The Torres Cape Indigenous Council Alliance (TCICA) Inc held its fourth and final meeting for 2019 the on 6th and 7th of November.

Leaders from across the Torres Strait, Cape York and Gulf regions met in Cairns over two days to discuss key priorities for the TCICA and initiatives to deliver better social, cultural, economic and environmental outcomes for all communities in the region.

Indigenous housing

Minister for Housing and Public Works Mick de Brenni MP met with TCICA on the morning of 7 November to discuss issues relating to the State’s $40 million for remote Indigenous housing, and negotiations with the Federal Government to help release their $105 million commitment.

Minister de Brenni updated Councils on the progress of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Action Plan and the establishment of Queensland’s first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing body, which is in the final stages of contract negotiations.

Minister de Brenni advised TCICA that he supports direct funding of Councils for the delivery of Indigenous housing. He has been trying to negotiate with the Commonwealth on a new housing agreement however they have refused to respond. The Minister committed to providing the Queensland Government’s correspondence on the issue to TCICA to support TCICA addressing this matter directly with Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt MP. Minister de Brenni advised he also has a meeting secured with Minister Ken Wyatt for 5 December.

Other discussion points:
• The Housing Action Plan puts local people at the centre of the decision-making about housing in their communities.
• Mick Gooda was engaged as a specialist advisor to Minister de Brenni to lead this process and to make sound recommendations to the Minister
• ‘Local housing plans’ are a new initiative – the $40M housing commitment will in part be a pilot to test how these plans will work.
• The role of the housing body is to assist in the development and delivery of local housing plans.
• What communities want to achieve from the plans is a matter for them to decide.
• The Queensland Government has committed $10.8 billion over 10 years under its Queensland Housing Strategy.
• Communities can decide whether funds should be allocated towards repairs and maintenance, or to capital expenditure for new housing.
• Minister de Brenni is very supportive of home ownership and understands the issues including land tenure, access to finance. Matters for individual communities should be addressed through the local housing plans – he is not going to dictate from Brisbane how communities should work through these issues.

Canberra advocacy visit

TCICA is undertaking its first advocacy visit to Canberra from 26 – 27 November and has secured at least 10 meetings across the two days, including a meeting with Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Honourable Ken Wyatt MP.

Other key meetings secured include:
Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher MP;
Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government Mark Coulton MP;
Minister for Northern Australia Senator Matt Canavan;
Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney MP; and
Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy Mark Butler MP.

Priorities that will be discussed over the two days include:
• A 10-year commitment to housing in remote and discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
• A review into the true cost of delivering core municipal services in rural, remote and discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and a commitment to increasing financial assistance grants.
• A long-term commitment to fully seal the Peninsula Development Road to connect communities to economic, social and cultural opportunities.
• Better telecommunications and digital connectivity to maximise economic, social, cultural, health and education benefits in our communities.
• Addressing climate change and building natural disaster resilience through a consistent national climate change policy and support for local governments to increase the resilience of public infrastructure and assets.
• A renewed focus on growing Northern Australia, including addressing social disadvantage, and allocating funding for programs and initiatives to build the capacity of Indigenous people in communities by supporting new business opportunities and the economic participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
• Genuine partnerships with local government in the co-design of models to enhance local and regional decision-making in remote and discrete Aboriginal and

Financial assistance for local governments

TCICA discussed concerns regarding the level of financial assistance for local governments and the need to review the currently grant arrangements to better recognise the needs of rural, remote and discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

It was noted that there needs to be a review into the true cost of providing local government services in communities to better inform the grant design and allocation process. This is an issue that TCICA will raise in Canberra.

Climate Change

TCICA discussed the recent declarations by councils around Australia of a climate change emergency. Members agreed that climate change is an issue that needs to be taken seriously, regardless of the cause. All levels of government need to take action based on the real facts.

Members agreed that each Council should consider its own position on this matter and decide whether to make a declaration of a climate change emergency.

Review of State Emergency Service funding and governance arrangements

LGAQ’s Mike Lollback and SES Regional Director Wayne Coutts addressed TCICA and updated members on the review underway into the funding and governance arrangements of the SES.

Councils are encouraged to contribute to the review process and provide their thoughts and concerns about the current arrangements so that these can be included in the report to the Minister.

The SES understands that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work in all communities and that they need to recognise the diversity of communities across the state. Councils were assured that there is no intention to amalgamate the Rural Fire Brigade and SES with QFES.

Overview of Army Reserve in Cape York and Torres Strait region

TCICA Members were briefed on the presence of the 51st Battalion Far North Queensland Regiment in the Cape and Torres Strait region by Lt Col Mick O’Sullivan, Regimental Sergeant Major Simon Foley, and Captain Adam Fairhurst.

51FNQR has locations right across the region, including Company HQs at Thursday Island, Weipa, and Cairns and patrol bases in the Torres Strait, NPA region, western Cape, Lockhart River and Cooktown. There is nearly 100 army reservist soldiers in the NPA and Torres Strait region, 50 in the Western Cape and total of 29 in Weipa, Hope Vale and Wujal Wujal. Their goal is to grow each community to 30 soldiers by 31 December 2024.

Councils who employ reservists can access financial assistance under the Employer Support Payment Scheme to help offset the costs of releasing employees for Australian Defence Force service.

51FNQR would like to work with TCICA Members to support army reservists in communities through training and skilling in communities and on country to help build a skilled workforce.

Regional Roads and Transport Group

TCICA Members participated in a workshop to discuss the potential formation of a TCICA Regional Roads and Transport Group (RRTG). The role of a TCICA RRTG would be to manage the allocation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Transport Infrastructure Development Scheme funds of around $7.5 million per year. The Department of Transport and Main Roads currently manages this program on an application basis.

RRTGs work collaboratively to regionally plan for and prioritise investment on road and transport infrastructure, including allocating funding to the highest priority projects and identifying opportunities for financial efficiencies. They operate under a self-governance model and are required to adopt a constitution and elect a Chair.

Each RRTG is supported by a Technical Committee, which is responsible for local knowledge sharing and providing technical expertise and advice to RRTGs. These committees are generally comprised of an engineer or senior manager from each council and a senior technical officer from DTMR. This structure is supported by the Roads and Transport Alliance team, which is made up of staff from LGAQ and DTMR.

TCICA Members were not in a position to endorse the formation of a RRTG until this has been further discussed by each individual Council. A paper on the pros and cons of establishing a new RRTG and participating in an RRTG is to be provided to Councils in early December, to be considered by individual councils during their December meetings.