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Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories
Department of Regional Development, Regional Australia and Local Government annual report 2010-11
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Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories
CHAIR (Senator Pratt)
Crossin, Sen Trish
Parry, Sen Stephen
Brodtmann, Gai, MP
Scott, Bruce, MP
Mr P Clark
Mr A Clark
Mr A Minkom
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Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories
(Joint-Monday, 22 October 2012)
Mr P Clark
Mr BRUCE SCOTT
Mr A Minkom
Mr A Clark
CHAIR (Senator Pratt)
Mr BRUCE SCOTT
Mr BRUCE SCOTT
Mr A Minkom
Mr BRUCE SCOTT
Mr BRUCE SCOTT
- Mr P Clark
Content WindowJoint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories - 22/10/2012 - Department of Regional Development, Regional Australia and Local Government annual report 2010-11
ARKRIE, Councillor Rosly, Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands
CLARK, Mr Alan William, Manager of Works and Services, Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands
CLARKE, Mr Peter, Chief Executive Officer, Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands
MINKOM, Mr Aindil, President, Cocos Islands Islamic Association
RAWLINGS, Mr Paul Nicholas, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Committee met at 08:42.
CHAIR ( Senator Pratt ): I declare open this hearing and thank everyone who has come along this morning, with particular thanks to the shire for being our first witnesses this morning. The committee is very happy to be here in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands again, but for many of us it is our first visit. Senator Crossin, how many times have you been here now?
Senator CROSSIN: Twenty or more, probably.
CHAIR: Good. This is my first visit, and I am absolutely delighted to be here. I think it is the first visit for other committee members as well. But, pleasingly, I have met many of the councillors from the shire in other activities, and some of you also at the small islands conference in Lord Howe. It was terrific to hear from you then about the desire for the committee to visit. We are very pleased to be able to do a formal parliamentary hearing here as part of our visit. It is, I think, particularly significant given that parliament is in Canberra—which is stating the obvious—but parliamentary proceedings take place all over our great country. It is fantastic for these hearings to be taking place today in the Indian Ocean territories, and it is really about bringing the fabric of our parliamentary processes out to communities across the country. It is a particular role of this committee given that we are the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories. We have the opportunity to hold these kinds of hearings here in Cocos (Keeling). Today is a particularly important opportunity to meet with community representatives to discuss matters of particular importance to the community and for us as a committee to be able to project those concerns into the parliament, but also for your concerns to be put directly onto the parliamentary record via these parliamentary proceedings.
I would like to say good morning to the new Administrator, Jon Stanhope. Thank you, Jon, for the support that your office has given in arranging these visits and also for making the most of the opportunity that these hearings present by coming along to listen. The committee would also like to put on record its appreciation to Brian Lacy, the former Administrator, who has also given this committee a great deal of support.
We now need to go through some formalities. I will ask a committee member to move a motion that the filming of proceedings be allowed today in accordance with the rules set down for committees, which includes not taking footage or still images of members' papers. It is so moved by Senator Parry. I also seek a motion to authorise publication of any submissions received by the inquiry and that these attachments be received as exhibits to the inquiry. It is so moved by Mr Bruce Scott.
The format of the hearing today is a series of appearances from community groups that have been invited to appear and give evidence. At the end of that process, individual members of the community are welcome to take the opportunity to also put their views forward to us. Some of you, in that context, might like to swap hats and put yourselves forward later in the proceedings as well. After our formal proceedings, we will have to opportunity to take part in general discussions and a community forum, and that will be off the record. We do appreciate that, whilst it is terrific to get things on the parliamentary record, sometimes private conversations are also important.
I note that having as members of this committee the Deputy Speaker of the House and the Deputy President of the Senate gives this committee a particularly special link to the territories. It helps lift the voice and the standing of this committee in terms of the issues that are raised.
I welcome the witnesses. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I advise you that these hearings are formal proceedings of parliament and warrant the same respect as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. I invite you to make some short opening statements. It is up the shire as to the manner in which you might like to do that.
Mr P Clark : Welcome on behalf of the shire. As you can see, we have got some pretty good facilities on Home Island and also on West Island. Our cyclone shelter here is nice and cool. We have got a few items that we would like to bring up with you. The first item is one that we have discussed at Lord Howe, and we wish to bring that item to your attention again, simply because nothing has happened with respect to this facility. If I could just read to you the background of this matter for your consideration.
In late 2009, the Australian government, through the Attorney-General's Department, called for tenders for the design and construction of the West Island community recreation centre, a facility that would provide West Island residents with a purpose-built facility for indoor sporting and social functions. The facility was also earmarked as a place where asylum seekers could be housed should they commence arriving in numbers rather than the inconvenience of housing them at the Cocos Club, which is used by the community as a local hotel and a cyclone shelter.
No tenders were accepted at the close of tenders in April 2010, apparently due to non-conformance. Council was informed sometime later that the department had decided to split the project into a separate design and construct process. Since that time, design drawings have been prepared but the government has not proceeded further with the project as previous funds allocated were lost to general revenue. It is understood that initially $5 million was allocated to the project, but it has now been estimated to be in the vicinity of $10 million to $12 million as designs provide for the facility to be a cyclone shelter rather than being cyclone rated.
Council has continued to query with the department as to the current status of this project and is continually informed that there is insufficient funding to enable the project to proceed. It was recently suggested to the department that it should come clean with the community and admit that the project will not proceed at all. Departmental staff have advised that they continue to raise the project as a matter of priority with the government. Since April 2012, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands have had well in excess of 2,000 asylum seekers. The initial arrivals were housed at the Cocos Club, at a considerable inconvenience to residents and tourists. Finally, common sense prevailed after complaints from the community and they were relocated to the quarantine station. Whilst this has been welcomed by the community, it still leaves uncertainty regarding the future of the community recreation centre.
The current cyclone shelter, the Cocos Club, was barely able to cope with housing the community, visitors and contractors during a cyclone in November 2010, with some members of the community opting to stay at home due to overcrowding at the facility. This did put those individuals at risk, although it was their decision to remain at home. If the community recreation centre had proceeded, it would most likely have been constructed by now and we would not be entering another cyclone season with a substandard facility, and also having the potential issue of asylum seekers being on island at the time of a cyclone, which will cause overcrowding issues and people, again, opting to stay at home.
Council has requested that the department of immigration provide a cyclone contingency plan. This plan should be developed in conjunction with the local emergency management committee's on-island plan. I understand that DIAC has been liaising with the local territory controller regarding this matter. That is the background to that issue. I do not know whether you have any questions.
CHAIR: We can move on to discussion of that issue or we can keep going; we will certainly make note of those issues and have some further discussion. Do you have some other issues, Mr Clark?
Mr P Clark : We have agreed that I would be the spokesperson, so I will go through those issues and then we can discuss them. I think Alan has a couple of issues that he wants to raise. So, if you do not mind, we will continue.
The other issue we have is with asylum seekers being placed on regular passenger planes. On Tuesday, 2 October and Friday, 5 October, asylum seekers were placed on the regular passenger flights to Christmas Island, and this was met with a number of complaints from locals and visitors as paying passengers on those flights. On behalf of the complainants, I forwarded an e-mail to the departmental staff—the department of regional Australia, and the department of immigration—on Wednesday, 3 October, expressing concerns regarding this practice. However, a response had not been received to this e-mail until a telephone call was made to the department of regional Australia on Wednesday, 17 October querying the matter. The response was that they would refer the matter to Immigration for comment.
The practice of placing asylum seekers on the flights has happened previously, which was met with similar concerns being raised by passengers on these flights. These concerns were again raised by council at the time and the shire was informed that this would not be a regular occurrence and had only occurred because of flight issues and plane availability. The same excuses may apply for the recent events; however, the Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands, together with the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Tourism Association and the Cocos community, have been proactively promoting the islands as a tourist destination. When paying passengers are forced to share flights with asylum seekers it does not send the right message to potential customers and damages the islands as a marketable destination. The Marketing Manager of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Tourism Association may also wish to comment on that when she presents to the committee.
The third one I have here relates to property insurance on the islands. The Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands was recently informed by its insurance broker that the current property insurer has advised that it is no longer prepared to provide cover on council buildings, which includes approximately 100 houses and numerous commercial buildings on Home Island. Council's broker in the past has been able to place the Cocos cooperative and both Indian Ocean territory shire councils on the one portfolio to assist with premium reductions. The recent decision now leaves the cooperative and the Shire of Christmas Island in the same predicament as council. Whilst the insurance broker has been working extremely hard to access appropriate cover, it has been reported that premiums could rise between 100 per cent and 200 per cent. Council has yet to receive a final outcome of the negotiations and whether it will have appropriate cover or it will be paying exorbitant premiums.
The issue of not being able to access property insurance has also been a problem for private landholders in the IOT. As a result of this, the department of regional Australia engaged consultants Arthur J Gallagher, an insurance brokerage firm, in March 2012 to undertake research into these issues and risks associated with them and provide recommendations to the department. Gallagher were to provide a report to the department by the end of June 2012. To date there has been no response received from the department regarding the report or associated recommendations. Council has alerted the department of the dilemma it now faces with its property insurance portfolio because obviously we do not have the financial resources to account for a 100 per cent or 200 per cent increase on our insurance portfolio. Those are the issues that we wished to raise.
CHAIR: Do any of you wish to put further issues on the record?
Mr A Clark : I want to highlight again the waste management issues we have in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and the most recent coastal erosion that is happening on all of the islands. I brought up the waste management issues when we were on Lord Howe. The only thing I have to add is that just recently we received a letter from the department of regional Australia saying that we had been misinformed about future funding and that to progress our strategic waste management scheme we need to apply for more funding to continue with the next phase. The department had asked us to go back to the state to go through this funding—so it would be through the Strategic Waste Initiatives Scheme in WA—however, we feel quite strongly that our submission that was originally put forward with our strategic waste management plan had practically been signed off by the department of regional Australia after the waste management board had looked at our initial application and approved everything except for the incinerators. The previous Director of Territories West, Grant Barons, saw the hold-up with the waste management board in progressing our claim to get incinerators and had relayed to me that he would write directly to the minister to proceed the matter. That is what he did and we ended up getting our funding that way.
So we believe now that we should not be going back to the state for further funding and that we should just go back to the minister, as part of the original application process we went through. As the waste management board has practically approved our strategy, we do not see the need to go back to the state again. What we would like to see fast-tracked is for us to go back to the minister directly as far as our funding application for waste management.
The second is in relation to the erosion that is happening on all the islands. The shire on Home Island has actively undertaken some rehabilitation works on the foreshore. We will continue those works on the foreshore and they will be completed by 2013. Also of concern is the northern end of the island, Pulu Gangsa, which is the cemetery. Bones have washed up on the beaches and those bones have been collected and reinterred.
The erosion will be ongoing. The islands, geologically, are relatively young. But we need some assistance, especially when it comes to West Island, the greater mass of the island and the greater infrastructure over there. I think we have been caught on the hop a bit as far as erosion goes. There are a couple of places on West Island which are quite critical now. The lead time for us to react to the erosion is about six months. From the time that we order the materials—and I am talking about geofabric bags—have them manufactured, shipped here and then filled and put into place, we are looking at about six months. What I am looking for there is further assistance from the Commonwealth in to get a stockpile of geofabric material on the island so that we can react a lot more quickly to severe erosion, especially after storm events. As I said, it takes us six months now to react to protect infrastructure. We like to reduce that by having a stockpile of bags. If we never have to use the bags, that would be fantastic. I cannot see that happening. Having a stockpile of bags on the island, ready to go, would be something worth investing in for both the shire and the Commonwealth.
Senator PARRY: I have a couple of questions for Mr Clark. I note there are two people here with that name, but I mean Mr Clark, with an 'e'. In relation to the housing of unauthorised arrivals in a community or recreation centre, you want a purpose-built for a recreation centre which is to double-up as a housing facility. What is the community's attitude if that is completely used for the housing of unauthorised arrivals? You indicated that there have been 2,000 arrivals to date. It seems that that would be nearly a full-time use.
Mr P Clark : That is possible, based on the current arrivals numbers. It was set aside for two purposes, basically. One is as a recreation centre, not only for the school, because there is nowhere for the kids to go and play sport. Some of them are running up and down the grass on the other side of the road, on the runway area, and they have to go into the Cocos club. So it was to be used by the education department for the kids. At the moment, it probably would have housed asylum seekers for the majority of time, if it had been built. But, if it had been classed as a cyclone shelter, we would not be in this predicament. We just do not know what would happen if we have asylum seekers on island and we have to go into the cyclone shelter, as they possibly would if they cannot get off island before the cyclone comes; it would be a nightmare in our current venue.
Senator PARRY: It might be more preferable to have an upgrade to the quarantine station to house unauthorised arrivals and, in addition, have a recreation centre established that could be used for the primary purpose of recreation and doubling up as a cyclone shelter.
Mr P Clark : At the minute, we are very happy with it. The asylum seekers are based out of a quarantine station, and there is not the impact on the community. Half the time we do not even know that a boat has come in. They are taken straight there. The department and also the joint standing committee in January 2010 recommended to the government that the quarantine station be handed over to the shire for development. The department has developed an outline of a development plan that looks at setting aside the quarantine station for short-stay accommodation, horticulture, aquaculture and other activities. If they are going to use it permanently as a place to house asylum seekers then the future planning of the quarantine station is out anyway. So we will need somewhere, and probably the recreation centre, or community centre, is the option.
Senator PARRY: That leads into comments about the regular passenger flights being used to transfer unauthorised arrivals off the island. What is the specific complaint? You mentioned that the regular paying passengers are not happy. What is their particular complaint? Is it security related? Is it for any other reason?
Mr P Clark : I think their concern is that they are having to hop on a plane with asylum seekers who have probably not been fully assessed health-wise. Some checks are done here, but obviously not to the full extent that they would be done on Christmas Island. So there is that issue. People are not happy, so they go off and say, 'You don't want to go to Cocos because you're being chucked on a plane with—
Senator PARRY: So the tourist destination reputation is an issue.
Mr P Clark : Exactly.
Senator PARRY: Property insurance: you mentioned that there is difficulty in getting insurance, or there is no insurance. Is that the status now? There is no insurance provided for community buildings and housing?
Mr P Clark : I will hand over to Paul on that one, if you like.
Mr Rawlings : The situation at the moment is that we are insuring our buildings for about 40 per cent of their value to keep the premiums to a reasonable level. But it appears that the premium will double based on those values, which is as they stand at the moment. The other problem we have is that, of the 100 houses on Home Island, 66 of them are leased to Cocos Malays and they reimburse the cost of the insurance premiums to the council. At the moment, they are paying $850 a year. Obviously, a doubling of the premium on present values would mean $1,700 to be reimbursed. So we are in that realm now of: is it worth us having insurance and, if we do not, what are the implications and what are the options for us? Our insurance runs out next week, on 31 October, and at this stage we have not any contingencies. We are still waiting for the report from the department of regional Australia that was conducted six months ago as to whether there is a possibility of some sort of aggregation between Christmas Island and Cocos island. As I said, that report has not been released and we do not know what the recommendations might be. But we did discuss it with the department a couple of weeks ago, and they said that they would get back to us as soon as they can but it will not be before 31 October.
Senator PARRY: Has the shire considered self-insurance? Is that a possibility?
Mr Rawlings : It is, but we would need a complete underwriting for the value of all the assets that would need to be self-insured. We do have a small cash reserve of $400,000. So it is something that has obviously been contemplated in the past and it may well be that we need to look at it seriously.
Senator PARRY: It would wipe that out. Finally—and you did not cover this, Mr Clark—but I am interested, and I think the committee would be interested, in whether there is a tsunami plan. Is there an emergency provision or a plan for a tsunami on the island?
Mr A Clark : We have an emergency management plan. We are also very lucky that the geography of the Cocos islands is quite pinnacle in shape so that the ocean does not have the ability to get the run-up. In 2004, when we had the tsunami on Boxing Day, Home Island recorded a height change of 500 mil. There was very little action. There was definitely no action on the outer fringing reefs. On the inner lagoon, small waves were noticeable. A large tsunami generated by an earthquake near the Java trench does not appear to be anything that is going to influence us. I think the worst case scenario would be a rather large asteroid flopping into the ocean.
Ms BRODTMANN: Just in terms of the insurance issue: is the reason that the premiums are so high the risk of cyclone? What is being cited as the reason?
Mr Rawlings : One issue is certainly the risk. No insurance company is prepared to take a 100 per cent risk on the islands, anyway. The quote we have is for 60 per cent cover, so they would cover 60 per cent of the buildings and they would expect our brokers to find other companies that would be prepared to take on the other 40 per cent.
Another issue is obviously the high cost of building here, which pushes premiums up as well. At the moment, we have all the houses insured for $200,000 each, but the replacement cost of those houses would be at least $450,000, and we have a $25,000 excess on every claim. So the risks there are pretty substantial, and no one company would really want to take that risk.
Ms BRODTMANN: Do you have a similar risk assessment to other remote communities, other island communities, other parts of Australia? I am thinking Darwin possibly here, with cyclones, or Far North Queensland. I wonder whether you have done any comparisons between what is happening elsewhere in cyclone-prone areas and also remote communities and how their insurance premiums and quotes compare to yours.
Mr Rawlings : It was our understanding that the study that was done by Gallagher six months ago was actually going to look at those issues. We are aware of issues in Queensland where they are really struggling to get insurance as well. For us to do it as an individual council is obviously very difficult. We are very remote, and it is very difficult to get that sort of data. But we would hope that the department would have addressed that with their study.
Ms BRODTMANN: Do you know whether the department has actually done that? Who was doing that assessment six months ago?
Mr Rawlings : It was actually our brokers that did it on behalf of the department.
Ms BRODTMANN: Thank you.
Mr BRUCE SCOTT: Mr Clark, with respect to the waste management, the coastal management and the erosion, you are saying there is a six-month lag time between approval of funding and being able to address the coastal erosion management issue. How long has this erosion been going on for? I am just looking outside at where we were this morning on West Island and it looks as though there has been significant loss of so-called coastal front over a number of years. Has this been going on for many years or has it happened more recently? Another question is: what is the sort of funding you are looking for to address this erosion issue?
Mr A Clark : Firstly, with respect to the erosion, as I said, the islands are quite young geologically—and Mr John Clunies-Ross would probably be able to add a bit more information on that. But from what I can see, the erosion happened at quite a high rate in the past. There was quite a large amount of concrete—and I am talking about 20 or 30 years ago—rubble and car bodies. Anything you could get your hands on was basically thrown over the edge to arrest some form of erosion that was happening at the time. My feeling is that it is probably a large cyclical event that happens throughout the Indian Ocean's currents et cetera. I guess it really started in the early months of 2009 when we started noticing the decrease in certain areas on West Island in particular. Then at the beginning of last year, with some large swells and westerly winds, the erosion became quite predominant and then, as of March this year—I think it was 8 March—Sydney highway started becoming severely affected. So erosion has come and gone, so I assume it is a large cyclical event. John might be able to add a bit more.
Another issue is that the lead time for reacting to erosion is six months. It includes a funding agreement being put in place. So that is the start. A couple of days later we would be looking at ordering the materials. It is about two weeks to make the product, depending on how much product you want. Then you are looking at possibly another month or so getting it delivered to the islands, depending on when the stuff arrives. So it could arrive in Fremantle the day the ship is leaving; therefore, it will have to wait another six to eight weeks before it can make the next ship. Then, with a four- or five-man crew, you are looking at filling 40 bags every day. So if you have got thousands of bags to fill, you are looking at a long time to fill the bulk bags, to get them put into place. The four- or five-man crew just relates to our capacity with the machines that we have at the moment. We cannot possible do any more than 40 a day, because we just do not have the equipment available. Then there is the construction time for getting that into the ground. You are probably looking at about 15 metres a day of construction there, roughly.
Mr BRUCE SCOTT: Have the bags proven effective in being able to control erosion? Are they a long-term solution or are they just stabilising a situation for a period of time?
Mr A Clark : You are really stabilising a situation. As to the technology of the bags, to this date, we are looking at about 15 years, or the supplier is guaranteeing their bags for 15 years, provided you do not have anyone slashing them or rocks or vessels banging into them. You are looking at about 15 years for the bag technology.
Mr BRUCE SCOTT: In the work you are have done so far, have you seen any sand build-up on the other side of them? We have obviously stabilised the erosion encroaching inland. Have you seen any evidence of sand build-up on the other side—in other words, some rehabilitation occurring because you have stabilised that movement?
Mr A Clark : Yes. The only thing you are going to see is that, when the bags are in place, the ocean can no longer advance. Therefore, you see lots of sand movement all the time: deposits and excretion, all going at the same time. One day you can have a very nice sandy beach; two weeks later, you can have a beach that is full of rocks. The sand moves around the islands often. It is very hard to say, 'Yes, that has had a positive effect.' It does stop the ocean from advancing further.
Mr BRUCE SCOTT: In relation to waste management, your incinerator was the other issue. When you talk about waste management, you are talking about all forms of waste: rubbish, recyclables and effluent?
Mr A Clark : I suppose with your putrescible waste, which is what comes out of your kitchen—a lot of food scraps and smaller items—we are looking mainly at incinerating that material. Our current methods would probably raise a few eyebrows, but we do not have those options here.
Mr BRUCE SCOTT: So composting it or something like that?
Mr A Clark : We actually excavate slit trenches, 10 metres long and about a metre wide. We burn the rubbish on top before turning it into the ground. The way things are happening at the moment with the sea level, the area that is set aside for our waste management becomes inundated during high tides. So quite often the trenches that we have dug will fill with water and the waste will come out over the top. We cannot obviously move it further inland, because that sits over the top of our water land, which is our drinking water. Really, I think the only solution for us is to incinerate. The other major problem that we have here on Home Island particularly is the effluent from the waste water treatment plants. Here on Home Island, we have practically run out of places to bury this material now. We really need to start thinking, 'How are we going to deal with this stuff? How are we going to get rid of it?' We cannot spread it over the land, because it contains pathogens, which could then go back into the water and pollute the water downstairs. We need to get serious about other methods of dealing with that type of waste. Incineration seems like a way to go at this stage. I believe Water Corps is also looking into how they are going to deal with that sludge material.
CHAIR: Is that the Western Australian Water Corporation, which would be contracted? Is that correct?
Mr A Clark : Yes, that is correct.
Senator CROSSIN: As I understand it, the quarantine station has moved from being an asset of AQIS to the department of regional Australia. Would the plan be to actually build the community recreation centre on that block of land, in that area?
Mr P Clark : The plan was to build it near the police station, where the tennis courts are. It was to be located there so that it was close to the school and so that the school kids could utilise it. That is where it was going to be.
Senator CROSSIN: What sort of size are we looking at—about the same size as the club?
Mr P Clark : No, it would have an indoor basketball type court. It also had a provision for a gym. There were offices for the shire, because we were going to manage—yes, a lot bigger than the current.
Senator CROSSIN: So there are plans drawn up for it?
Mr P Clark : I have seen the 90 per cent design plans. That was as a cyclone shelter. They were probably forwarded to us a couple of months ago, but still again nothing has progressed.
Senator CROSSIN: If I just go back to the quarantine station: there is still a plan on behalf of the shire actually to have that as an asset now?
Mr P Clark : Not the shire, but the department prepared this outline development plan and that was going to be endorsed by council. It has been endorsed by council but it has not really gone through the process at the Western Australian Planning Commission yet. This is simply because for them to be developed it really needs to be connected to the scheme water and the government have not proceeded with that either. So nothing is really going to happen at the quarantine station until it is connected to scheme water.
Senator CROSSIN: And if that were to occur, is that a proposed site for future housing development?
Mr P Clark : Yes; short-stay accommodation—
Senator CROSSIN: What would the shire see it as being?
Mr P Clark : Exactly as the outline development plan has been prepared by the department. Council endorsed the preferred method of development for it.
Senator CROSSIN: Can I just take you to the housing shortage, particularly still on West Island?
Mr P Clark : Certainly. At the minute there is, yes—with Serco, DIAC and everybody else. Again, the department is working on an outline development plan—a lot of plans get done around here!—for the Buffet Close extension, which is looking at all types of residential development. We have not heard anything, but we have been advised that GHD have been engaged to prepare this Buffet Close extension development plan.
Senator CROSSIN: Who is the current insurer?
Mr Rawlings : Lumley's have come, but they have withdrawn.
Senator CROSSIN: Senator Parry or Ms Brodtmann raised insurance in the Darwin area. I will take it back and have a look at it, but it is predominantly TIO that people insure with in Darwin—the Territory Insurance Office—but it is underwritten by the Northern Territory government. There has always been a lot of discussion about whether the government should divest itself of the insurance company, like Victoria and New South Wales did. But there has always then been a problem that the insurance premiums would rise significantly.
Also, I think that TIO are the only people at the moment in the Territory who are prepared to cover you for flooding, and that interests people in Katherine. It is a little bit different, but I do not know if there is a state-owned insurance company in Western Australia. I do not think that there is; I think that the Territory's is the last one of those. Whether or not they would be prepared to extend the cover to here I am not sure, because it is currently underwritten by the NT government you see. But I guess that if you could get your hands on that report that might reveal everything.
Mr P Clark : Our broker is really working hard to try to source some cover for us, and he has, but obviously at huge premium increases, so that is the problem.
Senator CROSSIN: The last thing that I wanted to ask you about was that there was a consultancy employed about two years ago to do a report on climate change in the IOTs. I know that that was completed but I am not sure that I can find any subsequent work that has arisen from that.
Mr A Clark : They revised their 2010 risk assessment for Cocos and they redid another one for 2011. I have both of those on file in the office.
Senator CROSSIN: The same consultancy firm?
Mr A Clark : Yes—AECOM.
Senator CROSSIN: Yes, and so do they just keep updating that climate change report?
Mr A Clark : When the relevant information comes in that is what they appear to be doing. We are in contact with them. I am not sure when their next visit out here is but they did a visit earlier this year in about March.
Senator CROSSIN: Is that what is informing some of your coastal erosion work?
Mr A Clark : That is separate altogether. The shire put aside some reserve funding for climate change adaptation and we are sourcing some of that money for the work on Home Island. West Island is mainly Commonwealth land, so we are working with the Commonwealth to try to halt some of that erosion that is happening.
CHAIR: In the context of the cyclone shelter gymnasium, if there were to be a cyclone this season without adequate arrangements, if the population of West Island is as it is now—that is, with a significant asylum seeker population—what would be the scale of the overcrowding, in your assessment?
Mr P Clark : I think it would be significant.
CHAIR: As in literally people would not fit? Having seen the club , it does seem i t would be a considerable challenge to fit everybody in the re .
Mr P Clark : In 2010 we had people sleeping in the bar. That is how crowded it was. It was an issue then. The facility is not air conditioned like this. It is very, very uncomfortable. If you are stuck in there for 48 hours it is a real problem. That is what I said before: people will opt to go home ; t hey certainly will. That is their decision but they could put themselves in danger because of it.
CHAIR: Given the current housing that asylum seekers have , they clearly could not opt to stay in a tent, because that would be way too exposed in any case, s o the combination of that would probably put the local population at a significant disadvantage, even beyond what it is now.
Mr P Clark : T he territory control ler, the local sergeant , is currently talking with DIAC about getting someone to assess the buildings out at the quarantine s tation as to whether they could house them during a cyclone. But, if not, then to bring them into the cyclone shelter.
CHAIR: Have plans been done if, hypothetically, the population stays the same this cyclone season ? W hat arrangements would be put in place and how community arrangements would integrate with those of DIAC?
Mr P Clark : We are currently waiting for DIAC to produce their contingency plan. Once we get that then the local emergency management committee will meet. W hen the administrator is over here about 7 November , we will be meeting to discuss those issues.
CHAIR: Do you know yet if DIAC's contingency plan will include use of the current club?
Mr P Clark : I do not know until t hey have done that assessment on the quarantine station buildings. It could well be that they might have to. At one stage they were saying, 'What is the capacity of the Home Island cyclone shelter?' I said, 'No way! You are not going to bring them over here. That is stupid.'
CHAIR: It is dangerous.
Mr P Clark : Exactly. Especially if the lagoon could be closed or whatever. I think they are finally going away from that. But, really, until they do that assessment of the buildings out there at the quarantine station, we do not know what is going on.
CHAIR: Okay. That is interesting. I want to turn to plumbing and electrical contractors—the availability of skills to the shire and what the current situation looks like to that end. Are any of those skills shortages being matched by trades and training opportunities for young people?
Mr A Clark : There has been no change, really, with the electrical and plumbing. There is a local electrician on Home Island. There are no electricians living on West Island. We have a visiting guy who is here at the moment. As for plumbing, the shire has their own plumber on Home Island with a restricted licence. On West Island we still have a fully licenced contracted plumber, but he is the husband of a school teacher, so their time here is not indefinite.
CHAIR: Do any of those professionals take apprentices and are there any supports in place for them to be able to do that?
Mr A Minkom : There are increased interests in training and apprenticeships on Cocos Island, but unfortunately we need host employers to host the apprenticeships and traineeships. In the past there have never been businesses on the island with the capacity to take on an apprenticeship and traineeship. With the interests we have got here—young kids with interests in electrical, plumbing and carpentry—we are not able to proceed, because there are no host employers who have the capacity to employ them in an apprenticeship.
CHAIR: So there has never been a registered training organisation with a presence here that could support those businesses to auspice—
Mr A Minkom : There is Indian Ocean Group Training, who I work for, and we organise an apprenticeship or a traineeship if a host employer decides to employ them. We would arrange block releases to the mainland and get them enrolled in TAFE.
CHAIR: From the shire's point of view—and, I suppose, from your point of view as someone who works for an RTO—in terms of getting some of the trade skills that are clearly being used to support the islands, what is the gap in getting apprenticeships embedded in some of those businesses and within the shire?
Mr A Minkom : Financially, we cannot support apprenticeships and traineeships because—
CHAIR: It is a question of wages for those apprentices?
Mr A Minkom : That is right. With block releases, we are funded to send apprentices and trainees to the mainland to get their qualifications through TAFE. With wages, obviously IOGT are not funded to employ trainees and apprentices without host employers taking them on as their own employee. With the limited funding we have, we are not able to proceed any further.
CHAIR: I would imagine though that at some point there is a false economy if you have got the Commonwealth and DIAC bringing in tradespeople at very high costs—flying them in and out if they need to access those services—versus somewhere like the shire not having the funds to be able to support traineeships. Do those kinds of dislocations exist?
Mr P Clark : We have employed apprentices before and, I think, even a trainee. The difficulty that comes is that we say to Indian Ocean Group Training, 'Could you be the host rather than us? Can you get an apprentice working for us, but you look after him rather than us'—with all the other rigmarole that goes on. But if they go through Indian Ocean Group Training they come under the Christmas Island award, and apparently, based on the normal apprenticeship, these guys are earning big money. That then restricts us from going down that path, which makes it a bit of a problem.
CHAIR: Who could you get advice from about how to unpick that particular issue?
Mr P Clark : We are currently meeting with Indian Ocean Group Training on Wednesday to discuss this very issue. We want to try and map out a solution for this so that we can start engaging and employing apprentices again—but we are only small fry; we would only do one or two, possibly. There are other businesses in town. The local plumbing contractor is probably not going to take on an apprentice because he is transient and he possibly does not know how long he is going to be here. So there are all those issues that we have to deal with.
Senator PARRY: Is there a number of residences or residents that the shire would determine would be the capacity for both Home and West islands? Has that ever been worked out or mapped out or considered or discussed?
Mr P Clark : Sorry, Senator, but are you saying per house?
Senator PARRY: Either number of people or number of dwellings that you would have. Considering the finite resources you have, is there a maximum number that you could attain?
Mr P Clark : No, we do not have that.
CHAIR: We need to move on to others. Is there anything else you want to put on record for us at this stage? If not, we are happy to have off the record discussions and further chats and do it informally later on. We thank the shire for its contribution. I know a number of you will be appearing in other capacities later in the day. We look forward to following up the issues that you have raised with us.