TSRA Annual Report 2013 - 2014

a photograph of TSRA Annual report 2013-2014

a photograph of Saam Karem Beizam Dancers

Saam Karem Beizam Dancers, Gab Titui Cultural Centre 10th Anniversary.

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 tabled in Parliament in October 2014 and we offer our apologies for any distress caused if this occurs.

ISSN 1324–163X


Empowering our people, in our decision, in our culture, for our future

Kala Lagau Ya

Ngalpun yangu kaaba woeydhay, a ngalpun muruygaw danalagan mabaygal kunakan palayk, bathayngaka

Meriam Mir

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.

Torres Strait Region

a map of the Torres Strait Region

Highlights and Achievements

Celebrating 20 Years

In 2014 the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) celebrates 20 years of serving Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people throughout the Torres Strait and in the Northern Peninsula Area communities of Bamaga and Seisia. The TSRA has delivered significant improvements in health and community infrastructure through four Major Infrastructure Programme (MIP) projects, and has been successful in securing funding to continue with a fifth phase of the programme with MIP 5. The MIP has provided critical infrastructure such as clean drinking water, sewerage services, stormwater drainage and road sealing to communities across the region, improving the health and lives of all residents.

Over the years the TSRA has participated in education, environmental, art and culture, regional autonomy, cross-border health, fisheries and native title forums ensuring that Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people in the region have a voice in policy setting, strategic planning and service delivery.

The TSRA governance model, with 20 elected representatives from all communities in the region and an Australian Public Service administration, is unique and recognises the region's Ailan Kastom (island custom) and Aboriginal lore.

The 2013 - 2014 Annual Report is the 20th annual report the TSRA has submitted to Parliament. This report builds upon past achievements and outlines the TSRA's contribution this year in Closing the Gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous disadvantage.

The MIP has provided critical infrastructure such as clean drinking water, sewerage services, stormwater drainage and road sealing.

Engaging with our Communities

There are 45 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people employed as trainees, rangers and senior rangers, with additional staff employed in administrative and management roles. Collectively, the Land and Sea Ranger Programme delivers natural and cultural resource activities across 14 communities on 13 islands across the Torres Strait.

A seven-month renovation of the Gab Titui Cultural Centre (GTCC) was completed in July 2013. The renovation incorporated air-conditioning throughout the gallery, purpose-built performance areas and improved access for disabled persons. The GTCC, which operates under the TSRA's Culture, Art and Heritage Programme, is the keeping place for significant cultural artefacts and the showcase for regional artists.

The seventh Gab Titui Indigenous Art Awards programme was held on 16 April 2014 to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the GTCC. The 2014 theme was Ailan Legends, inviting artists to create works that explore the mythology that has influenced Ailan life as well as 'living legends' and contemporary influences in the Torres Strait. The 2014 event received 45 entries from 13 communities.

a photograph of John Wigness observing nesting turtle, Dauar Island

John Wigness observing nesting turtle, Dauar Island. (Photo: Tristan Simpson)

The Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) project has been expanded to the near western cluster (Badu, Moa and Mabuiag Islands). TSRA staff and community members in these additional communities have been trained and are now actively recording information for uploading into the TEK database. TEK is managed through the TSRA's Culture, Art and Heritage, and Environmental Management Programmes.

The TSRA's Governance and Leadership Programme and the Native Title Programme have assisted 20 Prescribed Bodies Corporate in the region to maintain their compliance with the requirements of the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations. This is the third consecutive year that full compliance has been achieved. In June 2014 the region's 21st Prescribed Body Corporate was formed following the Regional Sea Claim Part A determination. The Malu Lamar Registered Native Title Body Corporate has responsibility for native title within the area of the Sea Claim Part A and will be included in 2014 - 2015 reporting.

Closing the Gap in Indigenous Disadvantage

The TSRA is the Remote Jobs and Communities Agreement Manager for the Torres Strait Islands Region. The TSRA supported the service provider to develop a regional workforce development strategy and community action plan for consideration by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs. These documents help to align activities and training conducted under the Remote Jobs and Communities Programme (RJCP) with priorities and employment opportunities in the region. This year 36 RJCP jobseekers were transitioned into permanent full-time employment positions and a further 69 commenced casual employment.

The TSRA initiated the Torres Strait Marine Pathways Project, a partnership with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and Maritime Safety Queensland, which enabled 77 participants to achieve nationally recognised Certificates in Maritime Operations. A further 41 participants obtained statements of attainment towards the completion of this certificate. These qualifications provide employment pathways for work in marine-based industries within the region and across Australia.

The sustainable horticulture project, which is operated by the TSRA's Environmental Management Programme, expanded from four communities in 2012 - 2013 to 13 communities in 2013 - 2014. The TSRA delivers a Horticulture in Schools Programme in collaboration with the Tagai State College. This project has supported the employment of an Environmental Education Coordinator based at Tagai College, with two campuses in the region receiving awards from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for their level of community engagement and produce from the gardens.

In 2013 the TSRA received an Excellence Award for Outstanding Partnership and Collaboration from the Australian Government Leadership Network (Queensland). The award was won by the TSRA's Governance and Leadership Programme for the work undertaken in implementing the Integrated Service Delivery (ISD) project for the region. The award recognises the outstanding performance and achievement by the ISD team in developing productive partnerships and collaboration that has helped solve a complex problem and provided substantial benefits and/or savings to a community, organisation or individual.

a photograph of Badu foreshore king tide inundation

Badu foreshore king tide inundation, 30 January 2014.

The TSRA, in partnership with Australian and Queensland Government agencies, and local government and non-government organisations in the region, is delivering against the service and infrastructure shortfalls identified in the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area Regional Plan (2009 - 2029) and ISD community booklets for each individual community. Community consultations undertaken in 2008 and 2009 identified 1,613 service gaps. Of these, 372 (23 per cent) were addressed in 2012, 656 (41 per cent) were in progress and 585 (36 per cent) had not yet commenced, are not currently feasible or are identified as being a community or other non-government responsibility. As at 30 June 2014 the status is 773 (48 per cent) have been addressed, 382 (24 per cent) are in progress and 309 (19 per cent) have not yet commenced. Some 149 (9 per cent) of the items identified by communities have been assessed as not feasible or are commercial or a non-government responsibility. Statistics for each of the Council of Australian Governments Building Blocks for Closing the Gap in disadvantage between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians are included in Section 3 of this report.

Promoting and Advocating Critical Issues for the Region

In October 2013, the TSRA won two of Australia's most prestigious environmental awards, including an award for an outstanding contribution to national sustainability. The Gold Banksia Award recognises the services the TSRA's Environmental Management Programme has performed on behalf of Torres Strait Islander people, the Queensland and Australian Governments, and the nation as a whole, to develop and implement culturally appropriate and sustainable land and sea management practices in the region.

Maritime safety in the region was enhanced through a collaborative venture between the TSRA and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). The TSRA and AIMS staff installed a real-time weather station at Masig (Yorke Island) and assisted with the maintenance of existing stations at Madge Reef (Thursday Island) and Poruma Island. The TSRA also installed tide gauges at Boigu, Iama, Kubin and Ugar. These gauges add to the regional network which monitors tidal dynamics across the Torres Strait and improves the accuracy of mean sea level datum values. These projects provide the TSRA, communities and mariners with regular real-time weather and environmental reports.

The Torres Strait Development Plan (2009 - 201 3) concluded on 30 June 2014. Section 2 of this report documents specific achievements against that plan. In 2013 - 2014 the TSRA Board approved the Torres Strait Development Plan (2014 - 2018) to take effect from 1 July 2014. This development plan has been mapped to the Australian Government Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) programme streams. The mapping shows a high degree of correlation between the TSRA's programme outcomes and the IAS.

The TSRA Chairperson, supported by the Portfolio Members and other Board Members, participated in 29 meetings with Government Ministers and senior departmental officials. These meetings help ensure that matters of relevance and importance to Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people in the region are being taken into account for new policies and service delivery. A number of these meetings are described in Section 1 of this report in the Chairperson's Message.

The TSRA in its role as the Native Title Representative Body for the region has, through the Native Title Office, provided support to the Kulkalgal people to lodge a native title determination application for Zuizin (Half-way Island) in the Torres Strait. On 19 June 2014, at a special sitting of the Federal Court of Australia on Thursday Island, Justice Andrew Greenwood made a consent determination of exclusive native title under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) over Zuizin and appointed the Kulkalgal Registered Native Title Body Corporate to hold the native title rights and interests in trust on behalf of the Kulkalgal people.

a photograph of cases of tropical rock lobsters

Tropical rock lobster processing on Badu.

Opportunities and Challenges


To explore alternate energy sources to facilitate regional sustainability

With the exception of a small (1,600 MWh) wind turbine installation on Thursday Island, all power generation in Torres Strait communities is from diesel generators reliant on fuel transported by barge from Cairns. Given rising fuel costs, and suitable conditions for wind, solar and tidal energy generation in the region, there are opportunities for research and investment into alternative energy sources to reduce future generation costs and meet community energy needs and aspirations.

To increase economic security

After 10 years of legal proceedings the High Court handed down its decision on the Regional Sea Claim Part A in August 2013. This was a significant victory for the original claimants, the people of the Torres Strait and the future application of native title Australia wide. This was the first claim of its type in Australian waters and the decision means the people of the Torres Strait have now secured the right to control and use their own land and sea resources. The right of Torres Strait Islanders to use marine resources for commercial purposes provides an important foundation for the future economic security of the Torres Strait community.

To improve the outlook for Torres Strait fisheries

The 23rd meeting of the Protected Zone Joint Authority (PZJA) was held on Thursday Island over 8-9 April 2014 to discuss the management of fisheries resources in the Torres Strait.

A stakeholder meeting held on 8 April was attended by PZJA members; TSRA Chairperson, Mr Joseph Elu; Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture; Dr John McVeigh MP, the Queensland Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; and Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion, Minister for Indigenous Affairs. Facilitated by the TSRA Fisheries Portfolio Member, Mr Kenny Bedford, the meeting provided an opportunity for stakeholders to ask questions of the PZJA and Minister Scullion. The meeting focused on the native title implications of the High Court sea claim decision, the 100 per cent ownership aspirations of Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people living in the Torres Strait, and traditional fishing rights.

The official PZJA meeting was held on the morning of 9 April 2014. Observers to the meeting included Minister Scullion and delegates from Papua New Guinea. Ownership and native title were at the fore of discussions, with the PZJA recognising and supporting the 100 per cent ownership aspirations and a commitment to work with all stakeholders to develop a pathway towards this while also recognising the rights of non-traditional fishers. The PZJA agreed that the TSRA would lead consultation with communities on a draft roadmap towards achieving 100 per cent ownership of Torres Strait commercial fisheries.

The right of Torres Strait Islanders to use marine resources for commercial purposes provides an important foundation for the future economic security of the Torres Strait community.

To improve communication within and between communities

The Torres Strait Islanders Media Association (TSIMA) and the Torres Strait Island Regional Council have drafted a contract to transition the management of the region's 14 Remote Indigenous Broadcasting Service (RIBS) stations to TSIMA. While there are some native title and leasing impediments to be overcome, plans to revitalise the RIBS network are progressing.

To improve telecommunication services throughout the region

The fibre-optic link to the Torres Strait terminates at Bamaga. All telecommunications (voice and data) to and within the region are by microwave link and satellite. While the main administrative centres of Thursday Island and Horn Island generally have services which meet current demand, there are 15 other island communities that have limited coverage. Six of those communities have very poor coverage for digital data communications. The TSRA has engaged Telstra to conduct a study into extending the fibre-optic link to the region (Thursday Island) and increasing the capacity of inter-island microwave links to facilitate reliable 3G coverage in all communities. The cost of this upgrade is expected to require a whole-of-government(s) response to implement.

a photograph of a Green Turtle hatchling

Green Turtle hatchling. (Photo: Tristan Simpson)


Land tenure

The security of land tenure for investment is the most significant challenge to growth in the region. The region has a combination of freehold, Torres Strait freehold, native title, Deed of Grant in Trust (DOGIT), and Katter leases. Businesses and some individuals hold leases which may be registered or unregistered, under a range of statutes. Few businesses or individuals in Torres Strait DOGIT or Reserve communities are able to use land as security for borrowing. The lack of tenure and its impact on access to loan funds impacts economic growth. The simplification of land tenure regimes would on its own increase opportunities for private investment.

The consistent supply of potable water remains an issue for many Torres Strait communities, several of which still rely on desalination equipment and live with supply restrictions.


The joint Australian Government and Queensland Government Major Infrastructure Programme (currently MIP 5) has funded critical infrastructure for water, sewerage and roads in Torres Strait communities. The consistent supply of potable water remains an issue for many Torres Strait communities, several of which still rely on desalination equipment and live with supply restrictions. The region currently does not have the water resources to support a significant population increase or to establish industries which are dependent on potable grade water. This restriction also applies to crops and other plant agriculture.

Air travel costs

The cost of travel to the region is an impediment to the growth of tourism as an industry. While the Queensland Government has recently announced that the Cairns – Horn Island airline route will be deregulated in 2015, the cost of travel to the region and within the region is still high.

Freight and road infrastructure

All freight into the Torres Strait arrives by either sea or air from Cairns. The road north of Cooktown (to Bamaga and Seisia) cannot be used a freight corridor. An all-weather road link between Cairns and the Cape would provide an alternative freight route and open the region for tourism and investment. There are plans to seal the Peninsula Development Road from Laura to Weipa but no plans as yet to seal the road from Weipa to the Northern Peninsula Area.

Adaptation to rising sea levels and temperature change

Global average temperatures are forecast to rise by as much as 3oC by 2070, with significant multi-level threats to Torres Strait communities and environments. If the region is to prepare for sea level change impacts, it will need to establish a clear process to develop and implement appropriate adaptation measures regionally and at community level.

a photograph of Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion holding a tropical rock lobster

Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion with tropical rock lobster, Badu Beach.