Mayors, councillors and chief executives from across the Torres Strait and Cape York region met in Cairns from 9 to 11 November for TCICA’s 2021 Annual General Meeting, and to participate in a series of meetings and roundtables to address important matters such as community vaccination rates, local government financial sustainability, sly grogging, and major health system and service reforms.
TCICA was joined by Mayors, Councillors and Chiefs of several other Indigenous local governments, including Doomadgee, Torres Strait Islands, Woorabinda, and Yarrabah, for discussions on financial sustainability and sly grog, in recognition of the significance of these issues to all Indigenous local governments in Queensland.
2021 Annual General Meeting
Mayor of Kowanyama Aboriginal Shire Council Cr Robbie Sands was elected unopposed as TCICA’s new Chair, taking the reins from Lockhart River Mayor Cr Wayne Butcher, who was a founder of the earlier Cape Indigenous Mayors Alliance and has since played an integral role in the development of TCICA.
Deputy Mayor of Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council Cr Cameron Hudson was elected to the position of Deputy Chair. Deputy Mayor Hudson has extensive knowledge of the region, is a trusted member of his community, and has a solid reputation amongst his peers as a respected leader. Cook Shire Council Mayor Cr Peter Scott was re-elected as Treasurer for the fifth year running.
Community vaccination rates
Leaders heard directly from Health Minister Yvette D’Ath on the public health and social measures that will be in place from 17 December once restrictions for entry into Queensland ease.
Mayors have continued to work tirelessly to encourage all community members to get vaccinated, however vaccination rates remain lower than the state average in many of Queensland’s Indigenous communities. It is accepted that communities will not be left untouched by COVID-19, so it is crucial every effort is made to keep the most vulnerable people safe. All health service providers need to be working together to plan for and address the impacts, and all incoming visitors must be fully vaccinated. Mayors also raised the need for messaging targeting unvaccinated people to be culturally appropriate to have the best chance of swaying minds.
State and Commonwealth service delivery and system reforms
Indigenous empowerment and development
Leaders discussed the State’s Local Thriving Communities and Commonwealth’s Empowered Communities reform agendas with Dr Chris Sarra, Director-General of the Department of Seniors, Disability Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, and Rob Willmett, Eastern Group Manager at the National Indigenous Australian Agency. It marked the first time the two agencies had come together at a Mayors forum for a joint discussion about the two models of service reform and local empowerment.
Mayors have long called for any reform to focus on minimising duplication, increasing transparency, and most importantly, for all funding to hit the ground where it is needed most. Despite significant investments in areas such as welfare reform, health, education, and training, people are dying younger than ever before. Mayors agreed that the State and Commonwealth both need to be at the table with community leaders to work through these significant reform processes together if outcomes on the ground are to be improved for the long term.
Health system reform
Leaders were briefed during the TCICA Health Forum by Queensland Health Deputy Directors-General Nick Steele and Haylene Grogan, along with Matthew Cooke, Chair of the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council on a significant health system reform project that will change the way State and Commonwealth health services are funded and delivered in the Torres and Cape region. The first of its kind in Australia, the Torres and Cape Health Care Commissioning Fund (TORCH) landmark reform proposal will put decision-making on the health needs of local people in the region into the hands of an Indigenous-led leadership board that is representative of the communities it services.
The forum followed on from TCICA’s inaugural health forum in April this year, where leaders raised the need for major reform of health services and the re-orientation of local health systems to respond to evidence-based need.
Ministerial Roundtable on Sly Grog
Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships the Hon Craig Crawford MP led a Ministerial Roundtable on Sly Grog to discuss with Mayors and leaders strategies to address the consequences of sly grog in their communities. The forum focussed on creating a shared understanding of the issues surrounding sly grog and how communities can work together with government to overcome the problem. Participants also discussed opportunities for collaborative community-led approaches to tackle the social, economic and legal impacts of sly grog.
Minister Crawford spoke on the Queensland Government’s commitment to reframing the relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including supporting communities with the capacity to drive and implement the changes to alcohol management they want to see. At the centre of a renewed approach are Community Safety Plans, which are co-designed community-specific plans developed by community for community, consistent with Local Thriving Communities reform.
Aurukun Mayor Keri Tamwoy spoke about the social, cultural and economic impact of sly grog on her community and outlined a range of potential measures, including a community-led campaign, better education, increased penalties, community incentives to reduce harm, and more rehabilitation and peer support services for offenders, to help ‘slow the flow’ of sly grog. Other mayors and leaders also spoke on their experiences, and especially the confusion created by inconsistent Alcohol Management Plans across the region. The need for community justice groups to be reinvigorated and supported to play a key role in tackling the issues was also raised, along with the need for rehabilitation services to be located in the Cape and not in large regional centres.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Paul Taylor and Chief Superintendent Rhys Newton, addressed a range of policing issues and reiterated the importance of community-led solutions and strong local leadership to help understand and address the behaviours of local people. QPS is undertaking research to understand the key drivers of sly grogging to help develop a new sly grog strategy to prevent and disrupt slog grog, and the alcohol-related violence that often accompanies it.
General Manager of Licencing with the Department of Justice and Attorney-General Craig Turner, spoke on the role of licencing in managing supply side issues. The Department is committed to tailoring licencing arrangements in communities that reflect community sentiment. Any decisions on granting licences in communities will be informed by local views on what is best for the community, and what is sustainable.
In wrapping up the Roundtable, Minister Crawford agreed to support the establishment of a small working group to work at a high level to further unpack the range of issues discussed.
Local government sustainability
Financial Sustainability Framework
Assistant Minister for Local Government the Hon Nikki Boyd MP briefed TCICA on the proposed Local Government Sustainability Framework which has been designed to help assist the department in providing more targeted support to councils. The Assistant Minister also spoke about the Financial Assistance Grants methodology review underway by the Local Government Grants Commission.
Financial sustainability workshop with Queensland Treasury Corporation
The team from Queensland Treasury Corporation’s Client Division facilitated an interactive and engaging workshop with leaders to help build an understanding of the challenges and opportunities councils face to achieve financial sustainability within current grant funding arrangements. The first in what is expected to be a series of workshops to address this important topic, the workshop explored the meaning of financial sustainability, current and future challenges faced by councils, strengths and opportunities to improve financial sustainability, and sought initial agreement on the challenges and opportunities that could be tackled as a collective.
Key issues considered included the spiralling costs of insurance and asset maintenance and management, legislative compliance, workforce attraction and retention, land tenure, and community service delivery. Longer term challenges such as loss of revenue due to land transfers, climate change impacts, waste management, and councils forced to operate as service providers of last resort, were also acknowledged. Despite these challenges, councils identified opportunities to achieve financial sustainability by capitalising on strengths in areas such as domestic and civil construction, and through improvements in governance, local leadership and talent growth, asset management, joint procurement, and shared servicing arrangements.
A high level sub-committee will be established to further investigate options to solve the challenges identified and work on an action plan to realise the opportunities, with ongoing support by Queensland Treasury Corporation.
Aviation and air access
NQ Airports Group’s Chief Executive Officer Richard Barker briefed TCICA on commitments by the airport to increase awareness of the region’s Indigenous culture through showcasing Indigenous art in the Cairns Airport terminal. NQ Airports is also keen to increase its focus on strengthening regional aviation by building the skills of regional airport workers through training delivered by the Cairns Aviation Skills Centre, and supporting advocacy for regional and remote airports on the basis they are critical infrastructure for communities.
Department of Transport and Main Roads District Director Ross Hodgman, and Manager Indigenous and Local Government Engagement John Gillespie, updated TCICA on the progress of the $237.5 million Cape York Regional Package (CYRP) Stage 2, which will seal about 55km of the Peninsula Development Road (PDR), leaving about 145km unsealed. Two more stages will be required to fully seal the entire PDR.
TCICA’s next meeting is scheduled for 1 & 2 March 2022 in Cairns.