I am pleased to present the Torres Strait Regional Authority's 20th Annual Report, highlighting our progress and achievements in 2013 - 2014.
20 Years of Regional Governance
On 1 July 2014 we marked the 20th anniversary of the formation of the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA). This milestone offers an opportunity to reflect on the significant progress that has been made in the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area region, particularly the quality of life improvements achieved through the last four Major Infrastructure Programmes (MIP 1 to 4). Most communities in the region now have access to reticulated water and sewerage, sealed or paved roads and storm water drainage systems. Health clinics and primary schools are located in all communities and high schools can be accessed on Thursday Island and on mainland Australia through boarding arrangements. Early childcare and preschool facilities are not yet widespread and remain an area of focus for government. Native title determinations are almost complete, with only three claims to be finalised. Twenty one Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBCs) have been established, enabling communities to have a real say in the management of their lands. While there is still a lot to be done, the TSRA is proud of the role it has played in giving a voice to the Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people in the governance of their region over the past 20 years.
The Chief Executive Officer and I continued our programme of community visits to ensure that communities are kept informed of the TSRA's initiatives and, most importantly, to consult with and listen to community views. Our schedule this year included visits to the Erub, Badu, Ugar, Warraber, Boigu, Kubin, St Pauls and Poruma communities. During these visits, the TSRA provided information about the work and projects being undertaken by all of the TSRA programmes. The TSRA met with community organisations, groups and individuals to provide information and answer questions. The TSRA has continued to foster an integrated approach to community engagement, with invitations being extended to other Australian Government agencies operating in the region as well as the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Multicultural Affairs to participate in the community information sessions. The elected Divisional Councillors from the Torres Strait Island Regional Council and PBCs also play an important role in supporting and participating in these visits. The TSRA looks forward to continuing this partnership when we visit our communities in the future. The TSRA is also using the visits as an opportunity for communities to provide feedback on the progress being made with the delivery of services and infrastructure gaps which are identified in the Torres Strait and Nor thern Peninsula Area Regional Plan (2009 - 2029) Integrated Service Delivery community booklets. The TSRA has developed individual place-based booklets for each community which can be used as a 'report card' on progress by communities.
Thirteenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
In May 2013, the TSRA was invited to attend the Thirteenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The TSRA delivered an intervention on the practical application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the TSRA in our strategic planning process, and in the design of our service delivery model. The TSRA has completed mapping of all of its programme outcomes to the articles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The mapping is included as an appendix to the Torres Strait Development Plan (2014 - 2018).
Torres Strait Development Plan (2014 - 2018)
The Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area Regional Plan (2009 - 2029) continues to be the relevant source of community issues and aspirations for service delivery planning. The TSRA in consultation with the Minister for Indigenous Affairs has developed the Torres Strait Development Plan (2014 - 2018). This plan is based on an eight programme structure covering Economic Development; Healthy Communities; Safe Communities; Native Title; Environmental Management; Culture, Art and Heritage; Fisheries and Governance and Leadership. The programme outcomes in the Torres Strait Development Plan (2014 - 2018) have been mapped to the five programmes in the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and there is a good level of alignment. The Torres Strait Development Plan (2014 - 2018) comes into effect from 1 July 2014 and will be further developed to fully align with the Australian Government's Indigenous Advancement Strategy.
The TSRA is cognisant of wider political aspirations in the region for greater autonomy. The TSRA participated in a meeting of regional leaders in May 2014 at which a blueprint for achieving greater autonomy for the region was discussed. The findings from that meeting were presented to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs in Canberra on 19 June 2014. The TSRA continues to advocate for increased employment and economic growth as being the necessary precursors to support a change in regional governance. There is no one agreed model for a future model of governance for the region and consultation with regional leaders and community members will continue throughout 2014 - 2015.
Badu Island DOGIT Handover
In February 2014, the Badu community celebrated the transfer of the Deed of Grant in Trust (DOGIT) lands from the Queensland Government to the Mura Badulgal (Torres Strait Islanders) Corporation Registered Native Title Body Corporate. On behalf of the TSRA Board, I extend the TSRA's congratulations to the Badu community. There are a further 12 communities in the Torres Strait that are eligible to apply for the transfer of DOGIT when it is appropriate for them to do so.
Zuizin Native Title Determination
The determination of native title for Zuizin Island (an uninhabited island proximate to Masig Island) was made on 19 June 2014. The TSRA performs the Native Title Representative Body function for the Torres Strait and has been working with the Kulkalgal Prescribed Body Corporate for many years to achieve a successful determination on behalf of the people of the Masig, Warraber and Poruma communities.
Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority Forums
In April 2014 the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority (PZJA) met with the TSRA Board and representatives of local fisheries associations on Thursday Island. Following the meeting with fisher representatives, I hosted the formal PZJA meeting with the Chair of the PZJA, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck, and the Queensland Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Hon Dr John McVeigh MP. The Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion, was also present at the meeting. Observers at the meeting included delegates from the TSRA, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and the Papua New Guinea Government. This PZJA meeting was the first to be held in the region for many years. I look forward to hosting PZJA meetings in the region on a more regular basis.
Official events and visits
During 2013 - 2014 there were a number of visits to the Torres Strait region by both Australian and State Government Ministers. The TSRA also met with Ministers in Brisbane and Canberra to progress matters for the Torres Strait region.
On 23 July 2013, the TSRA welcomed Senator for the Northern Territory the Hon Nigel Scullion, Member for Leichhardt the Hon Warren Entsch MP, and Queensland Member for Cook Mr David Kempton MP, to the re-opening of the Gab Titui Cultural Centre.
The Hon Dame Quentin Bryce, the then Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, also visited the Torres Strait region on 30 - 31 July 2013 to meet and engage with Torres Strait communities. During her visit to the region, she met with representatives of the Australian Government, the Queensland State Government and local governments and visited the Warraber, Mer and Badu Island communities.
As part of a visit to Canberra, on 12 February 2014, I attended the launch of the 2014 Closing the Gap Report by the Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP.
During April 2014, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs visited Thursday and Badu Islands. Whilst in the region, the Minister attended fisheries meetings, including the PZJA Stakeholder Forum on 8 April 2014, followed by the PZJA meeting with the Australian Government Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture and the Queensland Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
The Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia, chaired by the Hon Warren Entsch MP, held public hearings on Thursday Island on 30 April 2014. This Parliamentary Committee has been tasked to consider policies for developing the parts of Australia that lie north of the Tropic of Capricorn. In June 2014, the TSRA Deputy Chairperson, Mr Aven Noah, the Member for Warraber, Mr Willie Liu, and I attended the Northern Development Summit.
The TSRA attended the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee Estimates Hearings on 22 November 2013 and 30 May 2014.
Statement of Expectations and Statement of Intent
In May 2014 the TSRA received the Statement of Expectations from the Minister for Indigenous Affairs. The TSRA has responded to the Minister with a Statement of Intent outlining the TSRA's commitment to addressing the Australian Government's priorities under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy which include:
- implementing the Australian Government's school attendance strategy
- responding positively to initiatives of the Australian Government to improve Indigenous employment measures
- supporting a significant increase in home ownership on the Torres Strait Islands, particularly by the sale of existing public housing to good renters
- facilitating economic development by identifying and promoting sustainable projects that use the natural resources of the Torres Strait to the benefit of locals
- working with the Australian Government to take all available measures to reduce overheads and operating costs including those of its Board
- keeping the Minister informed regularly of its operations and expenditure, including by providing quarterly reports and agreeing to performance indicators against which its progress will be measured
- this includes progress in implementing the Torres Strait Development Plan (2014 - 2018) and other plans agreed with local and state governments
- as required, providing the Minister with timely advice of emerging issues and possible risks to the performance of the TSRA and the delivery of its objectives
- within the existing scope and functions of the TSRA, engage with the Australian Government as appropriate to highlight the Torres Strait aspirations for greater autonomy in the future.
I look forward to continuing our close working relationships with all levels of government, our TSRA Members and the Administration over the next year to continue to work and build partnerships with our communities so that challenges are addressed and benefits are delivered for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people in the region.
Joseph Elu Chairperson