The Torres Cape Indigenous Council Alliance held its first meeting for 2022 in Cairns on 1 and 2 March. Attended by more than 30 mayors, councillors and chief executives from across the region, key areas of focus for TCICA included water security, strategic regional planning, and the upcoming federal election. Leaders also continued to progress important work on local government sustainability, sly grogging, and health system reform.
Local government sustainability
The first meeting of the TCICA Financial Sustainability Working Group was held on 1 March to start to prioritise strategies to address local government sustainability challenges. With ongoing support from Queensland Treasury Corporation, the working group will continue to identify key economic, social and environmental initiatives that can be progressed to help councils become more sustainable for the long term. Initial discussions focussed on housing, climate resilience, digital connectivity, asset management, shared servicing, and regulatory compliance, with further scoping needed to understand how these challenges can best be managed. The group will continue to meet regularly throughout the year to work through a range of strategies and actions.
Leaders heard from SOURCE on their sustainable water technology that uses the power of the sun to extract clean, reliable drinking water from the air. With communities often facing contaminated drinking water supplies or poor quality drinking water, this new technology could offer an alternative source of high-quality water and help communities and households to become more resilient, sustainable and healthy. Other potential benefits include opportunities to sell locally-produced water, and avoiding the cost and waste of single use plastic water bottles by using refillable bottles.
Strategic regional planning
Regional Development Australia Tropical North (RDTN) briefed members on work underway to develop a strategic regional plan for the whole of the far north. RDATN intends to work with TCICA and Far North Queensland Organisation of Councils to lead the development of the plan, proposing the establishment of a Project Leadership Team involving TCICA’s Chair, and Project Control Group involving TCICA’s Executive Officer, to oversee and guide the process and drive stakeholder engagement. This should ensure TCICA’s existing Economic Opportunities Plan and State and Federal advocacy priorities are incorporated into any overarching plan for the broader region.
It is RDATN’s intention that the plan informs government decision-making and investment in priority development areas across the region.
Proposed independent Environmental Protection Agency
Senior officers from the Department of Environment and Science briefed TCICA on consultation underway to help inform the Government about the potential establishment of an independent environmental protection agency for Queensland.
The investigation into possible models for an independent EPA in Queensland involves:
- an assessment of the current state
- benchmarking across other jurisdictions
- research into the importance of independence in regulation
- development of assessment criteria for comparison of possible EPA models
- financial modelling and a governance review
Consultation feedback will help decide whether Queensland should have an independent EPA, and if so, what it could look like and how it should operate. A discussion paper for targeted stakeholder consultation will soon be released and members are strongly encouraged to make submissions.
Leaders discussed the upcoming Federal Election and TCICA’s advocacy priorities. Key ongoing priorities include a long term commitment to remote Indigenous housing, addressing digital connectivity infrastructure gaps, funding for critical access infrastructure, and local government sustainability. New priorities include the need for a freight equalisation scheme to help drive down living costs and address food security issues, and strengthening Indigenous representative bodies such as land trusts and registered native title bodies corporate, which is a key recommendation in a recently released report by the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia.
Members had the opportunity to discuss these priorities with current sitting member Warren Entsch MP and Labor’s candidate for Leichhardt Elida Faith.
Transport infrastructure investment
Senior officers from the Department of Main Roads and Transport updated members on the progress of projects funded under second $237.5 million stage of the Cape York Regional Package. The $190 million Peninsula Development Road component features 11 projects including construction of the Archer River Bridge southern approach, and construction of the bridge. The $47.5 million Community Access Road component will see 13 separate projects on access roads to Pormpuraaw, Lockhart River, Aurukun, and Northern Peninsula Area.
A social, economic, and environmental impact assessment of the CYRP project will soon be undertaken to study the flow-on benefits of the package and how the upgrades so far have benefited community outcomes. The communities of Bamaga, Laura and Coen have been selected to participate in the study. Providing ongoing Indigenous training, employment and business opportunities throughout the program remains a key focus, but is challenged by the seasonal nature of civil construction in the region.
Director-General Dr Chris Sarra briefed Leaders on the development of a new Queensland Seniors Strategy and new Queensland Disability Plan. The Department is working to help more people access the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which will create more opportunities for the establishment of local First Nations businesses to provide services. Leaders agreed that there is a real need for quality of life care in communities and more localised solutions. Seminars and discussions on NDIS business opportunities will be offered to all communities around the middle of the year and help will be provided to anyone wanting to start up a NDIS small business or expand into providing NDIS services. Business and job opportunities could include allied health services and providing in-home support such as meal preparation, house cleaning and lawn mowing.
Members were also updated on the progress of Indigenous Voice including the establishment of an eight person First Nations Consultative Committee representing eight regions, Path to Treaty, and the Local Thriving Communities reform agenda.
Health system reform
Leaders discussed the Torres and Cape Health Care Commissioning Fund (TORCH) project with senior Commonwealth and State health representatives. Progress has been made in raising awareness of the project and demonstrating the commitment of both levels of government to a community-led response to health reform in the region. Targeted conversations have now been held in communities to provide community leaders with an understanding of the goals and objectives of the project and build an understanding of the challenges and health concerns faced by each community. Leaders confirmed their committed to ongoing participation in the project and recommended a suite of communication tools be developed to help build the trust of community members.
The project team will continue to work with communities to understand how each community wants to play a part in future decision-making structures.
Sly Grog Working Group
The newly established Sly Grog Working Group met on 2 March to discuss the challenges, opportunities, and community priorities for alcohol management. Members of the group agreed that a multi-pronged approach which considers the drivers of sly grog, community impacts, licencing, regulation, compliance, and justice is needed. The next meeting will focus on identifying a range of strategies to help to address the issues.
TCICA’s next meeting is scheduled for 10 & 11 May, in Cooktown.