TSRA Annual Report 2014 - 2015

a photograph of TSRA Annual report 2014-2015

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 2015 and we offer our apologies for any distress caused if this occurs.

ISSN 1324–163X

The TSRA’s contact officer for the 2014 - 2015 Annual Report is Mr John Ramsay, Programme Manager Governance and Leadership. Telephone (07) 4069 0700 or email info@tsra.gov.au.

The TSRA Annual Report 2014 - 2015 is published on the TSRA website at www.tsra.gov.au in the following formats:

  • Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML)
  • Adobe® Portable Document Format (PDF) ISO 32000-1:2008
  • ePub electronic publishing for eBook readers.


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

Figure P-1: Map of the Torres Strait Region

Highlights and Achievements

a photograph of Saibai wetlands

Saibai wetlands.

Fisheries – Towards 100 Per Cent Ownership

It has long been the aspirations of the Traditional Owners of the sea and land in the Torres Strait to achieve 100 per cent ownership of all fisheries in the region. The fisheries include finfish, tropical rock lobster, hand collectables and prawn. The TSRA is pleased to report that the bêche-de-mer fishery, which forms a significant and high value component of the hand collectables fishery, is now 100 per cent owned by Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people. This is the second fishery, after finfish, to be wholly owned. The TSRA’s Fisheries Programme will continue to work towards full ownership of the tropical rock lobster fishery (currently 56 per cent owned) and the prawn fishery, for which there is currently no ownership.

Addressing Gender Imbalance

The Torres Strait region lags significantly behind other Australian Indigenous regions in achieving balanced gender representation on elected bodies. A study by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies conducted in 2013 indicated a gender ratio of 80:20 (males to females) in the Torres Strait compared to a ratio of 50:50 in other regions. In 2014 - 2015 the TSRA partnered with the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation to design a leadership programme for the women of the Torres Strait. This programme focuses on developing the skills women need to represent their communities in public office. Four women completed the pilot course this year and ten places are being offered on the 2015 - 2016 course.

From Grant Dependency to Self-Reliance

Since native title was determined on 3 June 1992 for the Meriam people on Murray (Mer) Island, the number of determinations has increased to 22, with the determination for the Kulkalgal people on 20 June 2014. There are 21 Registered Native Title Bodies Corporate, also known as Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBCs) in the Torres Strait. The TSRA has been working with PBCs since their inception to develop their capacity to control their own affairs to manage native title and engage effectively with native title holders. Until this year all PBCs were reliant on the TSRA for funding to support their operations. In 2014 - 2015 the TSRA entered into agreements with the Mura Badulgal and Mer Gedkem Le PBCs, located on Badu and Mer Islands, to move away from reliance on grant funding to a fee-for-service model. This achievement is documented further in the Governance and Leadership Programme case study on page 78.

Caring For Our Country

The TSRA ranger programme has expanded to 45 rangers and six vessels across 14 communities. The sixth vessel was inaugurated on Erub (Darnley Island) in January 2015. The TSRA is funded by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to continue the ranger programme through to July 2018. The TSRA has engaged a dedicated compliance officer to raise awareness of the community-based management of marine turtle and dugong in the region. Rangers are actively involved in a range of land and sea care activities, including turtle tagging, seagrass monitoring, removal of ghost nets, feral animal control, weed control and protection from invasive species.

Introduction of the PGPA Act 2013

The TSRA has completed the conversion of its policies and procedures from the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 (CAC Act) to the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act) and PGPA Rule 2014. The TSRA engaged Effective Governance to provide PGPA training to the TSRA’s Board. The TSRA Board Charter has been rewritten to ensure that Board members have access to the latest governance policies. Training for TSRA staff is scheduled to be completed in July 2015.

a photograph of treaty awareness visit, Papua New Guinea

Treaty awareness visit, Papua New Guinea.

Mid-Term Performance Review

The TSRA Board Charter required the Board to undertake a mid-term performance review. The TSRA engaged MLCS Corporate to review all Board papers between 2012 and 2015 and to attend as observers at Board Meeting 93 in March 2015. Board members and senior TSRA staff were interviewed and a performance survey instrument was developed. As of 30 June 2015, the review was being finalised.

Pathways to Employment

The TSRA Economic Development Programme, in partnership with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Maritime Safety Queensland and the Australian Maritime College, is delivering the Torres Strait Maritime Pathways Project (TSMPP). The TSMPP has two key outcomes: providing accredited training in commercial fisheries and seafood handling (12 students); and providing accredited training for a Certificate II in Maritime Operations (55 students). In 2014 - 2015, 70 students attended TSMPP training-related activities, achieving a 100 per cent pass rate. Since commencing the TSMPP in 2013, 83 graduates have moved into full-time work in fisheries or maritime industries. The number of maritime safety incidents in Torres Strait waters has dropped from a high of 258 in 2007 to 118 in 2014. The TSMPP creates jobs and saves lives: it is a success story for the delivery agencies and the participants. This achievement is documented further in the Economic Development Programme case study on page 46.

A man in costume for the TSRA 20-year anniversary celebrations

TSRA 20-year anniversary celebrations.

A Focused Economic Development Strategy

In 2014 - 2015, the TSRA reviewed the outcomes from its Community Economic Initiatives Scheme (CEIS). CEIS was predominantly an economic development grant programme to assist Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people to enter or improve commercial ventures. The review found the scheme had not contributed significantly to Indigenous employment and recommended a more strategic approach be taken to economic investment. The TSRA has designed a new regional economic development strategy, and the first two economic development forums towards implementing the strategy were conducted in 2014 - 2015. The third forum is to identify specific industry opportunities for targeted assistance, and is scheduled in the second half of 2015.

Engaging With Our Communities

The TSRA’s Governance and Leadership Programme and Native Title Programme have assisted 21 PBCs in the region to maintain their compliance with the requirements of the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations. This is the fourth consecutive year that full compliance has been achieved.

The TSRA is working with the Gur A Baradharaw Kod (GBK) Sea and Land Council, which has representation from all Torres Strait communities, to develop their capacity to manage native title and support the region’s PBCs. The GBK aspires to take over the Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) role when the TSRA’s appointment as the NTRB ends on 30 June 2016. This year the TSRA assisted the GBK to complete consultations with Torres Strait Islander communities throughout the region and in mainland regional centres in Cairns, Townsville and Mackay.

The TSRA Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer conducted eight community consultations, providing an opportunity for community members to hear presentations from each of the TSRA’s programmes on the services being delivered throughout the region. The two-day visits provide an opportunity for community deputations to discuss issues directly with the TSRA’s senior leadership team.


On 14 June 2015, the TSRA completed the migration of the remaining Community Development Employment Projects participants to Centrelink payments. Some 46 Remote Jobs and Communities Programme jobseekers were transitioned into permanent full-time employment positions and a further 196 commenced part-time employment.

Access to Healthy Food

The sustainable horticulture project, which is operated by the TSRA’s Environmental Management Programme, expanded from four communities in 2013 - 2014 to 13 communities in 2014 - 2015. 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. Two campuses in the region received awards from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for their level of community engagement and produce from the gardens.

Integrated Service Delivery

The TSRA, in partnership with Australian and Queensland government agencies, 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 Integrated Service Delivery (ISD) community booklets. Community consultations undertaken in 2008 and 2009 identified 1,613 service gaps. In 2014 - 2015, 773 service gaps (48 per cent) had been addressed, 382 (24 per cent) were in progress and 309 (19 per cent) had not yet commenced. The remaining 149 (9 per cent) of the items identified by communities had been assessed as not feasible or as a commercial or non-government responsibility.

During community consultations in 2014 - 2015, five duplications were identified and the baseline was adjusted to 1,608 service gaps. As of 30 June 2015, the figures had improved to 1,034 (64 per cent) addressed, 209 (13 per cent) in progress and 87 (5 per cent) not yet commenced. The remaining 278 (17 per cent) of the items identified by communities had been assessed as not feasible or a commercial or 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.

A scene from Prince of Wales, consultations

Prince of Wales, consultations.

Promoting and Advocating Critical Issues for the Region

The TSRA Chairperson, supported by the portfolio members and other Board members, participated in 35 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 Torres Strait Regional Authority in its role as the Native Title Representative Body for the region has two native title determinations in progress. The Native Title Office has successfully negotiated social housing Indigenous Land Use Agreements with eight communities, enabling the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships to commence the social housing programme, on 76 lots.

A photograph of a Church on beach at Ugar

Church on beach at Ugar.

Opportunities and Challenges

A photograph of Poruma, sandbags for erosion protection

Poruma, sandbags for erosion protection.


To Explore Alternative Energy Sources to Facilitate Regional Growth

With the exception of a small (1,600 MWh) wind turbine installation on Thursday Island, all other power generation in the Torres Strait is from diesel generators. All fuel is transported by barge from Cairns. The cost of electricity for new industry would be prohibitive without further investment in alternative energy sources or subsidies. The Torres Strait is situated in the northeast / southwest monsoon belt and there are regular strong tidal flows. There are opportunities for research and investment into further wind power and tidal flow power generation.

To Secure Land Tenure for Social Housing and Home Ownership

Securing land tenure for infrastructure development is both an opportunity and a challenge. As native title issues are resolved and tenure is secured through negotiated Indigenous Land Use Agreements, the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander Partnerships is able to deliver social housing outcomes in communities. In areas where it is possible to establish freehold and leasehold land the TSRA is able to work with potential home owners by offering subsidised home loans. The TSRA is ready to partner with the Torres Shire Council and the Torres Strait Island Regional Council to identify ‘good renters’ who can be assisted into home ownership. While these opportunities are available, they can only be realised when land tenure is resolved.

To Improve the Outlook for Torres Strait Fisheries

In partnership with the Protected Zone Joint Authority, the TSRA is consulting with Torres Strait communities on the draft roadmap towards 100 per cent ownership of fisheries within the Torres Strait. When finalised, the roadmap will set out the priorities and strategies to move Torres Strait fisheries towards the 100 per cent ownership aspiration.

The TSRA is progressing the Finfish Fishery Action Plan project. The project is designed to increase participation in this fishery and increase the benefits from the fishery to Torres Strait communities. Economic benefits can be achieved by assisting potential commercial fishers to actively participate in the industry. The action plan will also provide guidance to the TSRA on the investment of funds raised through the leasing of sunset fishing licences in this fishery.

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 stations to the TSIMA. The TSRA has assisted TSIMA to establish four stations this financial year. It is estimated another two years will be required to bring the remaining ten stations on air. The TSRA is also actively engaged in using social media, through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

To Improve Telecommunication Services Throughout the Region

Telecommunications infrastructure in the Torres Strait area is poor, particularly for communities on outer islands. This impacts on service delivery and social inclusion. The TSRA has entered into a partnership with Telstra to develop a voice and data communications strategy for the Torres Strait area and to prepare an implementation plan. The TSRA funded Telstra to conduct a feasibility study to improve communications infrastructure throughout the Torres Strait area. Telstra has committed $15.0 million to this project and has commenced equipment and tower upgrades. The TSRA has allocated $1.8 million towards this project. The total cost of the communications upgrade will be $25.44 million. The TSRA is exploring options with the Australian Government to provide the $8.6 million in additional funding required to complete this project.

A photograph of Boigu esplanade

Boigu esplanade.



The geography of the Torres Strait area influences our capacity to deliver services to the region. The cost of delivering services and infrastructure to the Torres Strait area is significantly higher than most other areas in Australia due to the air and sea travel and freight costs.

Land Tenure

The security of land tenure for investment remains 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, and Katter leases. Businesses and some individuals hold leases which may be registered or unregistered, under a range of legislation. Few businesses or individuals are able to use land as security for borrowing. The lack of tenure and its impact on access to loan funds impacts on economic growth. The simplification of land tenure regimes would increase opportunities for private investment.

Air Travel Costs

The cost of travel to the region remains an impediment to the growth of tourism as an industry. The Cairns – Horn Island air route was deregulated on 1 January 2015 thus opening the route to other operators. However, this has not led to increased competition on this route; the cost of travel to the region and within the region remains high.

A photograph of a coral reef

Coral reef.

Collecting Valid Fisheries Data

The majority of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal fishers in the Torres Strait area operate with Torres Strait Traditional Inhabitant Boat (TIB) licences, issued under the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 (Cth). TIB fishers are not required to maintain catch logs or to report catch. Accurate catch data for the Torres Strait area is therefore not available and the TSRA relies on estimates provided by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to report on the performance of initiatives undertaken by the TSRA Fisheries Programme.

Freight and Road Infrastructure

All freight into the Torres Strait arrives by sea or air from Cairns. The road north of Cooktown (to Bamaga–Seisia) cannot be used as a freight corridor. An all-weather road link between Cairns and Cape York would provide an alternative freight route and open the region for tourism and investment.

Adaptation to Rising Sea Levels and Temperature Change

While work has commenced on the construction of sea walls to mitigate tidal inundation damage for six of the low-lying Torres Strait islands, increasing sea levels remains a concern for the long-term viability of some communities. The TSRA is working with the Queensland Government and the Torres Strait Island Regional Council to establish a clear process to develop and implement appropriate adaptation measures regionally and at community level.

Regional Governance

The elected leaders in the region from the TSRA and the three local government bodies continue to advocate to achieve the region’s aspirations for a governance model that would provide greater autonomy. The TSRA Board members are participating in these ongoing discussions to develop a model of governance for the region that will both address the leaders’ aspirations and facilitate the effective delivery of government services.

A photograph of a canoe in Saibai

Canoe, Saibai.