I am pleased to present the Torres Strait Regional Authority’s 2014 - 2015 Annual Report, marking our performance at the end of our twenty-first year of operation.
The Chief Executive Officer and I have continued our community engagement and communication programme throughout the reporting period, visiting Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area communities to inform our stakeholders on Australian Government Indigenous policies and the TSRA’s activities and initiatives. Community visits are invaluable as they provide an opportunity for the TSRA to listen to community concerns and for organisations and individuals to meet with the TSRA’s executive leadership team.
As part of our Integrated Service Delivery approach to community consultation in 2024 - 2015 we welcomed the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service to join with the TSRA on community visits. The support of Prescribed Bodies Corporate, elders groups and local government councillors has also been an important element of our visits and I thank them for their continued support.
This year’s schedule has been busy with visits being undertaken at Dauan, Ngurapai, Muralag, Iama, Mabuiag, Masig, TRAWQ, Boigu, Mer, and Poruma. I thank all community members for their hospitality and engagement during our visits.
TSRA Board Mid-Term Performance Review
The TSRA Board Charter requires that TSRA Board members undertake a formal review of their performance at the mid-point of their term in office. The TSRA engaged the independent governance specialists MLCS Corporate to conduct the review. MLCS Corporate evaluated the TSRA Board and TSRA Board committees, including the TSRA Executive Committee, TSRA Audit Committee and Torres Strait Coastal Management Committee. The performance report will be considered by the Board at its meeting in September 2015.
TSRA Board Strategic Workshop
The TSRA Board’s annual strategic planning workshop is an opportunity for Board members to reflect on the TSRA’s progress and successes as well as to look forward and consider priorities and potential challenges in forthcoming years. The TSRA Board’s Strategic Workshop was held over two days in early November 2014 and determined the Board’s priorities for delivering the outcomes from the Torres Strait Development Plan 2014 - 2018. The projects and activities planned for 2015 - 2016 are based on those priorities. Those activities and the associated budgets were passed by the Board at our June 2015 meeting.
Another important focus of the strategic planning workshop was to inform the Board of changes to their responsibilities and accountability following the transition from the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 (Cth) to the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (Cth) (PGPA Act). The TSRA engaged the governance specialist Effective Governance to deliver training to the Board on the implications of the PGPA Act.
’Think Collectively, Act Together’ – TSRA Economic Development Summits
The TSRA has planned a series of three economic development summits with an overarching theme of ‘Think collectively, act together’ to help guide the creation of commercially viable industries to contribute to wealth creation for Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people living in the Torres Strait region. Summits one and two were held in November 2014 and April 2015 respectively. I recently announced that the third economic development summit will occur in the new financial year.
The first summit focused on regional leaders and explored opportunities for collaborative approaches. Presentations from Indigenous Business Australia, Ecotourism Australia, Regional Development Australia (Far North Queensland and Torres Strait), and the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, focused on employment aspects. The second summit started to develop a Regional Economic Investment Strategy, examining and prioritising economic development opportunities for the Torres Strait region that could be commercially viable.
Mediation for the Torres Strait Regional Sea Claim Part B
After the Federal Court recognised the Malu Lamar (Torres Strait Islander) Corporation RNTBC as the holder of the native title rights recognised in Torres Strait Regional Sea Claim Part A, the Federal Court’s focus turned to progressing the Part B portion of this claim. The Part B area is wholly overlapped by two claims – one filed on behalf of the Kaurareg People and the other filed on behalf of the Gudang Yadhaykenu People. The TSRA is aware a new claim may soon be lodged to replace the existing Part B claim.
During court-ordered mediation held in February 2015, agreement was reached between the Badulgal, Mualgal and Kaurareg Peoples that the western overlap is shared sea country. Negotiations have now started with the respondent parties (including the Commonwealth of Australia, the Queensland Government and fisher representatives) towards a consent determination for the western agreed area. We are hoping the court will convene a determination hearing in late 2015 or early 2016 to recognise native title rights over the western agreed area. Negotiations to resolve the eastern overlap area will be scheduled in early 2016 after the connection reports, to be completed in late 2015, are exchanged.
Our Commitment to Maintain Culture
‘Empowering our language, in our culture, for our future’ was the theme of the inaugural Torres Strait Language Symposium, held at the Gab Titui Cultural Centre from 11 to 13 March 2015. The event was presented in partnership with Tagai State College, a key stakeholder in language preservation, and brought together traditional language speakers and specialists from across the region to plan for the future revival and maintenance of Torres Strait language.
The TSRA has developed strategies for the preservation of music and dance, providing grant funding and direct support to local artists and cultural practitioners to produce and showcase art from the region. The TSRA-sponsored Indigenous Art Awards attracts artwork from throughout the region, and I acknowledge our important partnership with the National Museum of Australia in making the awards night a tremendous success.
One Hundred Per Cent Ownership of the Torres Strait Bêche-de-Mer Fishery
The single remaining non-Indigenous Transferable Vessel Holder (TVH) licence to fish in the Torres Strait bêche-de-mer fishery was purchased by the TSRA in January 2015 and is being held by the TSRA on behalf of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people in the region.
The bêche-de-mer fishery is the second fishery to be 100 per cent owned by Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people in the Torres Strait. In 2007, the Torres Strait finfish fishery became 100 per cent owned and is an important commercial asset to communities.
I thank all community members for their hospitality and engagement during our visits.
Torres Strait Treaty Cycle Meetings
The TSRA attended the Torres Strait Treaty Cycle meetings, hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in Cairns at the end of October 2014. These meetings include the Traditional Inhabitants Meeting and Joint Advisory Council meetings that discuss a number of cross-border issues related to the Torres Strait Treaty. These bilateral meetings with Papua New Guinea involve Traditional Owner representatives from Western Province villages, who are part of the Torres Strait Treaty.
An Environmental Management Committee meeting was held during the treaty cycle meeting period as the same stakeholders were involved. The forum was also used to facilitate a treaty coast development symposium to discuss sustainable economic development issues.
In November 2014, the TSRA welcomed the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to Thursday Island. The committee sought input from the TSRA on the timing, content and wording of referendum proposals. At the ninety-third meeting of the TSRA Board in March 2015, members met with Mr Warren Mundine, Chairperson of the Indigenous Advisory Council, and with committee member Mr Richard Ah Mat who provided an outline of the activities undertaken by the Indigenous Advisory Council.
The Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion, visited the region in January 2015. The Minister met with the TSRA Board and local government councils and toured the newly renovated sports stadium on Thursday Island. Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture and Chairperson of the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority met with the TSRA and both Traditional Inhabitant Boat (TIB) and TVH fishers to discuss the Tropical Rock Lobster Management Plan and its opportunity for economic growth in the Torres Strait region.
Warraberalgal and Porumalgal Indigenous Protected Area
A dedication ceremony was held in July 2014 in recognition of the Warraberalgal and Porumalgal Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) as part of Australia’s reserve of protected areas. I congratulate the people of Warraber and Poruma Islands, the stewards of the Warraberalgal and Porumalgal IPA for having this significant area recognised.
The IPA covers the nine islands of Atub, Bara, Bini, Babui, Guiya, Maza Guiya, Miggi Maituin, Ugain and Ulu as well as sandbanks and rocks that lie in the reserve area, which covers approximately 63 hectares.
In closing, I express my appreciation and thanks to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, TSRA Board members, the TSRA’s Chief Executive Office, Mr Wayne See Kee, and the TSRA administration.
I also acknowledge the Elders, Traditional Owners, Prescribed Bodies Corporate and local government councillors for the support and hospitality provided to me when I visited your communities.