TSRA Annual Report 2015 - 2016

a photograph of TSRA Annual report 2015-2016

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 2016 and we offer our apologies for any distress caused if this occurs.


© Commonwealth of Australia

ISSN 1324–163X

The Torres Strait Regional Authority has made all reasonable effort to:

  • clearly label material where the copyright is owned by a third party
  • ensure that the copyright owner has consented to the material being presented in this publication.

copyright logo

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 2015-2016.

The TSRA’s contact officer for the 2015-2016 Annual Report is Ms Yoshiko Hirakawa, Acting Programme Manager Governance and Leadership. Telephone (07) 4069 0700 or email info@tsra.gov.au.

The TSRA Annual Report 2015-2016 is published on the TSRA website at www.tsra.gov.au in the following formats:

  • Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML)
  • 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


Meriam Mir


Kala Kawau Ya


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.

a map of the Torres Strait Region

Figure P-1: Map of the Torres Strait Region

a photo of Minister For Indigenous Affairs Senator The Hon Nigel Scullion At The Erub Arts Centre With Prominent Erub Artist Jimmy Thaiday

Minister For Indigenous Affairs Senator The Hon Nigel Scullion At The Erub Arts Centre With Prominent Erub Artist Jimmy Thaiday

Highlights and Achievements


The TSRA conducted renovations to the Gab Titui Cultural Centre to improve the centre’s commercial viability and its ability to promote the art and culture of the Torres Strait. Works conducted in the reporting period included improving staff facilities and work spaces, upgrading the Café facility,
increasing storage for conservation of the Gab Titui Cultural Centre collections, and including a quarantine space to receive works from outer Torres Strait Islands that fall within the region’s special quarantine zone. Improvements were also made to the preparation areas that support exhibitions.
A new logo for the Gab Titui Cultural Centre was also developed. With these upgrades, the centre will be able to better support local artists, exhibitions and other events to showcase the unique culture of our region.

“With these upgrades, the centre will be able to better support local artists, exhibitions and other events to showcase the unique culture of our region.”


Since its inception, the Major Infrastructure Programme (MIP) has supported improved health outcomes through the delivery of adequate water supplies and treatment, reticulated sewerage systems, subdivision development, roads, and storm water and waste management. The current MIP 5 is due for completion
in December 2016 and the TSRA is in the process of working with its Australian Government and Queensland Government counterparts to secure funding for MIP 6 for projects in 2016-2020.


Rising sea levels and coastal inundation have been an issue for a number of years, placing communities and critical infrastructure under significant risk. In the previous reporting period, the Australian and Queensland governments provided a joint funding commitment of $26.2 million for coastal protection
works in six communities. The communities of Saibai and Boigu both require seawalls, and additional protection works are required at Iama, Masig, Poruma and Warraber to protect those communities against coastal erosion. Construction of the Saibai seawall commenced in the reporting period and is due for
completion in December 2016. The Boigu seawall is scheduled for construction once Saibai has been completed.


The Protected Zone Joint Authority has released an exposure draft of a management plan for the region’s tropical rock lobster fishery. The TSRA is seeking to link this management plan to the roadmap towards 100 per cent ownership of the fishery by ensuring that Traditional Owners are offered
the first right of refusal to purchase tradeable quota which is owned by the non-Indigenous sector of the fishery.

The TSRA has engaged the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences to provide an update of the value of the region’s tropical rock lobster fishery in order to evaluate licences that may be offered for purchase.


While there has been some improvement in achieving balanced gender representation on elected bodies, the Torres Strait is still behind other Indigenous regions in terms of Indigenous female representation in leadership or director roles. The TSRA continues to work to address the imbalance and since
the introduction of the Torres Strait Women’s Leadership Programme in 2014-2015, 11 Indigenous women from the Torres Strait region have successfully completed the course. Three of those graduates nominated as candidates in the 2016 TSRA elections. Further details on this achievement can be found
in the case study on page 55.


The TSRA employs over 45 full-time Indigenous Rangers in 14 outer island Torres Strait communities with funding under the Australian Government’s Working on Country programme. The Torres Strait Ranger Programme is one of the largest and most successful programmes nationally. Each ranger group
is responsible for implementing activities under a Working on Country plan that is developed in consultation with Registered Native Title Bodies Corporate (RNTBCs) on each island. These plans are aligned with community and Traditional Owner priorities, as well as regional land and sea management priorities
identified in the revised Land and Sea Management Strategy for Torres Strait 2016-2036.

“The Torres Strait Ranger programme is one of the largest and most successful programmes nationally.”

Rangers carry out land-based and sea-based cultural and natural resource management activities, including monitoring and surveillance, marine debris management, dugong and turtle management, community engagement, revegetation, pest and weed control and other on-ground activities, through a partnership
approach with other government agencies, local governments and research organisations. The TSRA has secured $42 million over a five-year period to continue delivering the Ranger Programme until 30 June 2018. In the lead-up to June 2018, TSRA is exploring opportunities for ongoing investment and
collaboration in this important initiative.


The TSRA is in the process of finalising the Torres Strait Regional Adaptation and Resilience Plan 2016-2021 for the Torres Strait. The Regional Adaptation and Resilience Plan will support Torres Strait organisations and communities to better understand, prepare for and respond to the likely impacts
of climate change across the region. The plan was informed by a series of workshops involving regional leaders, government agencies, local governments, community members and leading experts on climate change, adaptation and resilience. The Regional Adaptation and Resilience Plan is complemented by local-level
community adaptation plans under development with several participating communities.


The Torres Strait Regional Authority is the agreement manager for the Community Development Programme (CDP) in the Torres Strait (Region 59). It is the only region not managed by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. In 2015-2016, 350 CDP participants moved from welfare into employment.
Of these, 214 participants met employment outcome milestones:

  • 13-week outcome – 149 participants
  • 26-week outcome – 65 participants.

In addition to CDP, the TSRA also supports a number of other employment and training projects in the region, including the Torres Strait Maritime Pathways Project, the Growing Our Own project, and the renovation of the Thursday Island Boat Club. See page 34 for further details.


The third in a series of three economic development summits was held on Thursday Island in October 2015. Presenters from a wide variety of Indigenous businesses from across Australia shared insights with participants about the challenges and successes of owning and operating a business. Feedback from
the summit series, as well as extensive research, consultation and analysis, informed the development of the TSRA Regional Economic Investment Strategy (REIS), which was approved by the TSRA Board in September 2015. The REIS enables the TSRA to be proactive in identifying and approaching individuals,
or organisations with strong prospects, to establish or grow existing businesses.


In 2015, the TSRA, in partnership with Tagai State College, TAFE North Queensland and the CDP provider My Pathway, launched the Growing Our Own project. The project offered the opportunity for 13 Year 12 students participating in the marine studies stream to undertake a coxswain course in the final
weeks of the school year. All students successfully completed the training and are now qualified to operate a commercial vessel up to 12 metres. This qualification is highly regarded by employers in the marine industry and helps students to transition from school into jobs.


In 2015-2016, the TSRA coordinated a participatory planning process that culminated in the TSRA Board endorsing the revised Land and Sea Management Strategy for Torres Strait 2016-2036. The strategy provides a guiding framework to support sustainable Indigenous community-based management of the unique natural and cultural values of the region. The strategy was developed through a partnership with the Torres Strait’s
Sea and Land Council, the Gur A Baradharaw Kod (GBK), and was endorsed by the GBK and TSRA boards. The strategy includes the first-ever regional state of the environment report card for the Torres Strait and island profiles for each inhabited island. The case study on page 47 provides further information
about the revised strategy.


The TSRA continued to work in partnership with Australian, Queensland and local government agencies as well as non-government organisations to deliver against the service and infrastructure shortfalls identified in the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area Regional Plan 2009-2029 and Integrated Service Delivery (ISD) community booklets. The TSRA updated 13 of the ISD community booklets in 2015-2016 to reflect the progress made in reducing the number of infrastructure and service shortfalls. Detailed statistics
on progress against 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.


The TSRA Chairperson, portfolio members and other Board members participated in 36 meetings with government ministers and senior departmental officials. These meetings are important to ensure that matters of relevance and priority issues affecting Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people in the
region are being taken into account in the development of new policies and services. Details on some 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 continued to support Registered Native Title Bodies Corporate to build their capacity to manage their affairs and has two Native Title determinations in progress. The TSRA was reappointed as the region’s Native
Title Representative Body by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs in the reporting period.

Opportunities and Challenges


Improving Telecommunication Services in the Torres Strait

The TSRA in partnership with Telstra continued to lobby for a financial commitment of $8.6 million for the regional telecommunications upgrade project. A feasibility study was conducted by Telstra as part of the project and the total upgrade will cost $25.44 million. Both the TSRA and Telstra
have committed funds totalling $16.8 million and will continue to lobby the Australian and Queensland governments for the shortfall in the coming financial year.

Land Tenure for Social Housing and Home Ownership

Securing land tenure for infrastructure development is both an opportunity and a challenge. Land tenure is secured through negotiated Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) to enable the Queensland Government to deliver social housing in communities. 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. Home ownership opportunities are available; however, they can be realised only when land tenure arrangements are resolved.

Outlook for Torres Strait Fisheries

The TSRA completed two reports in 2015-2016. An action plan for the region’s finfish fishery is currently being implemented. This plan will also guide the TSRA Board in its decision-making for the disbursement of finfish leasing revenue. The second, a management framework for all the region’s
fisheries, will be evaluated by the incoming TSRA Board during the first year of its term. The Torres Strait Maritime Pathways Project delivered through the Economic Development Programme provides opportunities for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people in the region to gain entry into commercial
fishing operations. More information on the Torres Strait Maritime Pathways Project is detailed in Section 2 of this report.

“The Torres Strait Maritime Pathways Project delivered through the Economic Development Programme provides opportunities for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal People in the region to gain entry into commercial fishing operations.”

Turtle and Dugong Management Plans

There are 14 community-based turtle and dugong management plans throughout the region. The plans are owned by individual communities and are based on cultural protocols. TSRA rangers have an obligation to carry out the plans. Sections of the plans outline penalties and a permit system, but one of the
challenges in implementing the plans is that rangers do not have legislative or compliance powers to issue permits or penalties. The TSRA will continue to work with the Australian Government and relevant authorities to develop options for compliance powers for TSRA rangers.



The geography of the Torres Strait area presents many challenges and influences the delivery of services to the region. The cost of delivering services and infrastructure to the Torres Strait area is significantly higher than in most other areas in Australia due to the high costs involved in air and
sea travel as well as freight.

Land Tenure

The complex land tenure arrangements in the region present significant challenges for investment and growth in the region. The region has a combination of freehold, Torres Strait freehold, Native Title, Deed of Grant in Trust, and Katter Leases. Some businesses and individuals hold leases under a range
of legislative instruments. Few businesses or individuals are able to use land as security for borrowing. The lack of tenure and its impact on access to loan or investment funds is an impediment to economic growth.

Air Travel Costs

The high cost of travel to the region is an impediment to the growth of tourism as an industry. Since the deregulation of the Cairns – Horn Island air route in 2015, the region now has two operators providing services on this route. Subsidised airfares are available only for local residents, which
means costs still remain high for non-residents and visitors to the region.

Collecting Valid Fisheries Data

Catch reporting is still optional for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people who fish commercially using the Traditional Inhabitant Boat (TIB) licences. Therefore the issue of incomplete or under-reporting remains a barrier to accurately estimating the total catch from the region. The TSRA is
working with the Protected Zone Joint Authority to bring about a change in reporting through the introduction of fish receiver licences. This change will enable the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to gather the TIB catch data at the first point of sale.

Freight and Road Infrastructure

All freight into the Torres Strait arrives by either sea or air from Cairns. The Peninsula Developmental Road which runs from Cairns to Bamaga and Seisia cannot be used as a freight corridor at the moment. An all-weather road link between Cairns and Cape York would provide an alternative freight route,
which would significantly reduce the cost of freight and open up the region for tourism and investment.

Regional Governance

The TSRA continued to work with the three local government bodies to progress the region’s aspirations for a governance model that would provide greater autonomy. Discussions are ongoing to develop a suitable model of governance for the region that will achieve the community’s aspirations
and also facilitate the effective and efficient delivery of government services.

a photo of Ngarupai (Horn Island)

Ngarupai (Horn Island)