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Geography and Logistics

a world map of The Torres Strait

The Torres Strait.

The Torres Strait is located in Australia and is part of the north-eastern state of Queensland. The area is approximately 150 kilometres wide at its narrowest point and is situated between the tip of Queensland's Cape York Peninsula and Papua New Guinea. The region consists of over 270 islands and reefs.

The Torres Strait links the Coral Sea in the east to the Arafura Sea in the west; the two main navigation passages are the Prince of Wales Channel, north of Hammond Island, and the Endeavour Strait, between Cape York and Prince of Wales Island.

The Torres Strait islands have a variety of topographies, ecosystems and formations. Several islands closest to the New Guinea coastline are low lying and are regularly inundated by sea water. Many of the western islands are hilly and steep. The central islands are predominantly coral cays; those to the east are volcanic.

The TSRA delivers services across the entire Torres Strait region, which includes 17 inhabited islands and the communities of Bamaga and Seisia in the Northern Peninsula Area of mainland Australia. Due to the area's remote location, the TSRA relies on air and sea links to Cairns and limited phone, facsimile and internet communications between communities for the delivery of its services. Most travel within the region is restricted to small watercraft, helicopters and light aircraft. The main gateway to the Torres Strait is Ngarupai Airport located on Horn Island, a 20-minute ferry ride from the Australian Government, Queensland Government and two local government administration hubs located on Thursday Island.

Culture

The picturesque Torres Strait region is predominantly inhabited by native Torres Strait Islanders and Kaurareg Aboriginal people. As of 30 June 2014 the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that the total population of the region is 8,738, of whom 6,997 (80.1 per cent) are Torres Strait Islander or Aboriginal people.

The Torres Strait's unique Ailan Kastom (island custom) is a central part of life in the region. Ailan Kastom is kept alive through the arts, rituals and performances, and the preservation of language and traditional knowledge, which are passed from one generation to the next. Cultural values are strongly intertwined with traditional, ancestral ties and respect for waterways, the land, the sea and the resources these provide.

History

The Torres Strait is named after Spanish explorer Luis Vaez de Torres, who sailed through the area in 1606. Queensland Government administration of the Torres Strait was established on Thursday Island in 1877, following the arrival of missionaries on Cape York Peninsula. Early settlers were involved in pearling, bêche-de-mer collection, and mining.

Native Title

Torres Strait Islander people first achieved recognition of their land rights in 1992 following the High Court's landmark Mabo decision which granted the Meriam people native title rights over Mer (Murray) Island. This was the first time that native title was recognised under the common law of Australia. It set a precedent for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people throughout Australia to assert their native title rights through the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth).

Native title has been granted for 13 inhabited islands in the Torres Strait region and most of the uninhabited islands. In addition, the Kaurareg Aboriginal people have achieved recognition of their native title rights over seven inner islands: Ngarupai (Horn Island), Muralag (Prince of Wales Island), Zuna (Entrance Island), Yeta (Port Lihou Island), Mipa (Turtle Island), Tarilag (Packe Island) and Damaralag. In 2013 - 2014 native title was granted over Zuizin Island for the Kulkalgal people. There are now 22 native title determinations in the Torres Strait.

The Torres Strait Regional Sea Claim Part A determination was finalised in 2013 - 2014 and the Malu Lamar (spirit of the sea) Registered Native Title Body Corporate has been established to manage native title over this area. Malu Lamar is the 21st Prescribed Body Corporate to be set up in the region.

Native title claims are being pursued over the remaining two land claims and one sea claim.

Closing the Gap is a commitment by the Australian Government and State and Territory Governments to improve the lives of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal Australians.

Progress towards Closing the Gap

Closing the Gap is a commitment by the Australian Government and State and Territory Governments to improve the lives of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal Australians and, in particular, to provide a better future for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal children.

A national integrated Closing the Gap strategy has been agreed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG ), the peak intergovernmental forum in Australia. COAG brings together the Prime Minister, State Premiers, Territory Chief Ministers and the President of the Australian Local Government Association.

Closing the Gap is linked to a wider reform of Commonwealth-State financial relations. COAG 's national agreements and partnerships, in areas such as education, housing and health, are focused on overcoming Indigenous disadvantage.

Targets

In 2008, COAG set specific and ambitious targets for Closing the Gap; these targets continue to remain a priority for the Australian Government:

  • to close the life expectancy gap within a generation
  • to halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade
  • to ensure access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four-year-olds in remote communities within five years
  • to halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for children within a decade
  • to halve the gap for Indigenous students in Year 12 (or equivalent) attainment rates by 2020
  • to halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade.

In May 2014 COAG agreed a new five-year target of Closing the Gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous school attendance with focus on regions that are achieving less than 80 per cent.

In 2013 - 2014, the TSRA continued to work towards the COAG targets through the organisation's planned outcome statement:

Progress towards Closing the Gap for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people living in the Torres Strait region through development planning, coordination, sustainable resource management, and preservation and promotion of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal culture.

Each of the TSRA programmes is required to report against the COAG targets. Detailed reporting is contained in Section 2 of this Annual Report.

COAG Building Blocks

The TSRA's Programme structure is based on the six COAG Building Blocks for Closing the Gap in disadvantage between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The Building Blocks are also used as the framework for the TSRA's Integrated Service Delivery (ISD) project.

In 2008 - 2009, The TSRA completed community consultations as part of the development of the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area Regional Plan (2009 - 2029). The first phase of the regional plan has been delivered through the Torres Strait Development Plan (2009 - 2013). The second phase is under development and was published as the Torres Strait Development Plan (2014 - 2018) on 1 July 2014.

The ISD project identified 1,613 gaps in service delivery across 20 communities. Progress is measured every second year. The status as at 30 June 2014, measured using each of the Building Blocks, is shown in Table 3-1 and figures 3-1 and 3-2 below. Detail of the services by community is contained in the Torres Strait Regional Plan ISD community booklets for 2012, which have been prepared for each community and are published through the TSRA's Information Publishing Scheme. The community booklets can be accessed on the TSRA website www.tsra.gov.au. Ten community booklets were refreshed in 2013 - 2014 and the remainder will be updated in 2014 - 2015.

Table 3-1 Summary of Community Service Issues by COAG Building Block.

Figure 3-1 Closing the Gap Trend Analysis 2010 - 2014

a chart showing Closing the Gap Trend Analysis 2010 - 2014

Figure 3-2 Progress Towards Closing the Gap by COAG Building Block Status 30 June 2014

a chart showing Progress Towards Closing the Gap by COAG Building Block Status 30 June 2014