I am pleased to present the Torres Strait Regional Authority’s 2015-2016 Annual Report, marking our performance at the end of our twenty-second year of operation.
The Chief Executive Officer and I have been working on a two-year community engagement cycle and completed our first round of community engagement in the 2015-2016 reporting period. The next round of our community engagement cycle will commence in the coming financial year. Engaging our communities has been invaluable for me and the Chief Executive Officer and provides community members with an opportunity to raise community or regional issues directly with the TSRA Executive.
Officer-level engagement with TSRA clients and local community groups continued throughout the reporting period and I thank those communities, members, councillors, Prescribed Bodies Corporate and key community groups for their continued support.
TSRA BOARD STRATEGIC WORKSHOP
The TSRA Board held its strategic planning workshop over three days in November 2015. The workshop covered various themes, including financial planning and funding proposal processes and ideas for 2017-2018 and beyond. The members reviewed the TSRA’s programme structure under the Torres Strait Development Plan and its alignment to the Indigenous Advancement Strategy. As part of the workshop, the role of the Executive Committee was also reviewed. Other key discussion areas included the TSRA’s progress in meeting the Minister for Indigenous Affairs’ Statement of Expectations and TSRA’s delivery against its Statement of Intent to the Minister. A number of key priority areas were identified for consideration for future projects.
NEW APPROACH TO ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
I am pleased to report that the TSRA finalised and launched its new Regional Economic Investment Strategy (REIS). The REIS represents a new approach for the TSRA to help facilitate commercially viable business opportunities in the region. The strategy includes the TSRA’s existing suite of business support products and services to help establish or grow existing businesses, products and services administered by external organisations, as well as a range of new packages for identified industries. The REIS focuses its business assistance services on opportunities within the three key regional industries of fisheries; culture, art and creative industries; and tourism. With fisheries being one of the region’s main industries, it will be the first industry targeted under the new REIS. I look forward to seeing the outcomes and achievements this new programme will bring in the coming years.
In the reporting period, the TSRA worked with and supported the region’s Sea and Land Council, the Gur A Baradharaw Kod (GBK), to increase its capacity so it can be in a position to nominate for the Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) function for the region. While there has been some progress made by GBK, there was a risk that the region would be without an NTRB once the previous term which was held by the TSRA expired. To eliminate this risk, the TSRA accepted an invitation from the Minister for Indigenous Affairs for the TSRA to reapply for the NTRB function. In February 2016, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs formally appointed the TSRA as the region’s NTRB for a period of two years from 2016 to 2018. During the two-year period, the TSRA will continue to provide services and support under the Native Title Act 1993 to Traditional Owner groups and at the same time continue to work with GBK to build its capacity so it is in a position to nominate for the NTRB function in the near future.
OUR COMMITMENT TO MAINTAIN CULTURE
Since the inaugural Torres Strait Language Symposium in March 2015, the Torres Strait Language Reference Group has developed the Torres Strait Traditional Languages Plan 2016-2017 and the Torres Strait Languages Charter. The Reference Group is now in the process of establishing a service agreement with the TSRA and Tagai State College and working towards setting up a language centre in the region. The Reference Group will publicly launch the plan and charter in 2016. This is a significant development for the region and its efforts to preserve and maintain our traditional languages. I wish to thank the Language Reference Group members, cultural advisors, elders and all stakeholders who have contributed to this important work.
The TSRA continued to contribute to the preservation of music and dance by providing grant funding and direct support to local artists and cultural practitioners to produce and showcase arts and culture from the region. During the reporting period, the TSRA was proud to support and be part of the opening of the Auwa Kidai Memorial Recording Studio at the Torres Strait Islanders Media Association (TSIMA). The recording studio is a state-of-the-art facility that will not only provide opportunities for local musicians, but also enable cultural and language practitioners to record, share and preserve traditional languages, stories and other cultural and heritage information. I congratulate the TSIMA Board on this achievement.
TORRES STRAIT TREATY CYCLE MEETINGS
The TSRA attended the Torres Strait Treaty Cycle Meetings, hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in October 2015. The series of meetings included the Traditional Inhabitants Meeting, the Joint Advisory Council, the Environmental Management Committee and the Health Issues Committee. The Treaty Cycle Meetings are bilateral with Papua New Guinea and involve Traditional Owner representatives from the Western Province villages who are part of the Torres Strait Treaty. A range of cross-border issues were discussed, including health, invasive species management, climate change, turtle and dugong management and fisheries, to name a few.
The TSRA welcomed the former Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, to the Torres Strait in August 2015. Mr Abbott was accompanied by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion, the Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, and six senior members of the former ministry. Mr Abbott visited Thursday Island, Mer Island and communities of the Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council, where he participated in a number of community events and deputations with key community leaders. Other visiting ministers travelled to the islands of Saibai, Masig, Badu and Moa. A milestone of the visit was Mr Abbott becoming the first Australian Prime Minister to visit the gravesite of the late Mr Eddie Mabo on Mer Island.
The Minister for Indigenous Affairs visited the region again in February 2016. As part of that visit, the Minister travelled to Saibai Island for the official opening of the Saibai Mekem Garden before travelling to Mer Island. On Mer the Minister met with the Prescribed Body Corporate, community leaders and the Mer Women’s Group, as well as catching up with Mer graduates of the TSRA’s Torres Strait Women’s Leadership Programme.
The TSRA continued to work in partnership with the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation in delivering leadership capacity-building initiatives for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people in the region. In the reporting period, there was a particular focus on developing leadership capacity in women and youth, and I am pleased to see a number of our graduates from these programmes progressing further in their career paths and that one graduate nominated as a candidate in the recent TSRA and local government elections. Further details of TSRA’s leadership development initiatives, including a case study, can be found in the Governance and Leadership Programme report in Section 2.
In closing, I express my appreciation and thanks to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, the TSRA Board members, the TSRA’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Wayne See Kee, and the TSRA administration.
I also acknowledge the elders, Traditional Owners, Prescribed Bodies Corporate and local government councillors for the support and hospitality provided to me and the TSRA administration in the delivery of our services.
Joseph Elu, AO