The TSRA was established on 1 July 1994 under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act 1989 (Cth), and is currently enabled by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2005 (Cth).
The TSRA is a corporate Commonwealth entity under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (Cth), and falls under the legislative requirements of that Act in its use and management of public resources. The Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (Cth) requires the TSRA to develop a corporate plan each year, outlining its operations. A copy of the TSRA Corporate Plan 2016-2017 can be accessed on the TSRA website (www.tsra.gov.au/the-tsra/corporate-information).
The TSRA is the leading Commonwealth representative body for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people living in the Torres Strait, including two communities (Bamaga and Seisia) in the Northern Peninsula Area. The TSRA comprises 20 elected representatives (the Board) and Australian Public Service administrative staff. The elected representatives are Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people who live and work in the region. The TSRA Board elects a Chairperson, a Deputy Chairperson and an Alternate Deputy Chairperson. A Chief Executive Officer is responsible for the TSRA’s administration and staffing.
The TSRA performs separate functions under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) as the Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) for the Torres Strait region. In 2016, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs renewed the TSRA’s NTRB status until 30 June 2018.
Under section 142D of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2005 (Cth) the TSRA is required to formulate and implement a plan to guide the progress of the Torres Strait region. This document, known as the Torres Strait Development Plan, is updated every four years, a period consistent with the term of the TSRA Board.
The Torres Strait Development Plan 2014-2018 is the fifth development plan since the establishment of the TSRA. The plan outlines eight TSRA programme components: Economic Development; Fisheries; Culture, Art and Heritage; Native Title; Environmental Management; Governance and Leadership; Healthy Communities; and Safe Communities.
The TSRA’s enabling legislation is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2005 (Cth). Part 3A, Division 1, section 142 of the Act states:
(1) A Torres Strait Regional Authority is established.
(2) The TSRA:
(a) is a body corporate, with perpetual succession; and
(b) is to have a common seal; and
(c) may acquire, hold and dispose of real and personal property; and
(d) may sue and be sued in its corporate name.
The functions of the TSRA, as outlined in Section 142A of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2005 (Cth), are:
(a) to recognise and maintain the special and unique Ailan Kastom of Torres Strait Islanders living in the Torres Strait area;
(b) to formulate and implement programmes for Torres Strait Islanders, and Aboriginal persons, living in the Torres Strait area;
(c) to monitor the effectiveness of programmes for Torres Strait Islanders, and Aboriginal persons, living in the Torres Strait area, including programmes conducted by other bodies;
(d) to develop policy proposals to meet national, State and regional needs and priorities of Torres Strait Islanders, and Aboriginal persons, living in the Torres Strait area;
(e) to assist, advise and co-operate with Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal communities, organisations and individuals at national, State, Territory and regional levels;
(f) to advise the Minister on:
(i) matters relating to Torres Strait Islander affairs, and Aboriginal affairs, in the Torres Strait area, including the administration of legislation;
(ii) the co-ordination of the activities of other Commonwealth bodies that affect Torres Strait Islanders, or Aboriginal persons, living in the Torres Strait area;
(g) when requested by the Minister, to provide information or advice to the Minister on any matter specified by the Minister;
(h) to take such reasonable action as it considers necessary to protect Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal cultural material and information relating to the Torres Strait area if the material or information is considered sacred or otherwise significant by Torres Strait Islanders or Aboriginal persons;
(i) at the request of, or with the agreement of, the Australian Bureau of Statistics but not otherwise, to collect and publish statistical information relating to Torres Strait Islanders, and Aboriginal persons, living in the Torres Strait area;
(j) such other functions as are conferred on the TSRA by this Act or any other Act;
(k) such other functions as are expressly conferred on the TSRA by a law of a State or of an internal Territory and in respect of which there is in force written approval by the Minister under Section 142B;
(l) to undertake such research as is necessary to enable the TSRA to perform any of its other functions; and
(m) to do anything else that is incidental or conducive to the performance of any of the preceding functions.
The powers of the TSRA are outlined in section 142C of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2005 (Cth), which states:
(1) The TSRA has power to do all things that are necessary or convenient to be done for or in connection with the performance of its functions.
(2) The powers of the TSRA include, but are not limited to, the following powers:
(a) to accept gifts, grants, bequests and devises made to it;
(b) to act as trustee of money and other property vested in it on trust;
(c) to negotiate and co-operate with other Commonwealth bodies and with State, Territory and local government bodies;
(d) to enter into an agreement for making a grant or loan under section 142GA to the State of Queensland or an authority of that State (including a local government body);
(e) to enter into an agreement (other than an agreement referred to in paragraph (d)) with a State or a Territory.
(3) Despite anything in this Act, any money or other property held by the TSRA on trust must be dealt with in accordance with the powers and duties of the TSRA as trustee.
(4) The powers of the TSRA may be exercised in or out of Australia.
During 2016-2017 the TSRA was a corporate Commonwealth entity within the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio. The responsible Minister for the TSRA was the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator the Hon. Nigel Scullion.
Under section 142E of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2005 (Cth), the Minister has powers of direction in relation to the TSRA. Section 142E of the Act states:
(1) The TSRA must perform its functions and exercise its powers in accordance with any general written directions given to it by the Minister.
(2) The Minister must not give directions about the content of any advice, information or recommendation that may be given by the TSRA to a Minister, Department of State or authority of the Commonwealth.
(3) The Minister must not give directions about the content of any advice, information or recommendation that may be given by the TSRA to:
(a) a Minister of a State or Territory; or
(b) a Department of a State or Territory; or
(c) an authority of a State or Territory;
except for the purpose of protecting the confidentiality of information given to the TSRA by the Commonwealth or an authority of the Commonwealth.
(4) Subject to subsection (5), the Minister must cause a copy of a direction to be laid before each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after that direction was given.
(5) The rule in subsection (4) does not apply if the laying of a copy of a direction before each House of the Parliament would result in the disclosure of a matter in a manner that would be inconsistent with the views or sensitivities of Torres Strait Islanders or Aboriginal persons.
The TSRA did not receive any formal directions from the Minister during the reporting period.
In 2016, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs provided a Statement of Expectations to the TSRA concerning the operation and performance of the TSRA. In response, the TSRA provided a Statement of Intent to the Minister.
Under section 144 L(a) of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2005 (Cth), the Minister appointed Mr John Ramsay as the Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Torres Strait Regional Authority for the period from 27 June to 5 July 2016 and the period from 9 January to 25 January 2017.
Throughout the reporting period the TSRA provided ministerial minutes and briefings to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, including quarterly reports detailing the TSRA’s operations and service delivery.