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GEOGRAPHY AND LOGISTICS

Figure 3-1: The Torres Strait

Figure 3-1: 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 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 the islands in the east are volcanic.

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 remote location, 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 inhabited mainly by Torres Strait Islander people and Kaurareg Aboriginal people. As of 30 June 2016, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that the total population of the region was 9,519, of whom 7,437 (78.13 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 languages 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 and sea and the resources they provide.

“Cultural values are strongly intertwined with traditional ancestral ties and respect for waterways, land and 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 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. There were no new determinations in 2015-2016. Altogether, 22 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.

“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, which grouped over 150 Indigenous programmes into five programme streams:

  • 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.

a photograph of Minister For Indigenous Affairs Senator Nigel Scullion Consulting With The Badu Community

MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS SENATOR NIGEL SCULLION CONSULTING WITH THE BADU COMMUNITY.

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 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.

In 2009-2010, 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 2012. A booklet has been prepared for each community and published through the TSRA’s Information Publishing Scheme. The ISD community booklets can be accessed on the TSRA website, www.tsra.gov.au.

Thirteen community booklets were updated and published in 2015-2016, with the remainder scheduled for updating in 2016-2017. Progress is measured during community consultation visits, generally covering each community once every second year. The previous reporting period was when the bulk of the updates were made. The status as at 30 June 2016 notes updates from community visits in 2015-2016. This is shown in Table 3-1 and Figure 3-1. Table 3-1 shows the baseline data for 2010, then the progress measured in 2012, 2014 and 2015.

Table 3-1 and Figure 3-1 show 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.

Table 3-1: Summary of community service issues by COAG building block

BUILDING BLOCK BASELINE
2010
PROGRESS
2012
PROGRESS
2014
PROGRESS
2015
NOT YET PROGRAMMED NOT YET PROGRAMMED IN PROGRESS AVAILABLE EXCLUDED NOT YET PROGRAMMED IN PROGRESS AVAILABLE EXCLUDED NOT YET PROGRAMMED IN PROGRESS AVAILABLE
Early
Childhood
59 34 20 5 4 18 19 17 7 8 6 36
Schooling 133 32 63 38 4 15 29 84 15 3 14 100
Health 313 117 126 70 19 62 87 144 43 21 49 200
Economic Participation 323 152 108 63 58 67 41 156 104 8 32 176
Healthy
Homes
248 74 147 27 16 39 82 109 33 7 42 165
Safe Communities 441 185 167 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 1,619 616 671 332 149 309 382 773 278 87 209 1,034

Progress in Service Delivery

Figure 3-2: Progress in service delivery against the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area Regional Plan 2009-2029

Figure 3-2: Progress in service delivery against the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area Regional Plan 2009-2029

Figure 3-3: Progress towards closing the gap by COAG building block status, at 30 June 2016

Figure 3-3: Progress towards closing the gap by COAG building block status, at 30 June 2016

REGIONAL STATISTICS

The latest data available at the time of writing this report was from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). This data 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 2016.

The figures used in the 2015-2016 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

The comparison of population changes across the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area (Bamaga and Seisia) is shown in tables 3-2 to 3-5.

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 was a slight decrease from 83.1 per cent in 2006. The 2011 figure represented 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%

In 2011, the number of males in the population had decreased, down by 1.6 percentage points on the 2006 figure.

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 2006 2011
21 22 22 23 30 31 22 23

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

Employment

Employment data for the Torres Strait columns in Table 3-6 relates only to Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people. The figures for Bamaga and Seisia include non-Indigenous employees. The ‘not in labour force’ figures were reported in the 2006 census but not collected in 2011. These figures represent people 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 1,513 n/a

Across the region the unemployment rate was 8.8 per cent. This is 2.8 percentage points higher than the Australian rate as at 30 June 2016, which was 6.0 per cent. Seasonally adjusted labour force participation rates for the region are not available. The significant variation in 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-time and part-time positions.

a photograph of TSRA Ranger Conducts Chainsaw Training – Ongoing Training Is Provided To The Rangers To Minimise Safety Risks

TSRA RANGER CONDUCTS CHAINSAW TRAINING – ONGOING TRAINING IS PROVIDED TO THE RANGERS TO MINIMISE SAFETY RISKS.

Education

The number of people undertaking some form of education was 2,583. The education categories are shown in Table 3-7.

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 2015 across years 1 through 12 was 88 per cent. This figure is still below the non-Indigenous attendance rate of 91.5 percent.

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 3-8.

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

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

Housing Tenure

The 2013 ABS QuickStats (June 2016) report showed that there were 1,722 private dwellings, out of a total of 2,291 dwellings. Of those private dwellings, 1,718 had tenure arrangements, as shown in Table 3-9.

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 1,498
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 3-9 indicate a decrease in the number of houses owned in the region between 2006 and 2011. This may have been representative of the decrease in population in the region, reported in Table 3-3. There was a 21.6 per cent increase in the number of properties under mortgage between 2006 and 2011, with all but one property being in Torres Strait communities. The lack of freehold land and long tenure leasehold land in the region remains a barrier to increased home ownership.

Health

A synthesis of data from the ABS and the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey shows that in 2015-2016:

  • Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people were more than three times as likely as non-Indigenous people to have diabetes.
  • Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people were twice as likely as non-Indigenous people to have signs of chronic kidney disease.
  • Obesity rates for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal females and males were higher than the comparable rates for non-Indigenous people in 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 males between the ages of 35 and 44 was over four times higher than rates for non-Indigenous males. The mortality rate for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal females between the ages of 25-29 and 35-39 years was five times higher than the rate for non-Indigenous females.

a photograph of TSRA Staff And Community Stakeholders At The Environmental Management Strategy Workshop

TSRA STAFF AND COMMUNITY STAKEHOLDERS AT THE ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT STRATEGY WORKSHOP.