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Community Affairs Legislation Committee
FAMILIES, HOUSING, COMMUNITY SERVICES AND INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO
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Content WindowCommunity Affairs Legislation Committee - 22/03/2012 - Estimates - FAMILIES, HOUSING, COMMUNITY SERVICES AND INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO
FAMILIES, HOUSING, COMMUNITY SERVICES AND INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO
The Hon. Senator Jan McLucas, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers
Torres Strait Regional Authority
Mr John (Toshie) Kris, Chairperson
Mr Wayne See Kee, Chief Executive Officer
Mr Chris de Mamiel, Chief Finance Officer
Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
Mr Matthew James, Branch Manager
Ms Elizabeth McDermott
Ms Jan Lawless
Ms Emma Coughlan
Ms Tracey Carroll
Ms Sandra van Aalst
Committee met at 13:18
CHAIR ( Senator Moore ): Welcome. I declare open the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee. Today our committee is considering the additional estimates for the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs portfolio. Senators are reminded that written questions on notice should be provided to the committee secretariat by close of business on Friday, 23 March. The committee has set Friday, 20 April, as the date for the return of answers to questions taken on notice.
Officers and senators are familiar with the rules of the Senate governing estimates hearings. If you need any assistance, the secretariat has a copy of the rules.
I particularly draw attention, as I must, to the Senate order of 13 May 2009, specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised and which I now incorporate in Hansard.
The extract read as follows—
Public interest immunity claims
That the Senate—
(a) notes that ministers and officers have continued to refuse to provide information to Senate committees without properly raising claims of public interest immunity as required by past resolutions of the Senate;
(b) reaffirms the principles of past resolutions of the Senate by this order, to provide ministers and officers with guidance as to the proper process for raising public interest immunity claims and to consolidate those past resolutions of the Senate;
(c) orders that the following operate as an order of continuing effect:
(a) a Senate committee, or a senator in the course of proceedings of a committee, requests information or a document from a Commonwealth department or agency; and
(b) an officer of the department or agency to whom the request is directed believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the officer shall state to the committee the ground on which the officer believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, and specify the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.
(2) If, after receiving the officer’s statement under paragraph (1), the committee or the senator requests the officer to refer the question of the disclosure of the information or document to a responsible minister, the officer shall refer that question to the minister.
(3) If a minister, on a reference by an officer under paragraph (2), concludes that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the minister shall provide to the committee a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.
(4) A minister, in a statement under paragraph (3), shall indicate whether the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee could result only from the publication of the information or document by the committee, or could result, equally or in part, from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee as in camera evidence.
(5) If, after considering a statement by a minister provided under paragraph (3), the committee concludes that the statement does not sufficiently justify the withholding of the information or document from the committee, the committee shall report the matter to the Senate.
(6) A decision by a committee not to report a matter to the Senate under paragraph (5) does not prevent a senator from raising the matter in the Senate in accordance with other procedures of the Senate.
(7) A statement that information or a document is not published, or is confidential, or consists of advice to, or internal deliberations of, government, in the absence of specification of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document, is not a statement that meets the requirements of paragraph (I) or (4).
(8) If a minister concludes that a statement under paragraph (3) should more appropriately be made by the head of an agency, by reason of the independence of that agency from ministerial direction or control, the minister shall inform the committee of that conclusion and the reason for that conclusion, and shall refer the matter to the head of the agency, who shall then be required to provide a statement in accordance with paragraph (3).
(Extract, Senate Standing Orders, pp 124-125)
The committee will begin today's proceedings with the whole-of-portfolio and corporate matters for the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and, in particular, issues around the Torres Strait Regional Authority. Gentlemen, we deeply appreciate the fact that we could have you with us as part of our Senate estimates process. I know it has been a while since your agency has been called, but we believe that today you were already coming to Canberra for other purposes, so it could work in well. Thank you very much. I also welcome Senator Jan McLucas, who knows your area very well, who is representing the minister. Would anyone from the authority like to make an opening statement?
Mr Kris : Thank you. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we are gathered on here today. I also thank the Senate committee for allowing us to appear here today and raise the issues pertaining to the Torres Strait. I believe the Torres Strait plays a unique and strategic role for the security of our country. We look forward to working closely in partnership with state, Commonwealth and all other agencies in providing services throughout our region for our communities.
CHAIR: Thank you. Mr See Kee, do you wish to make a statement?
Mr See Kee : I just wanted to thank the committee once again. I think we were trying to catch up last year. As well as the Chair, I pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which we sit. Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you. Mr de Mamiel?
Mr de Mamiel : No.
CHAIR: For your information, because I know it has been a while and I do not think the same people were in your positions the last time we had the Torres Strait Regional Authority before us, I am from Queensland. Senator Sue Boyce is from Queensland. Senator Mark Furner is from Queensland. Senator Carol Brown is from Tasmania. Senator Rachel Siewert from Western Australia will be trying to get here as well, but she is caught in the chambers.
Senator BOYCE: I am really pleased that we got you to come to an estimates hearing. It is not just good from our point of view to be able to talk to you, but it also gives you a chance to get the politicians down here to pay attention. You are the CFO, Mr De Mamiel?
Mr de Mamiel : That is correct.
Senator BOYCE: In your last annual report you talked about the fact that the MIP, the major infrastructure projects fund trust account, had not been included in your annual reports in the past. Can you explain what happened there and what the outcome of that is now?
Mr de Mamiel : If I might just take us back to before the end of the financial year, the chair of our audit committee suggested that we might for transparency purposes include the MIP trust account in our financial statements. The MIP trust is held in trust. The funding comes from both Queensland and the Commonwealth. For transparency purposes, we thought it appropriate for all readers of the annual report to have that information available to them.
Senator BOYCE: You do not just use the income from the trust, though. You use the capital for expenditure as well. Is that correct?
Mr de Mamiel : The funding from both the state and the Commonwealth is transferred to a MIP trust account. Any income that is generated from investment through that account is channelled back through to that account.
Senator BOYCE: At the end of the last financial year you had $85 million in that financial account. Is that right?
Mr de Mamiel : That is correct.
Senator BOYCE: That is not all spent by the authority, though, is it?
Mr de Mamiel : The authority does not spend that money. We are trustees. Mr See Kee and myself are trustees of the MIP trust.
Senator BOYCE: So you give it to the three councils to expend?
Mr de Mamiel : There is a priority list of what infrastructure is to be constructed. Once those particular infrastructures are completed, they are transitioned back to the jurisdictional bodies, being the councils, for them to be gifted into their books.
Senator BOYCE: Are you accountable for the expenditure of that money, or are the councils accountable? Who is the watchdog making sure that the money is being spent properly?
Mr de Mamiel : The TSRA are trustees for that particular fund, so we play a trustee role to ensure that the governance structures are in place and that we are able to monitor and ensure the prudent spending of those funds in the areas in which they were earmarked.
Senator BOYCE: And how do you report on that, then?
Mr de Mamiel : The MIP trust has a separate financial statements produced and they are externally audited. The information on that is provided back to TSRA, and the trustees review it. The information is shared with the board so that the board is across the information. We also included it for transparency purposes in our annual report this year.
Senator BOYCE: There was not much detail on expenditure in your annual report, was there?
Mr de Mamiel : No, just the information in regards to the funding in the account at that particular time.
CHAIR: I am sorry, we have to go to a division in the chamber.
Proceedings suspended from 13 : 26 to 13 : 30
ACTING CHAIR ( Senator Carol Brown ): We will resume the proceedings. Senator Moore has made me acting chair in her place.
Senator BOYCE: In terms of the infrastructure trust, do you publish your auditor's report into the expenditure of the trust funds?
Mr de Mamiel : The trust funds are audited by an external body. The ANAO this year, I understand, has placed reliance on those external reports so we included them in our annual report. That is part of our financial statements.
Senator BOYCE: That gets me through the finance part that I wanted to ask about, unless there is anything you would like to add. The authority looks to be in fairly good shape financially?
Mr de Mamiel : Yes it is. Appropriation and third party as well as external funds provide us in good stead for the future. We are prudent with our funds and we would like to ensure that takes place into the future as well.
Senator BOYCE: One other area I would like to ask about is the rather fraught question of the TB clinics on Saibai island and Boigu. I know some more money went in for another couple of clinics to happen after what was going to be the last clinics in February. Could you give me the authority's view on where we are at with the TB clinics, please?
Mr Kris : The board specifically supports the whole process of putting a TB clinic in those communities but first preference should be given to the Torres Strait communities when establishing these clinics. As a Commonwealth organisation in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, we are working closely with the PNG government in looking at how we can resolve some of those issues pertaining to the treaty, such as TB. The state government is looking after the construction of those particular centres until such time as they are completed for the community and for cross border movement to be in use.
Senator BOYCE: Within the communities, particularly Boigu and Saibai, is there a concern that Papua New Guineans will continue to be present in the communities with TB, but potentially untreated TB if those clinics close?
Mr Kris : There is a high potential for that to happen and the community members in our region are very concerned that if those centres are closed then you will obviously see more numbers of people coming across to get that service provided for them.
Senator McLucas: I might be of assistance here. I do not know whether we are talking at cross purposes here. The Saibai clinic is being rebuilt. So those buildings and the Boigu clinic building will remain there and will remain staffed by Queensland health personnel. The clinics that you are referring to are the actual events.
Senator BOYCE: The actual holding of clinics.
Senator McLucas: When the doctors from Cairns will go up and provide services to the treaty villages.
Senator BOYCE: To Papua New Guineans. Yes.
Senator McLucas: And transfer and hand over the patients that they have on their books at the moment to PNG authorities. As you know, we discussed this at health estimates, this is on the basis of a World Health Organisation report—
Senator BOYCE: Yes, I am aware of that.
Senator McLucas: that says it is most efficacious and better in the long term to contain TB, particularly multidrug resistant TB, by treating people within their own country. I just wanted to clarify that, Mr Kris. I did not want people talking at cross purposes. We are talking in some cases of a building and in some cases of an event. So the servicing of patients who are PNG nationals.
Senator BOYCE: It is not so much the buildings that I am interested in, it is that treatment of Papua New Guineans. It does occur at the top of the Torres Strait. They are now being discouraged from doing so. I think as I said at estimates, certainly no-one disagrees that the best outcome is for Papua New Guineans to be treated in Papua New Guinea, but they need to be confident that they are going to get good treatment there, before they will presumably stop their very, almost traditional, activity now of coming over into the top of the Torres Strait. I was just wanting to ask Mr Kris and Mr See Kee what the community's views are around this area. I have also been told that there are Papua New Guineans with TB now going to Bamaga Hospital and places like that for treatment because they do not believe they will get treated in Saibai or Boigu. Can you just tell me what it is like up there, please?
Mr Kris : Just on the TB centre, as a representative of our region on the Joint Advisory Council for the treaty meetings, one of the TB centres that has been funded by the Australian government to be built in the western province for those particular communities, has been built outside of the region. It is at least a couple of days for a patient to actually get that service provided to them. We brought that up at the Joint Advisory Council as an issue pertaining to those communities.
Senator BOYCE: So it takes a couple of days for people to get there?
Mr Kris : It takes a couple of days from one of the treaty communities to get to that clinic. Just to get that service.
Senator BOYCE: That is to get to Daru or just to—
Mr Kris : It is south-east of Daru.
Senator BOYCE: So it would be easier for them to come to Boigu or Saibai than to go to their national clinic.
Mr Kris : Yes. It has been in the Upper Fly, whereas the communities are down in the western province.
Senator FURNER: What is the mode of transport generally in making those travels?
Mr Kris : To the community or just in general?
Senator FURNER: Both.
Mr Kris : By boat up to the closest community, then you would walk probably a couple of hours or you might get a lift on a truck. For someone down on one of those western communities such as Bula, it would take them a day to get to Daru and another day to get to one of the other communities, then they have to find a way up to the clinic.
Senator McLucas: The Daru hospital is also being upgraded.
Mr Kris : Yes.
Senator FURNER: What do you do for accommodation when you arrive there at the clinic? If needed?
Mr Kris : Good question, Senator. I have never been in that predicament.
Senator BOYCE: Hope you have got a relation nearby. What is the ultimate outcome for the Torres Strait Islands? What would you like to see the outcome be in terms of Papua New Guineans and TB clinics?
Mr Kris : We would certainly like to see a clinic somewhere close to these communities to provide that service. We could never turn anyone away when they turn up at our doorstep seeking help, especially for health. But we are talking about communities that spread from the lower point of the western province up to the South Fly. It is a huge gap for us to look after. Traditionally, we have been doing it for other purposes. Now, we are doing it again for other purposes—another treaty such as on health. We work closely with other organisations such as AusAID in the Joint Advisory Council treaty meetings to look at options to provide help, whether it is in the construction of health infrastructure or in other areas where we could help minimise some of the issues that arise from across the border.
Senator BOYCE: I also want to ask you about the question of aged care. There was an issue with one of your aged-care facilities. I think you have two aged-care facilities. Is that right? One on TI and—
Mr Kris : There is only one.
Senator BOYCE: There were some problems about the water supply to it, a couple of years ago. Could you tell me about the aged-care facility per se, and whether you think you have sufficient resources to deal with the need for aged care in the Torres Strait?
Mr See Kee : TSRA really has not had a key role in aged care up there.
Senator BOYCE: The council provides it. Is that right?
Mr See Kee : I think it is managed through DoHA. There is a Star of the Sea home there that has a governing board. There is a new provided running the aged-care home on TI. We have from time to time provide some dollars to the aged-care home for training initiatives. I think that has been the majority of the dollars that TSRA has put in. It has really been from the capacity building end. In terms of the needs of the community, various members of the community, including on our board, have raised the issue of aged care, especially for people in the outer islands area. The chairman might like to say something about that.
Mr Kris : Very limited services are being provided through our region for aged care. It is something that, again, through the health partnership, is a key factor in our region. How we look at providing services such as aged care is a consideration. Although it is not a huge component of the agenda of that particular meeting, we sort of keep a watchful eye over what is happening in that area.
Senator BOYCE: What happens now if someone is healthy but frail, and lives on Mer, or somewhere like that?
Mr Kris : The onus of making a particular decision becomes part of a family process. They agree to move the aged person to the centre on Thursday Island or they keep them at home and look after them through a family process.
Senator BOYCE: Unless the family can look after the person they basically have to move to TI?
Mr Kris : That is correct.
Senator BOYCE: I had similar questions around the care of people with disabilities. You might be aware that a new Indigenous disabilities organisation is being launched to try to give a unified voice to Indigenous disability issues. I think it is being called First Peoples Disability Network. What is the situation in the Torres Strait?
Mr See Kee : Again, we have had very minimal engagement and contact with both the Commonwealth and state agencies on disability. One of the things that TSRA along with the state and local governments has been doing, and it is a bit of a proactive approach, is to build what is being called an integrated service delivery framework for delivering up there—based on building blocks but also making sure that the dots can be joined in terms of where resources get invested up there. One of the reasons for that is so that there can be a maximising of efficiency of government services and effective delivery across the local, state and Commonwealth boundaries. Aged care and the disability question are areas that have come up, and that leaders have made pretty clear to government agencies that they want included now in terms of whole-of-region planning. So that whether it is TSRA or other departments, everybody knows what is going on in the area.
Senator BOYCE: Do you foresee a role for the TSRA in those disability and aged-care areas—not in service delivery but in developing programs or planning?
Mr Kris : The integrated service delivery planning framework we have developed working closely with all other agencies and other service providers in our region helps us coordinate and develop policies and a framework around the particular area so that we are all focusing on the issues rather than duplicating services and programs in areas, especially as small as the Torres Strait.
Senator BOYCE: You have an integrated plan or you are developing one?
Mr Kris : We have developed one in the last three years, working closely with our communities and departments. It is now a matter of getting everyone onboard and starting to provide—
Senator BOYCE: It that plan public? Is it on your website?
Mr See Kee : Yes. We have some packs for the senators. It has got our development plan. There is also our regional plan that our regional leaders put together, outlining their aspirations for the region from 2009 to 2029. That really is the overarching document and set of principles that everybody is working to right now.
Senator BOYCE: Your current strategic plan is due to run out in 2013.
Mr See Kee : That is correct.
Senator BOYCE: I was going to say, 'And what then?' But you have done 'what then?' There is another question, and this often comes up in the Cape York area. It also arose when we were in Arnhem Land recently. The distance you are from supply centres and the cost of getting products to your communities. Would you like to tell us a bit about that cost and what you think may be able to be done about it?
Mr Kris : It has been something on the cards for a while. We have been working with our local leaders and local members looking at how we could work around with CPI, especially in the Torres. I am from St Paul's community, one of the closest communities to Thursday Island. It is about 40 nautical miles north. We are buying fuel at $2.50 per litre.
Senator BOYCE: Fuel being diesel?
Mr Kris : Petrol. Diesel is a bit more expensive than petrol.
Senator BOYCE: The price would be around $1.40 to $1.50.
Mr Kris : The further north you travel out to the islands, the higher the price is. In the east and the top west they are paying $3 per litre. On Thursday Island they are paying $2.10 per litre at the moment.
Senator BOYCE: That is significantly more than the mainland.
Mr de Mamiel : Yesterday when I drove past a service station in Canberra it was $1.47 for a litre as opposed to $2.10.
Senator BOYCE: So you have those petrol costs. In Maningrida, for example, the people who ran the cooperative store made the point that the extra costs meant that—and I cannot remember the exact example—a product that cost $2 in Woolworths in Darwin cost about $3.50 by the time it went into a shop in Maningrida. Have you done those sorts of comparisons and can you tell us about them?
Mr See Kee : Senator, you have been quite active in terms of watching prices and assisting. We did it in 2008 and also 2009 in collaboration with you and also I think the previous member for Leichardt, Mr Jim Turnour. Some of the things that we have found, and I suppose it has been published, is that we have prices ranging from $350 to $380 for a certain basket of goods—groceries and that kind of stuff—ranging from TI to Bamaga compared to places like Cairns. They are things that we hear just about every trip that we do to our communities. What we are trying to do in the TSRA is about talking to the communities about some of the ways that people might be able to access some of these things in a more cost-effective way for them as a family. One of the other things that came out through the ABS census back in 2006 was the gap between median earnings—an individual was earning $270 in the Torres Strait area compared to $466 nation wide. So you have a gap in terms of income and you also have a huge gap in terms of what it costs to live in some of these communities. That impacts on where people go to get food. Food security becomes an issue immediately. It also impacts on the cost of doing business, not just for government but also for businesses and for individuals wanting to do things. There is a whole range of implications there.
The TSRA put up a submission when there was an inquiry about this a few years ago. One of the points that the board asked to be included in the submission was to seek some form of subsidy for the region to assist with keeping the cost of living down for a lot of people in our communities.
Senator BOYCE: A freight subsidy like Tasmania's, for example?
Mr See Kee : That is correct.
Senator BOYCE: Do you know if any work has ever been done on the economics of doing something like that?
Mr See Kee : Not to my knowledge.
Senator BOYCE: As you said, boats are the main way of getting around, and you need fuel for that. Have you looked at the extra costs that the carbon tax is likely to impose on your costs of living in the Torres Strait?
Mr Kris : On Sunday there is a workshop in Cairns that we are attending to look at how we can obtain some help with the carbon tax.
Senator BOYCE: Who is holding that workshop?
Senator McLucas: I will tell you in a minute.
Senator BOYCE: Thank you, Minister.
Mr See Kee : On the general question for the Torres Strait area: no, no-one has had a look at what the impact may be or could be.
Senator McLucas: On Sunday in Cairns is the Indigenous Climate Change Mitigation Workshop, which is being held by the Christensen Fund, the Wet Tropics Management Authority, the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies and the Cairns Institute of James Cook University.
Senator BOYCE: It sounds as though you will know everything you need to know by Sunday night. Again, this is something that might go back to what you were talking about before on the difference in income and on the closing the gap analysis. I am often surprised by the fact that statistics on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues are bundled up into one 'Indigenous' figure. Do you have any concerns about the fact that we very rarely get Aboriginal figures and Torres Strait Islander figures? The implication of this is: should there be policy differences in the way things are approached because there are differences in the populations?
Mr Kris : I think there should be some recognition given to the status of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. You cannot split the policies by creating more policies—then everyone is running around trying to figure out who's who and what's what. At the end of the day, there should be some recognition that the only difference between those two—the Aboriginals and the Torres Strait Islanders—is the cultural protocol and policies that apply culturally. Like everyone else in Australia, it is the first nation of people of the region.
Senator BOYCE: So you would see the health and education issues et cetera as being basically the same, is that correct?
Mr Kris : To some extent.
Mr See Kee : From the delivery and planning perspective, having separate figures would be very good, just so that for the Torres Strait region and the Northern Peninsula Area there can be planning done to look at what the future needs are going to be and where the baselines are. We have started to do that as part of the integrated service delivery project and the framing we have talked about, so we have done some baselining there, but the next step for us is getting assistance from other departments to provide that data so that, when we come here or when we go anywhere else, we are able to provide health stats and employment stats for all of our communities and give a pretty accurate picture to everybody. That is one of the things we are working on now. To have data that can identify what the extent of need is in the Torres Strait would be fantastic from a planning and delivery perspective.
Mr James : When I get back to the office I will send a little table that gives the stats that we already have. The stats are broken up for the Torres Strait Islander population. I will not go through them now, but will rather send the table to you. I mentioned to Mr See Kee that we are prepared to help with baseline information. We have done a lot of baselines. You cannot always get the stats at a local level that you might as a state or national level. But there are still things we can do and we will work together with the Torres Strait Regional Authority.
Senator BOYCE: Without telling me about those figures now, do they suggest any differences between the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations? For example, I would have thought school attendance was much better in the Torres Strait.
Mr James : Yes. I could very quickly read a summary point from a joint ABS-HW publication called the Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples:
Torres Strait Islander people have more favourable outcomes than other Indigenous people for several social and economic indicators. They have higher rates of secondary school completion, higher equivalised income and lower unemployment rates than Indigenous people overall. Like the Indigenous people as a whole, however, Torres Strait Islander people experience higher levels of disadvantage than do non-Indigenous Australians across most indicators of health and welfare.
There are some important differences—employment outcomes, on average at least, tend to be better for the Torres Strait Islander population.
Senator McLucas: I am trying to understand whether you are suggesting that we could disaggregate the Aboriginal population in the Torres Strait, which I think goes back to Mr Kris's point that within the Torres Strait it would be impossible to disaggregate the Aboriginal population from the Torres Strait Islander population.
Senator BOYCE: No, I am not suggesting that at all. What I am suggesting is that sometimes the uniqueness of the Torres Strait Islander community gets lost in the larger picture when the figures get aggregated and delivered aggregated, rather than disaggregated.
Senator McLucas: At the national level.
Senator BOYCE: Yes, for issues around school attendance and all sorts of things.
Senator McLucas: You have to remember that the Torres Strait is a discrete nation.
Senator BOYCE: I do not think enough of us do.
Senator McLucas: That is correct.
Senator FURNER: Thank you so much for your excellent pack. I am pretty naive about this particular area, but would love to learn more. In your package you have a Torres Strait climate change strategy. No doubt a number of issues and concerns are expressed, including:
If urgent action is not taken the Torres Strait region and its Indigenous peoples face an uncertain future and possible human rights crisis.
Is that feeling being expressed by the population of the Torres Straits?
Mr Kris : It certainly is, in particular because that plan was launched by the then minister, Penny Wong. We have been working very closely with both state and Commonwealth governments in obtaining some funds to try and complete some of the projects identified in that report. The frustrating thing for the communities on the ground is that we have gone through a whole lot of consultation processes with traditional owners on their land, in particular on those islands identified, and it has now come to the stage where we cannot go back to consult anymore because the plan is already drawn up. Communities are very frustrated about giving out more information. The feeling on the ground is, where are their rights as traditional owners on the ground after they have done so many consultations to identify a plan to save some of those cultural sites of value to those traditional owners? It is just like taking their rights away from them.
Senator FURNER: That pictures in the publication identify some sea-level inundation of the land. No doubt that is a concern of the population, as well as the possible increase of inundation as a result of climate change. Is that a general concern in the community?
Mr Kris : It is a huge concern right across our region, in particular when you turn on the news and you hear the Australian government is investing some money in the Pacific Islands that are going through the same process of erosion and nothing is being done in the Torres Strait, especially when we are looking after some of the security for the national interest of our country.
Senator FURNER: And doing a good job as well.
ACTING CHAIR: I thank the Torres Strait Regional Authority as well as the minister and the department for coming to this hearing today. I apologise for the interruptions, but they are just a fact of life when we have our meetings when parliament is sitting.
Committee adjourned at 14:00