TCICA Communique – September 2022

The Torres Cape Indigenous Council Alliance held its fourth meeting for the year in Mapoon, Napranum and Weipa on 14 and 15 September, with Members getting the opportunity to see for themselves a range of projects completed or underway in Mapoon and Napranum, and share knowledge on initiatives such as solar lighting, micro grids, land and sea management, community liveability, and tourism development.

Mayors, Councillors and CEOs participated in the launch of SOURCE Water’s innovative hydro panel technology in Mapoon.  The first of its kind in North Queensland, the hydro panel site can generate around 2500 litres of high-quality drinking water each month.  The panels are located at Mapoon’s new Cultural Centre and will be a demonstration project to test the feasibility of using hydro panels at various scales to help address water security issues in the region.

Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council showcased the work of the Mapoon Land and Sea Rangers and their commitment to conservation of the region’s iconic turtle population through measures to control feral pigs and their devastating impact on turtle nesting sites.  TCICA Members also heard about the rangers’ work to clean up tonnes of rubbish such as foam, water bottles and rope that originates in Indonesia and washes up along Mapoon’s coastline.  More than 3 tonnes of waste plastics and other rubbish was collected on a 12 kilometre stretch of beach, not including hundreds and hundreds of metres of ‘ghost’ nets pulled out of the sand.

During TCICA’s time in Napranum, Napranum Aboriginal Shire Council spoke of their pathway to the establishment of a community led Local Thriving Communities decision-making model to drive long term service delivery reform.  Members also heard about Napranum’s progress toward the development of new social housing, and a range of sporting and community amenity projects underway to improve liveability for residents.

Members heard from Napranum’s project partners Planz Town Planning on the feasibility of microgrid solutions to help the community transition away from reliance on Rio Tinto’s diesel generated power, and how Napranum Council is focussed on ensuring fit-for-purpose tropical housing design is a key feature of new housing investment in the community.

Following the meetings in Mapoon and Napranum, TCICA Members had the opportunity to tour both communities to see new developments and progress underway on a range of other initiatives such as camping sites and sporting infrastructure.

Remote Employment

Members discussed the outcomes of the recent Remote Employment Roundtable in Canberra attended by TCICA Chair Mayor Robbie Sands, with a further update provided by represenatives of the National Indigenous Australians Agency.  There is a strong focus on a new system that will deliver real jobs, decent conditions, and proper wages and entitlements for participants, as well as programs that create pathways to work for job-ready people.  Leaders agreed that activity needs to be meaningful if outcomes are to be achieved.  There was discussion on the need for operational costs to be covered as part of any new program and this was also emphasised with Minister Burney during the roundtable.

Minister Burney has announced that current job services providers would be able to reallocate 25 per cent of their funding to trial programs that create real jobs.  Providers need to engage with communities to help design trial programs and TCICA Members are encouraged to negotiate as soon as possible with providers operating in their communities.  NIAA anticipates trial programs to commencing operating as soon as December this year.

TCICA will continue to engage closely with NIAA and Minister Burney to have input into the new scheme and ensure it is codesigned in partnership with our communities.

Food security

Representatives of Health and Wellbeing Queensland met with TCICA in Weipa and updated leaders on the progress of the Remote Food Security Strategy and associated food supply chain mapping study.  Shockingly, the study reveals that food can travel more than 3,500km to reach Bamaga in the Northern Peninsula Area and take up to 11 days.  Furthermore, food can be one third more expensive in Bamaga and other remote communities compared to Brisbane food prices.  The study will help inform the Remote Food Security Strategy and solutions which may include alternative supply options.

Priority areas for focus in the Remote Food Security Strategy are sustainable local food production, addressing freight costs and improving supply chain efficiencies, promoting healthy communities through education and good nutrition, and empowering people to prepare and cook healthy foods to improve household health and wellbeing.  Health and Wellbeing Queensland’s work will align to work underway by the National Indigenous Australians Agency to address remote food security issues, and delivery partners such as the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Department of Housing, and Department of Agriculture and Fisheries will support the implementation of the strategy.

Members noted the work underway in Mornington Shire by Arup Australia and Health and Wellbeing Queensland to develop a business case for local food production.

Digital connectivity

Senior officers from the Department of Communities, Housing, and Digital Economy presented on the Department’s plans to develop a Digital Infrastructure Strategy to address the digital divide in Queensland and improve services to regional, rural, and remote communities.  The plan will inform the State Government’s advocacy to the Federal Government on digital connectivity programs and policies and allow for better collaboration, coordination, and co-investment between the two levels of government.

The Department will soon be seeking advice from communities on their connectivity issues at the local level to help identify and develop solutions that work.  The more data collected by local communities the better.  Councils can also play a key role in supporting planning approvals and considering small funding contributions to show community support for new infrastructure.

Other matters

Assistant Minister for Local Government Nikki Boyd MP

Ms Boyd joined TCICA by video conference to brief members on a range of local government matters including a commitment to review State Government Financial Aid to Indigenous local governments.  The Department is committed to helping build financial sustainability for councils and recognises the unique challenges faced by Indigenous local governments.

The Department is working with the Local Government Managers Association (LGMA) to assist councils with governance matters and help them improve their ability to service their communities.  The work includes refining governance policies to implement best practice into council business.  A government-funded governance adviser is embedded in LGMA to provide advice on critical challenges facing councils.

Patient accommodation shortages

Leaders discussed issues regarding the lack of patient accommodation in Cairns due to severe housing and short-term accommodation shortages, and peak tourism periods which are driving up the cost of hotels and motels to a point that is unsustainable for Queensland Health.  Members noted recent media reporting on the old Alluna Hostel in Cairns and struggles by the Alluna Land Trust to secure funding to redevelop it to accommodate people from remote Indigenous communities coming to Cairns for medical appointments.  If redeveloped, the hostel would help to alleviate some of the pressure.

TCICA will take patient accommodation shortages up with the Health Minister, joining councils such as Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council in their advocacy on this matter.

Far North Queensland Regional Economic Strategy

The Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning will soon undertake consultations in the region to inform the development of a new Far North Queensland Regional Economic Strategy and Regional Infrastructure Plan.  Sessions are being held in Cairns (23 September), Cooktown (29 September), Weipa (5 October) and on Thursday Island (date tbc).  The Department also intends to hold a virtual consultation session during October.  Cape and Torres councils are strongly encouraged to engage in these consultation sessions to ensure our region has a strong voice in the economic future of the region.

Freight equalisation

Mayor Robbie Sands briefed members on a recent meeting with Transport Minister Mark Bailey to inform him of TCICA’s focus on freight equalisation and the study that has been commissioned by TCICA.  The Minister was very interested in the concept and noted that freight is subsidised to other parts of Queensland so there is some precedent in terms of freight subsidies.  He advised that he had tasked his department with identifying potential options to drive down freight costs for remote communities and will await TCICAs study to help inform this work.

Minister Bailey encouraged TCICA to directly brief Federal Transport Minister Catherine King and a meeting will be sought with her during TCICA’s advocacy visit to Canberra in late November.

Financial sustainability – capability and capacity

Members were reminded to complete the financial sustainability survey designed by Queensland Treasury Corporation for TCICA to understand capability and capacity issues in councils to help identify solutions to address them.  Councils who had completed the survey noted the value of doing it and why it is an important part helping to achieve financial sustainability through individual actions and through opportunities to better collaborate and coordinate across the group.

Sly Grog Strategy

The draft Sly Grog Strategy 2022-2024 was circulated to members of the Sly Grog Working Group for review.  The strategy contains a range of actions under four different priorities: demand reduction; harm reduction; supply reduction; and community wellbeing.  Once endorsed by the working group, the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships will formally progress for Queensland Government consideration and joint approval with councils.

Next meeting

The next meeting of the Torres Cape Indigenous Council Alliance is scheduled for 15 November, to be followed by a Climate and Economic Opportunities conference on 16 and 17 November, hosted by the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships.