The Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) recognises the Traditional Owners of the land on which we operate. We acknowledge the past and present elders of all Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people in the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area and respect the culture and lore of all Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people in the region.
The TSRA will always make every effort to respect Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people's cultural sensitivities when featuring the images or names of people who have recently died. However, please be advised that this document may contain images of persons who have died after this Annual Report was prepared for tabling in Parliament in October 2017 and we offer our apologies for any distress caused if this occurs.
© Commonwealth of Australia, 2017
The Torres Strait Regional Authority has made all reasonable effort to:
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With the exception of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms and where otherwise noted, all material presented in this report is provided under a creative commons licence. Details of the licence can be found on the Creative Commons Australia website at
This document must be attributed as the Torres Strait Regional Authority Annual Report 2016-2017.
The TSRAs contact officer for the 2016-2017 Annual Report is Ms Yoshiko Hirakawa, Acting Programme Manager Governance and Leadership. Telephone (07) 4069 0700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The TSRA Annual Report 2016-2017 is published on the TSRA website at www.tsra.gov.au in the following formats:
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EMPOWERING OUR PEOPLE, IN OUR DECISION, IN OUR CULTURE, FOR OUR FUTURE
KALA LAGAU YA
Ngalpun yagna kaaba woeydhay, a ngalpun muruygaw danalagan mabaygal kunakan palayk, bathayngaka
Buaigiz kelar obaiswerare, merbi mir apuge mena obakedi, muige merbi areribi tonarge, ko merbi keub kerkerem
KALA KAWAU YA
Ngalpan moebaygal thoepoeriwoeyamoeyn, ngalpan ya kuduthoeraynu, ngalpan igililmaypa, sepa setha wara goeygil sey boey wagel
The Indigenous people of the Torres Strait are of Aboriginal and Melanesian origin and speak two distinct traditional languages. In the Eastern Islands the traditional language is Meriam Mir, while the Western and Central Island groups speak either Kala Lagau Ya or Kala Kawau Ya, which are dialects of the same language. Torres Strait Creole and English are also spoken.
Our vision is expressed in the languages of our region, recognising the importance and diversity of our culture and traditional languages.
Our vision signifies that the heart of our region is our people, with culture an important part of our lives now and into the future. Empowering our people to contribute to and make decisions regarding their future ensures that our culture will remain strong and that the future will be guided by the people who live in the region and understand and promote its unique characteristics.
HIGHLIGHTS AND ACHIEVEMENTS
TSRA BOARD ELECTIONS
The TSRA Board elections were conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission in July 2016. Of the 20 TSRA wards, six were uncontested and polling was conducted only in the remaining 14 wards. Three of the 20 members elected are women, and seven are serving their first term on the TSRA Board. A highlight of the TSRA election was the participation of Papua New Guinea (PNG) electoral officials as observers to see how the election was conducted and the logistics involved in successfully running an election in a remote area. They were able to draw on this experience when they conducted the PNG general elections in July 2017. Following the election and declaration of successful candidates, the TSRA conducted an intensive four-day Board induction programme where members familiarised themselves with the role of the Board and the TSRAs programmes and legislative requirements.
PROMOTING AND ADVOCATING CRITICAL ISSUES FOR THE REGION
At the first meeting of the new Board, the new TSRA Chairperson welcomed the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator the Hon. Nigel Scullion, and discussed key regional issues with him. Since that meeting, Minister Scullion has made several visits to the region and the Board is working with him to progress regional issues and challenges. In addition to the Minister's visits, there were also high level meetings and deputations with various Australian and Queensland government ministers and heads of departments and with local mayors to discuss and work on important issues. More details on the number of high level meetings can be found in Section 2 of this report.
MINISTER SCULLION HAS MADE SEVERAL VISITS TO THE REGION AND THE BOARD IS WORKING WITH HIM TO PROGRESS REGIONAL ISSUES AND CHALLENGES.
TSRA REGIONAL GOVERNANCE COMMITTEE
One of the priority areas identified by the TSRA Board is working towards achieving regional governance arrangements for the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area. This has long been an aspiration of the region and its leadership and the Board recognises the need to develop an appropriate model that meets the needs of the region and its people. To progress regional governance, the Board has established a TSRA Regional Governance Committee made up of previous TSRA chairpersons on the current TSRA Board, including the Member for TRAWQ, the Member for Seisia, the Member for Port Kennedy (who is the current TSRA Chairperson) and the Member for lama. The Committee is chaired by the Member for lama.
MABO DAY SYMPOSIUM AND 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF HIGH COURT MABO DECISION
The Mer community celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Mabo decision on 3 June 2017. To commemorate this significant occasion Mer Gedkem Le (Torres Strait Islanders) Corporation, Gur A Baradharaw Kod Torres Strait Sea and Land Council and the TSRA (via its Native Title Office) co-convened the 25th Anniversary Mabo Day Symposium on Friday, 2 June 2017 on Mer (Murray Island). The 25th Anniversary Mabo Day Symposium was an opportunity for participants to reflect on the struggles of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal peoples. Prominent legal professionals who have influenced the Native Title decision also participated in the symposium.
NORTHERN TERRITORY GOVERNMENT VISIT
A ministerial party from the Northern Territory Government visited the TSRA to obtain information on the TSRA operations as the peak Indigenous Commonwealth body for the Torres Strait. The ministerial party included Mr Chanston Paech, Assistant Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ms Selena Uibo, Assistant Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Lawrence Costa, Assistant Minister for Remote Health Delivery and Homelands, Mr Peter Wellings, Policy Adviser, Office of the Chief Minister, Mr Andrew (Andy) Cowan, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Department of the Chief Minister, Ms Bridgette Bellenger, Regional
Network Leader, Department of the Chief Minister and Ms Mischa Cartwright, Executive Director, Office of Aboriginal Affairs. The ministerial party was impressed with the TSRAs structure and the way in which the TSRA's elected representatives set the strategic direction for the TSRA's programmes, which is then implemented by the TSRAs administration. The visit was an indication of the interest shown by other Indigenous regions of Australia in the TSRA model.
THE MINISTERIAL PARTY WAS IMPRESSED WITH THETSRA'S STRUCTURE ANDTHEWAY IN WHICH THETSRA'S ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES SET THE STRATEGIC DIRECTION FOR THETSRA'S PROGRAMMES.
UNITED NATIONS SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
The TSRA welcomed the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Ms Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, to the region in March 2017. Ms Tauli-Corpuz visited the region as part of her fact-finding mission on the status of the human rights of Indigenous peoples in specific countries. The TSRA met with the Special Rapporteur and provided an update on the TSRA's operations, including its delivery of programmes to address Indigenous disadvantage. The Special Rapporteur's role is to identify and report on cases of alleged violations of the rights of Indigenous people and work with respective governments to address any violations that have been identified. Ms Tauli-Corpuz was impressed with the TSRA's work; in particular, with the TSRA's Torres Strait Development Plan, which is aligned with the articles under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
FISHERIES - TOWARDS 100 PER CENT OWNERSHIP
The TSRA continued to work with key regional stakeholders and Traditional Inhabitants to progress 100 per cent ownership of the region's fisheries for Traditional Inhabitants. Both the finfish and bêche-de-mer fisheries are already 100 per cent owned by Traditional Inhabitants, and in this reporting period, the TSRA purchased an additional two commercial tropical rock lobster licences, increasing the Traditional Inhabitant ownership to 62.54 per cent. The TSRA will continue to work with industry stakeholders and Traditional Inhabitants to increase their ownership of the region's fisheries to 100 per cent.
REFERENDUM COUNCIL DIALOGUE AND ULURU STATEMENT
The First Nations Regional Dialogue, hosted by the Referendum Council, was held on Thursday Island in May 2017. Topics discussed included the history of advocacy for reform; options for constitutional reform, next steps; and selection of delegates from the Torres Strait region for the First Nations National Constitutional Convention in Uluru. The priorities from each of the First Nations dialogues conducted across Australia were reported to the convention at Uluru on 24-26 May 2017. At the convention, delegates adopted the 'Uluru Statement' which called for the establishment of a First Nations Voice to be enshrined in the Constitution and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations that includes truth-telling about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's history.
The Saibai seawall project was completed in 2016-2017 and opened by the Member for Leichhardt, the Hon. Warren Entsch, and the Queensland Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, the Hon. Mark Furner. The TSRA Chairperson and the Mayor of the Torres Strait Island Regional Council joined Mr Entsch and Mr Furner for the opening. The people of Saibai have been lobbying for many years for adequate protection from sea level rise and coastal inundation and the new seawall represents a major achievement for the people of Saibai and the local leaders who worked tirelessly to secure Australian and Queensland government commitment for the project. The seawall is forecast to protect Saibai from inundation for 50 years.
THE PEOPLE OF SAIBAI HAVE BEEN LOBBYING FOR MANY YEARS FOR ADEQUATE PROTECTION FROM SEA LEVEL RISE AND COASTAL INUNDATION AND THE NEW SEAWALL REPRESENTS A MAJOR ACHIEVEMENT FOR THE PEOPLE OF SAIBAI AND THE LOCAL LEADERS.
TORRES STRAIT LANGUAGE SYMPOSIUM
The second Torres Strait Language Symposium was held at the Gab Titui Cultural Centre on Thursday Island. The theme for the symposium was Keriba mirgiz ermeuku/Ngalpun ney koey mapulnga 'Our Languages Matter'. This event was hosted by the TSRA in partnership with Tagai State College and brought together key stakeholders from across the Torres Strait region to build on the outcomes from the first symposium.
One of the outcomes of the inaugural language symposium was the development of a language plan, and delegates at the second symposium worked on how the objectives identified in the language plan could be achieved.
TORRES STRAIT TREATY CYCLE MEETINGS
The bilaterial Torres Strait Treaty Cycle Meetings were hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Thursday Island in November 2016. The treaty meetings between Australia and PNG are attended by Australian and PNG representatives, including Traditional Inhabitants of the Torres Strait and the Western Province of PNG. The series of meetings include the Traditional Inhabitants Meeting and the Joint Advisory Council. Key bilateral meetings were also held as part of the Torres Strait Treaty Cycle Meetings - these include the Fisheries Bilateral, the Environmental Management Committee and the Health Issues Committee. The treaty meetings are vital to ensure open dialogue and agreement between Australia and PNG on a wide range of cross-border matters affecting the Torres Strait region.
REGIONAL ECONOMIC INVESTMENT STRATEGY
The TSRA successfully rolled out phase one of the Regional Economic Investment Strategy (REIS), which was specifically aimed at fisheries. The fisheries growth packages provide a combination of low interest business loans, professional business support and grant funding for eligible applicants. Four Fisheries Business Growth Package applications were received in the reporting period. The second phase of the REIS will target arts, crafts and creative industries and this will be implemented in the 2017-2018 financial year.
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
Improving Telecommunication Services in the Torres Strait
The TSRA engaged at the Commonwealth, state and local government levels to raise the required capital for a proposed telecommunications network infrastructure upgrade. The TSRA and Telstra finalised an $8.26 million agreement to commence works on the first stage of the $22.76 million Torres Strait network infrastructure upgrade project. The project is the first phase of a long-term commitment by the TSRA, Telstra, the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, the Torres Strait Island Regional Council and the Queensland State Government, to expand high-speed fixed and mobile communications infrastructure to the Torres Strait.
Significant Events Funding Stream
In 2016-2017, the TSRA trialled a new funding stream that specifically targets significant regional events. The significant events funding stream was included as an additional stream in the TSRA common funding round to increase available funding opportunities for organisations and community groups hosting significant regional events. Each year significant events are celebrated throughout the region and a major challenge for local community groups is securing adequate funding to successfully host those events. In 2016-2017, a number of major milestones were celebrated, including the 25th anniversary of the High Court Mabo decision, the 25th anniversary of the raising of the Torres Strait flag and the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum. The significant events funding stream will now be included in the TSRAs common funding round process.
Torres Strait Fisheries
The TSRA purchased two transferrable vessel holder tropical rock lobster licences in the reporting period, increasing the Traditional Inhabitant share of the fishery to 62.54 per cent. The TSRA continued to work closely with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the Traditional Inhabitant fishing sector to progress increased ownership of the tropical rock lobster fishery. The TSRA has also secured a funding commitment from the Australian Government to progress further licence purchases in 2017-2018. More information on the tropical rock lobster fishery can be found in Section 2 of this report.
TSRA Ranger Compliance Powers
TSRA rangers carry out various duties under the Working on Country initiative, including monitoring the traditional take of turtle and dugong in their individual communities. Community-based turtle and dugong management plans have been developed in 14 communities and one of the challenges around implementing the plans is that rangers do not have legislative compliance powers to issue permits or penalties. To address this, the TSRA has been working with key stakeholders such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to provide training in basic compliance. In 2016-2017,50 TSRA rangers undertook basic compliance training ('eyes and ears' training), with 40 progressing to the Certificate IV in Government Investigations. The TSRA will continue to work with key government and community stakeholders in 2017-2018 to further progress compliance powers for the rangers.
IN 2016-2017,50 TSRA RANGERS UNDERTOOK BASIC COMPLIANCE TRAINING (EYES AND EARS' TRAINING), WITH 40 PROGRESSING TO THE CERTIFICATE IV IN GOVERNMENT INVESTIGATIONS.
The geography of the Torres Strait area will always present a challenge for the delivery of services and infrastructure. With island communities spread across approximately 44,000 kilometres of sea, the costs of delivering services and infrastructure by air and sea are significantly higher than in most other parts of Australia. Those costs have a major impact on the implementation and timing of programmes, services and projects in the Torres Strait.
Land tenure arrangements in the Torres Strait are complex and present challenges for investment and growth in the region. The region has a combination of freehold, Torres Strait freehold, Native Title, Deeds of Grant in Trust, and Katter Leases. Some businesses and individuals hold leases under a range of legislative instruments. However, only a few businesses or individuals can utilise land as security for borrowing. Addressing the complex land tenure arrangements in the region will increase opportunities for economic growth.
High Cost of Air Travel and Freight
The high costs of air travel and transportation of freight in the Torres Strait continue to impact on economic growth, tourism and the delivery of programmes and services in the region. For example, the delivery of services to the outer Torres Strait islands may not be as timely or effective as in other Indigenous regions. Therefore, positive initiatives such as subsidised transportation and freight and airfare costs are required to mitigate those significant costs.
Telecommunications in the Torres Strait is both a challenge and an opportunity. As noted under Opportunities, the TSRA, in partnership with Telstra, is working on a staged project to address telecommunications and mobile network issues in the region. Until the project is completed, the region will continue to experience mobile network drop-offs, black spots and unreliable internet and mobile reception. For example, at present a number of outer Torres Strait island communities can only use landlines, which can sometimes be unreliable. Agencies like the TSRA are exploring alternative options such as the installation of repeaters and antennas for their staff and Board members based in affected communities.
Integrated Service Delivery
Since the local government and Queensland Government elections in 2016, there has been a change in personnel in the Integrated Service Delivery (ISD) governance framework. This has had an impact on ISD coordination, with operational activities limited to updating a small number of ISD community booklets. The TSRA will review and re-establish the ISD governance framework in 2017-2018 and update the remaining ISD community booklets as part of that process. A key challenge is securing a commitment from Commonwealth, state and local government departments operating in the region to treat ISD as core business.