The Torres Cape Indigenous Council Alliance (TCICA) Inc held its first meeting for 2019 in Cairns on Thursday 28 and Friday 29 March. Elected leaders from 14 local governing authorities across the Torres Strait and Cape including the gulf communities of Kowanyama and Mornington Island, discussed the progress of regional priorities and other common interests over the two days.

Focus for 2019

The TCICA remains focussed on progressing economic and social reform through the development of place-based and community-led responses to challenges and opportunities. Leaders reaffirmed their commitment to work in partnership with the Queensland and Commonwealth Governments to co-design programs and policies to improve the lives of local people, support business and industry growth, and develop a sustainable and diversified regional economy.

Service delivery reform

While we note the Queensland Government’s recent announcement on its Local Thriving Communities service delivery reform initiative, the State is yet to engage with local governments on how this initiative will be implemented on the ground. TCICA members call on the State to ensure that Indigenous leaders are properly consulted and the issues considered before program frameworks are designed and developed. Indigenous people must be at the centre of decisions affecting them if long term reform is to be achieved.

Local Government reform

The TCICA discussed reforms proposed by the Queensland Government that are expected to impact significantly on local governments and local government election processes. We share many of the concerns raised by the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) and will make our voice heard during LGAQ’s General Meeting on 2 April. We will also raise our concerns directly with the Premier, Deputy Premier, Minister for Local Government, Racing and Multicultural Affairs, and other key Government ministers.

Natural disaster recovery

The TCICA met with the Queensland Reconstruction Authority to discuss priorities for natural disaster recovery and coordination in light of recent natural disaster events in many communities, including the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Trevor on Lockhart River, flooding events in Wujal Wujal, and tidal inundation experienced by islands in the Torres Strait. Members discussed the importance of good community preparation and the need to ensure community recovery plans are in place.

The TCICA agreed to coordinate a forum in the coming months to share disaster event preparation, coordination and recovery learnings across local governments, State and Commonwealth agencies and other stakeholders. Through the forum we will seek to identify strategies and actions for the efficient and effective management of future natural disaster events. Discussions will include changing weather patterns and the need to better understand what to expect in the future, including mapping of potential disaster impacts to help assess likelihood of damage.

We continue to call for significant improvements in public infrastructure after an event to reduce damage from future events. Too much money is being spent by the State and Commonwealth Governments through the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements on returning infrastructure to its previous state, instead of recognising the need to rebuild infrastructure to a better and more resilient standard. This cannot continue.

Roads and infrastructure

TCICA members acknowledged the Commonwealth Government’s announcement of $190 million in funding for stage two of the sealing of the Peninsula Development Road (PDR), however we note this will not complete the sealing of the PDR. We await the detail of projects to be funded, including a commitment by the Queensland Government to provide its fair share of the funds for the PDR. Upgrading the road is vital to all communities in the Cape and will bring with it a huge increase in opportunities to develop and grow new businesses and industries, lower freight transport costs, and better connect people across the region.

We want to see better coordination of funding for road transport infrastructure to ensure road funding into the Cape and Torres Strait delivers the best possible outcomes for communities. This includes ensuring local people are able to benefit from employment opportunities, skills and capacity is built in local businesses to respond to project tenders, and local councils can utilise their existing capacity to participate in road construction projects.

We call on the State and Commonwealth Governments to more effectively coordinate all infrastructure and service delivery funding programs to ensure better outcomes for communities in need. Too many programs leads to duplication, misinformation and confusion, and money wasted in areas of low need.

Other activities

The TCICA discussed its priorities for the upcoming Federal Election campaign and will release these in the near future. Key issues like remote Indigenous housing, increased Financial Assistance Grants program funding, a refocussed commitment on developing Northern Australia, and managing climate change will feature.

During the meeting TCICA members heard from Cape York Partnership on their Pama Futures proposal for Cape York. The TCICA has been disappointed until now at the lack of engagement in communities and with elected community leaders by Cape York Partnership and reiterated our strong view that on-the-ground reform must be locally led and not by unelected third parties. TCICA members are serious about the need for genuine engagement that recognises local people are best placed to know what will work for them.

Throughout 2019, the TCICA will continue to develop long-term strategic objectives to guide our work for the benefit of the communities we represent. The next meeting of the alliance is expected to be held in May.