ends meet and get help with climate change.”
The PASIFIKA Community also raised their concerns to Minister Chris Bowen regarding the continued use of fossil fuels that threaten the existence of their island homes and way of life.
In Response, Minister Bowen said, “We will be announcing our 2035 target. It will be a good and strong target. And concerning fossil fuels, I just want to say this. We have a big task to replace them”.
“We still need the energy. So we have to work very hard. We have to work very hard domestically.”
“I’ve talked about 82% renewables. It takes work. It’s not easy to do, but we’re doing it. And internationally, we must also help our friends and partners make the transition.”
Chris Bowen, the Minister for Climate Change and Energy of Australia was warmly welcomed to the PASIFIKA Empower Event on October 7, 2023, at the Pullman Hotel in Olympic Park. Photo: Viliame Tawanakoro
He also stated they are developing a national adaptation plan, and mitigation is the most critical thing, reducing emissions.
“But we’ve left it too late as the world. So, our country and region are changing, and a national adaptation plan will greatly contribute to that.”
Mr Bowen added. “Australia’s contribution to a loss and damage fund for the Pacific. As announced, they would rejoin the Green Climate Fund, which is very important. But it’s not enough, and the Prime Minister will say more in a few weeks at the Pacific Islands Forum.”
“We are talking to various friends in the Pacific governments about the long-term future of our region.”
“The biggest economic transformation will come in Australian regions. In places like the Hunter Valley, in Newcastle and Gippsland, that’s where the coal-fired power stations are, and they’ll close.”
“We need to create new jobs there. We need to be fair to all Australians. And we’re going to see everybody take advantage of it. And the good news is those regions which have powered Australia for so long, and we owe them a debt of thanks.”
“We need to make sure everybody gets a fair share. Not just Western Sydney. Everyone,” he said.
Contributing Author: Viliame Tawanakoro hails from Fiji and is currently part of a student exchange program between the University of the South Pacific and Western Sydney University. Viliame is undertaking an internship at The Australia Today as part of his academic and professional growth.