The Torres Cape Indigenous Council Alliance (TCICA) Inc held its second meeting for 2019 in Cairns on Tuesday 14 May and Wednesday 15 May. The elected leaders of local governing authorities from across the Torres Strait, Cape York and Mornington Island, discussed the progress of a range of matters identified as key priorities for the TCICA.

2019 Federal Election

The TCICA met with Leichhardt candidates Warren Entsch, Elida Faith and Daniel McCarthy to hear from them their commitments to address the 11 priorities the TCICA identified as critical issues for federal attention. Priorities included getting an immediate commitment to reducing homelessness, overcrowding and severe housing shortages in Indigenous communities, improving access to telecommunications and digital infrastructure, managing climate change impacts and support for local Indigenous people to participate in the tourism economy.

We welcomed the commitments from both Labor and the Coalition to remote Indigenous housing.

Both parties also announced significant funding packages to address mobile blackspots and regional connectivity, and to boost regional tourism experiences and attractions. Commitments were also made to seawalls in the Torres Strait, although there were no specific announcements on helping communities deal with the other impacts of climate change or increasing the resilience of public infrastructure and assets to natural disaster events.

Disappointingly, neither major party made any promises to review Commonwealth service delivery into remote Indigenous communities or refresh the Northern Australia development agenda.

Overall, the TCICA’s advocacy efforts were recognised by all three candidates and yielded strong results. We look forward to continuing to work with Warren Entsch and holding him to account to ensure all promises are delivered on time, especially the commitment of $105 million to direct fund Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander councils to deliver Indigenous housing. We will also continue to advocate for the priorities not yet delivered.

Disaster recovery

Major General (Rtd) Stuart Smith of the Queensland Reconstruction Authority updated the TCICA on the development of the State Recovery Plan and a $242 million package of support for recovery efforts. Communities across the Torres Strait and Cape York suffered severe flooding from monsoon events and also as a result of Tropical Cyclone Trevor, and are working closely with the QRA to repair essential infrastructure and support community recovery.

We will continue to push for improvements to infrastructure to ensure it is constructed to a more resilient standard to better withstand future disaster events. In turn, this will significantly reduce future expenditure on asset restoration and speed up recovery efforts

Regional aviation services

The TCICA met with senior representatives of both Skytrans and Qantas for very productive discussions about regional aviation services. Most of our communities are highly reliant on air services for access to crucial services like health and education, and to maintain family connections and cultural traditions. Aviation access into our region also offers many opportunities to grow unique new tourism experiences and products.

We look forward to ongoing engagement with Skytrans and Qantas and welcome them as partners at the table in driving the social and economic prosperity of our region.

Service delivery reform

The Queensland Government’s progress on its Local Thriving Communities service delivery reform initiative is a matter of critical importance to the TCICA. Despite the reform speeding ahead, we are still waiting to understand how this initiative will be implemented on the ground and the role local governments will play in the design and implementation process.

We have written directly to the Deputy Premier to again call on the State to ensure that, as democratically-elected Indigenous leaders, we are properly acknowledged and effectively engaged before program frameworks are designed and developed. Indigenous local governments must be at the centre of decisions affecting our communities otherwise there is a real risk the reforms will be poorly supported by the very people they are intended to benefit.

Remote Area Board

The TCICA has stepped in to deliver the Remote Area Board (RAB) program for our region. An initiative of the Queensland Government, the program recognises the limited ratepayer base of rural and remote communities and helps support organisations like the TCICA to progress strategic development issues.

As one of only 5 RABs around the State, the program will fund the TCICA to identify economic and employment opportunities and inform the allocation of funding into infrastructure and services across the region. We are expecting to announce our first RAB project in the coming weeks.

The Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning, the Honourable Cameron Dick MP, recently announced the release of another $1.5 million over two years for the five RABs, providing certainty of funding and underpinning future economic planning and projects.

Other matters

CQUniversity’s Director of the First People’s Think Tank Associate Professor Henrietta Marrie and CQU Research Fellow Adrian Marrie presented a research project on Indigenous tourism along the Great Barrier Reef, aimed at understanding how Traditional Owners can gain greater economic benefits from their coastal and sea country. Their work aligns well with the TCICA’s priority of a coordinated approach to regional tourism development, marketing and promotion in our region, and developing the skills of local Indigenous people so that they can take the region forward as a tourist destination.

TCICA members acknowledged the origins of the alliance, which was born out of the passion and love for their communities by founding mayors, Aurukun Mayor Dereck Walpo and Lockhart River Mayor Wayne Butcher, and former councillors. The Alliance has continued to grow in strength and is recognised as the lead organisation representing Indigenous issues in Cape York and the Torres Strait, as well as Mornington Island.

The next meeting of the alliance will be held in August.