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Geography and Logistics

The Torres Strait is located in Australia and is part 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 Papua 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 and those to the east are volcanic.

The Torres Strait’s unique Ailan Kastom is a central part of life in the region.

Figure 3-1: The Torres Strait

Figure 3-1: The Torres Strait

The TSRA delivers services across the entire Torres Strait region, including 17 inhabited islands and the communities of Bamaga and Seisia in the Northern Peninsula Area of mainland Australia. Due to the region’s remoteness, the TSRA relies on air and sea links 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, helicopter 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.

The bulk of goods and materials required by the region are shipped by container vessel from Cairns and redistributed by barge from transhipment points on Thursday Island and Horn Island.

Culture

The picturesque Torres Strait region is predominantly inhabited by Torres Strait Islanders and Kaurareg Aboriginal people. Based on 2011 Australian Bureau of Statistics Census figures, 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, land, 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 native title had been 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 and most of the uninhabited islands in the Torres Strait region. 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. There were no new determinations in 2014 - 2015. Twenty two native title determinations have been made in the Torres Strait.

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

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.

In 2014 - 2015, the Australian Government introduced the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) which grouped over 150 Indigenous programmes into five programme streams. These are:

  • Jobs, Land and Economy
  • Children and Schooling
  • Safety and Wellbeing
  • Culture and Capability
  • Remote Australia Strategies.

The TSRA has aligned its programme outcomes to these streams while continuing to deliver against the COAG targets:

  • 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.
  • to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous school attendance within five years

COAG Building Blocks

The TSRA’s Programme structure is based on the seven 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 was delivered through the Torres Strait Development Plan 2009 - 2013 and the second phase 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. Detail of service gaps by community is contained in the Torres Strait Regional Plan ISD community booklets for 2012. Those booklets, prepared for each community and published through the TSRA’s Information Publishing Scheme, can be accessed on the TSRA website www.tsra.gov.au. Fifteen community booklets were updated in 2013 - 2014 and 2014 - 2015. The remaining four booklets will be updated in 2015 - 2016. Progress is measured during community consultation visits, generally covering each community once every second year. The status as at 30 June 2015, measured against each of the building blocks, showing improvements measured in the communities visited in 2014 - 2015 is shown in Table 3-1 and Figure 3-2. Table 3-1 shows the baseline data for 2010 and progress in 2012, 2014 and 2015. Data sets were not prepared for 2011 or 2013.

Table 3-1 and Figure 3-2 show that the TSRA is making significant progress towards addressing the service gaps identified in the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area Regional Plan 2009 - 2029. From the original 1,613 gaps in 2010, five duplicates have been removed, adjusting the ISD baseline to 1,608. As of 30 June 2015:

  • 278 items had been identified as not being a function of government or advice had been received from the relevant government agency that the service could not be economically delivered in the region. These items include a number of small business opportunities for which financial and mentoring support was available, but where the community requesting the opportunity had not identified any person who wished to participate in that enterprise. These items are indicated in black in Figure 3-3.
  • 87 items have not yet started. These are items for which funding has not yet been identified or for which there are other dependencies such as finalisation of native title issues. These items are indicated in pale yellow in Figure 3-3.
  • 209 items are in progress. These are items for which funding has been identified or resources have been allocated. It is expected the majority of these in-progress items will be finalised over the next two financial years. These items are indicated in grey in Figure 3-3.
  • 1,034 items have been completed. The service requested is either being provided in the community or is available to the community within a reasonable distance or timeframe, commensurate with services provided to the wider Australian rural community. In some cases an alternative service has been proposed; for example, home-based child care instead of a child care centre in smaller communities where a child care centre would not be economically feasible. These items are indicated in dark yellow in Figure 3-3.

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

Building Block Baseline
2010
Progress
2011 - 2012
Progress
2013 - 2014
Progress
2014 - 2015
Not yet available Not yet available In progress Available Excluded Not yet available In progress Available Excluded Not yet available In progress Available
Early Childhood 58 34 20 5 4 18 19 17 7 8 6 36
Schooling 132 32 63 38 4 15 29 84 15 3 14 100
Health 311 117 126 70 19 62 87 144 43 21 49 200
Economic participation 322 152 108 63 58 67 41 156 104 8 32 176
Healthy homes 248 74 147 27 16 39 (1) 82 109 33 7 42 165
Safe communities 440 185 167 89 41 101 107 192 67 35 64 271
Governance and leadership 102 22 40 40 7 7 17 71 9 5 2 86
Community total 1,613 616 671 332 149 309 382 773 278 87 209 1,034
(1) This figure was incorrectly reported as 69 in 2013 - 2014 the revised total for ‘items not yet available’ is 309.

Progress in Service Delivery

Figure 3-2: Progress of Service Delivery against the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area Regional Plan 2009 - 2029

Figure 3-2: Progress of Service Delivery against the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area Regional Plan 2009 - 2029

a photograph of Kaurareg masks on display at Gab Titui Cultural Centre

Kaurareg masks on display at Gab Titui Cultural Centre.

Progress by COAG Building Block

Figure 3-3: Progress Towards Closing the Gap by COAG Building Block, at 30 June 2015

Figure 3-3: Progress Towards Closing the Gap by COAG Building Block, at 30 June 2015

Regional Statistics

The latest data available at the time of writing this report was from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). This data, based on the Census data collected in 2011, has been used to benchmark the progress of the TSRA’s programmes against Closing the Gap targets. The data used throughout this section is taken from the ABS website (Census QuickStats) and was current at 30 June 2015.

The figures used in the 2014 - 2015 report are for the Torres Strait and the two communities in the Northern Peninsula Area (Bamaga and Seisia) which are included in the TSRA’s area of responsibility.

Population

Population changes across the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area (Bamaga and Seisia) are shown in Tables 3-3 to 3-6.

Table 3-2: Total Population of the Torres Strait, including Bamaga and Seisia

Torres Strait Bamaga Seisia Total (region)
2006 2011 2006 2011 2006 2011 2006 2011
8,576 7,489 784 1,046 165 203 9,525 8,738

Table 3-3: Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal Population of the Torres Strait, including Bamaga and Seisia

Torres Strait Bamaga Seisia Total (region)
2006 2011 2006 2011 2006 2011 2006 2011
7,105 5,921 688 939 125 137 7,918 6,997

In 2011, the Torres Strait and Aboriginal population represented 80.1 per cent of the total population. This is a slight decrease from 83.1 per cent in 2006. The 2011 figure represents 4.5 per cent of the Torres Strait and Aboriginal population in Queensland and 1.3 per cent of the Torres Strait and Aboriginal population of Australia.

Table 3-4: Gender Balance of the Torres Strait, including Bamaga and Seisia

Torres Strait Bamaga Seisia Region (average)
2006 2011 2006 2011 2006 2011 2006 2011
Male 49.7% 45.1% 47.8% 49.4% 50.9% 49.1% 49.5% 47.9%
Female 50.3% 54.9% 52.2% 50.6% 49.1% 50.9% 50.5% 52.1%

The gender balance in 2006 was slightly biased towards female. This increased by 1.6 per cent in 2011 to 4.2 per cent.

Table 3-5: Average Age of Population of the Torres Strait, including Bamaga and Seisia

Torres Strait Bamaga Seisia Region
2006 2011 2006 2011 2006 2011 2016 2011
21 22 22 23 30 31 22 23

The population age remained more or less consistent between the 2006 Census and the 2011 Census. The age profile in Seisia is believed to be skewed by the number of older non-resident visitors in the community at the time of each census.

Employment

Employment data for the Torres Strait columns in Table 3-7 relates only to Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people. The figures for Bamaga and Seisia include non-Indigenous employees. The ‘not in the labour force’ figures were reported in the 2006 Census but not collected for the 2011 Census. These figures represent persons of working age who were not seeking employment.

Table 3-6: Employment in the Torres Strait, including Bamaga and Seisia

Torres Strait Bamaga Seisia Total (region)
Employment type 2006 2011 2006 2011 2006 2011 2006 2011
Full Time 2,705 1,039 225 277 71 76 3,096 1,392
Part Time 837 82 84 13 17 938
Away from Work n/a 226 6 14 0 6 6 246
Unemployed 137 173 18 29 3 0 158 202
Total Labour 2,842 2,275 331 404 87 99 3,260 2,778
Not in Labour Force 1,352 n/a 134 n/a 27 n/a 1513 n/a

Across the region there is 8.8 per cent unemployment. This is 2.8 per cent higher than the Australian rate at 30 June 2015, which was 6.0 per cent. Seasonally adjusted labour force participation rates for the region are not available. The significant variation in the employment between 2006 and 2011 is due to differences in data collection between the two censuses. In 2006 only ‘employed’ was reported, with no distinction between full- and part-time positions. There has been a decrease of 603 persons in employment between censuses. This is reflective of the overall decrease in population, noted in Table 3-3.

Education

The number of people undertaking some form of education in 2014 - 2015 was 2,583. The education categories are shown in Table 3-8.

Table 3-7: Education in the Torres Strait, including Bamaga and Seisia

Torres Strait Bamaga Seisia Total (region)
Education level 2006 2011 2006 2011 2006 2011 2006 2011
Pre-school n/a 136 n/a 15 n/a 0 n/a 151
Primary n/a 1,022 n/a 175 n/a 22 n/a 1,,219
Secondary n/a 404 n/a 88 n/a 8 n/a 500
Technical and further n/a 113 n/a 23 n/a 3 n/a 139
University n/a 38 n/a 11 n/a 3 n/a 52
Other n/a 49 n/a 7 n/a 0 n/a 56
Not stated n/a 395 n/a 54 n/a 17 n/a 466
Total 0 2,157 0 373 0 53 0 2,583

The average school attendance in 2014 across years one through 12 was 88 per cent, an increase from 84 per cent achieved in 2013. In comparison, these figures are markedly better than the Northern Territory Indigenous school attendance figures for 2014 of 71.0 per cent. However, they are still below the non-Indigenous attendance rate of 91.5 per cent.

Income

The 2011 census data indicates that household incomes of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people were again significantly lower than the reported Queensland and Australian averages. This is reflected in Table 3-9.

Table 3-8: Median Wealth in the Torres Strait, including Bamaga and Seisia ($)

Torres Strait Bamaga Seisia Average (region)
Income type 2006 2011 2006 2011 2006 2011 2006 2011
Personal n/a 360 n/a 577 n/a 506 n/a 411
Household n/a 952 n/a 1,117 n/a 785 n/a 971

The Queensland average for personal and household income was $587 and $1,253 per week, respectively. The Australian averages were $577 and $1,234. In the region, personal earnings are 70.0 per cent of Queensland average earnings and 71.2 per cent of Australian average earning. Household earnings are 78.6 per cent of both Queensland and Australian average earnings.

Housing Tenure

The 2013 ABS QuickStats (June 2015) report that there were 1,722 private dwellings out of a total of 2,291 dwellings. Of these 1,718 had tenure arrangements, as show in Table 3-10.

Table 3-9: Tenure of Private Dwellings in the Torres Strait, including Bamaga and Seisia

Torres Strait Bamaga Seisia Total Region
Tenure type 2006 2011 2006 2011 2006 2011 2006 2011
Owned 116 90 6 0 5 5 127 95
Mortgaged 26 33 0 0 3 4 29 37
Rented 1,448 1,200 198 245 49 53 1,695 1498
Other 16 18 6 3 0 0 22 21
Not Stated 47 59 7 8 13 0 67 67
Total 1,653 1,400 217 256 70 62 1,940 1,718

The figures in Table 3-10 indicate a decrease in the number of houses owned in the region between 2006 and 2011. This may be representative of the decrease in population in the region, reported in Table 3-3. There has been a 21.6 per cent increase in the number of properties under mortgage between 2006 and 2011 with all but one being in the Torres Strait communities. The lack of freehold land and long tenure leasehold land in the region remains a barrier to an increase in home ownership.

Health

A synthesis of data from the ABS and the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey shows that in 2014 - 2015:

  • Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people were three times as likely as non-Indigenous people to have diabetes/high sugar levels.
  • Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people were twice as likely as non-Indigenous people to have asthma.
  • Obesity rates for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal females and males were significantly higher than the comparable rates for non-Indigenous people in almost every age group.
  • Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people rates for heart disease were significantly higher than the comparable rates for non-Indigenous people in all age groups from 15 to 54 years.

The mortality rate for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people remains significantly higher than for non-Indigenous people.

a photograph of participants in the TSRA’s inaugural Women’s Leadership Programme at Parliament House, Canberra

Participants in the TSRA’s inaugural Women’s Leadership Programme at Parliament House, Canberra.