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Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories - 28/11/2012 - Department of Regional Development, Regional Australia and Local Government annual report 2010-11

CLAY, Mr Stephen, Acting Assistant Secretary, Territory Service Delivery Branch, Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport

ECCLES, Mr Richard, Deputy Secretary, Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport

YATES, Mr Julian, First Assistant Secretary, Local Government and Territories, Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport

Committee met at 12:52

CHAIR ( Senator Pratt ): Welcome. I would like to thank the department for their assistance with our visit to Cocos (Keeling) and Christmas Islands earlier this year. There will be a number of issues that we will be seeking to follow up on today. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I advise that these hearings are formal proceedings of the 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 Hansardand attracts parliamentary privilege.

If there is no opening statement and nothing in writing you wanted to give us to refer to, we will go to questions. There is quite a long list of them and the committee may care at some point to put some of them on notice. I want to commence with a question about the department's understanding of the arrangements in regards to asylum seekers being transferred on commercial flights, the extent to which that can be avoided. I would also like a response to the concerns from local tourism operators, particularly on Cocos (Keeling) Island, regarding passengers being offloaded from flights to make way for air freight and I think sometimes asylum seekers as well.

Mr Yates : I could probably answer that question. To go to the last point first, no-one has been offloaded to make way for asylum seekers. That is just not possible under the terms of the arrangement we have with Virgin Australia. They operate the flights commercially.

CHAIR: What about freight?

Mr Yates : They also operate the booking system. Regarding freight, Virgin Australia operates the flights in accordance with the relevant rules governing aviation safety. From time to time, they will have to offload some of the payload to take sufficient fuel to meet their operational requirements. That is a decision undertaken by Virgin Australia for operational reasons.

CHAIR: So when it was put to us that passengers had been offloaded—and in part they were offloaded because they had surf kites and stuff with them, so they are passengers with quite a lot of freight of their own—that essentially those passengers were displaced because the Department of Immigration had other items that they wanted to put in transport, you are saying that is not true?

Mr Yates : I am saying that is not possible, Senator. I am not saying that people and freight are not from time to time offloaded for operational reasons by Virgin Australia, but that is to do with the fuel that they may be required to carry under the rules to cope with weather or other diversions.

CHAIR: This was a significant gripe raised by tourism operators. If that is the case, the department should perhaps have a role in explaining what the actual arrangements are.

Mr Yates : Certainly. We try to keep the communities informed about this. When those comments were made, they came to us as well. We had made representations to Immigration about the effect of Immigration activities on the community of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and have asked them to increase their liaison activities with the community to keep them informed.

Senator PARRY: Just to make it absolutely clear, the Chair has asked you about being offloaded. What about the department having a block booking of seats rather than offloading? Is the department doing that?

Mr Yates : No, Senator, we do not. The intention is that Virgin Australia operates the flights commercially.

Senator CROSSIN: Does DIAC have a block booking?

Mr Yates : I do not know. You would have to ask them.

Senator PARRY: We just do not want to get tied down in the semantics of technically not being offloaded but seats being allocated. What you are saying is that you are not aware of that.

Mr Yates : No.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT: Thank you for appearing today for the department. On the issue of the casino, do you know whether there are any plans to renew the licence for the casino on Christmas Island?

Mr Yates : The casino, as you know, is not operating at the moment, and there is legislation that prohibits it operating. The government has said in a couple of forums that it is open to receive any proposals. We are not considering any proposals at this stage. We are aware that there may be one in development. I am not able to predict precisely what the government's response to any proposal will be when it is received.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT: Is there an understanding within the department and the government of the widespread support, as I read it from our hearings up there, for the licence to be renewed for the alternative employment opportunities, the airfares that would be reduced and a number of other benefits to the economy of Christmas Island? It would be a pretty fragile one if we did not have the detention centre operating as it does now.

Mr Yates : I think a casino proposal that addresses issues around economic and social impacts, both on the positive side and on the potential detrimental impact on the community—a proposal would need to have some harm minimisation strategies—would be positively received by the community. That is certainly the feedback we have had when we have met with community members on the island.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT: I have got a couple of others if I could just—

Senator CROSSIN: Could I just follow up on that?

Mr BRUCE SCOTT: Yes, righto.

Senator CROSSIN: I understand you have had either a letter or a position put to the minister about re-issuing the casino licence. Is that not the case?

Mr Yates : Representations have been made about whether the government would consider that. The minister is considering his response.

Senator CROSSIN: Let's differentiate here. There has been no formal request for a casino licence but rather a request to say what they would think if you gave them a request.

Mr Yates : Essentially that is right.

Senator CROSSIN: How long has the minister been sitting on that proposition?

Mr Yates : I do not think it would be appropriate for us to comment on how long the minister has been sitting on something. We have obtained a range of advice on what a good proposal might look like and have provided that to the minister, who will respond in due course.

Senator CROSSIN: So when did the minister first receive some initial correspondence asking for a view about the re-issue of the licence?

Mr Yates : I would have to take it on notice to give you the exact dates.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT: Is the information in relation to what a good proposal would look like available to the committee?

Mr Yates : Again I would need to take that on notice, because that is with the minister at the moment. I do not physically have it with me.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT: But you would come back to the committee when it is available with what a good proposal would look like? You have provided it to the minister. Would it be available to the committee? It is an issue that was raised in our inquiry up there on Christmas Island.

Mr Eccles : We will look into it.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT: I have a couple questions. One is about the mining licence for the phosphate mine on Christmas Island. Do you know whether there are plans to extend that licence outside its current boundaries and time lines? There is a real concern that we heard in the inquiry up there that the terms of the licence right now mean that it is very difficult for any company to invest any money or capital in new infrastructure because they have very little security over the long-term lease arrangements. Could you expand on where that is at?

Mr Yates : Certainly. As you know, the current least expires in 2019. We are in active and productive negotiations with the mine about an extension of the life of the lease. We had two meetings over the last two months looking at that with them. We have another one scheduled in the second week of December where I am reasonably optimistic we will be able to conclude our discussions about a draft that includes an extension to the life of the lease. Those negotiations do not go into extending the size of the lease to new mine lease areas. That is a matter for the mine to decide whether or not it wants to resubmit or submit new applications for consideration.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT: Another question has to do with the quarantine station on Cocos. To me what was a wonderful asset seems to be in a bit of a run-down state. Are there any plans for that land and precinct to be dealt with in any other way than what it was formerly? It certainly needs maintenance; otherwise, any real value in some of the buildings is going to deteriorate very rapidly. I wondered what plans are being considered in relation to other uses or whether it would be available to, as was suggested to us, outside investors to establish on that land a possible resort.

Mr Yates : We have completed an outline development plan for the Q station that looks at a range of possible future uses, including accommodation, research centres, agricultural use and residential accommodation. That outline development plan is part of the shire's town planning scheme process at the moment. They are doing a new town planning scheme that will include the outline development plan. My understanding is that they are fairly close to finishing that. It will come to the department to go to the minister for approval under his legislative powers. That plan is part of our aim to get much better use out of the Q station. The department has only had control for about two years or so and saw it as one of the priorities to make it available for alternative economic development. That plan is part of our aim to get much better use out of the quarantine station. The department has only had control of that for about two years. We saw it as one of the priorities: to make it available for alternative economic development. There are already some short-term works happening there. There is the Murdoch University legume trial that is underway on the site. The shire is using some of the facilities as their works depot, effectively, and a significant proportion of it is in use at the moment to house immigration arrivals, which has taken the pressure off facilities in the community proper.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT: You mentioned something about WA. Is it Western Australia you referred to?

Mr Yates : That is right. Western Australian law applies, so in Cocos (Keeling) Island the WA Local Government Act is applied and provides the planning structure for town planning schemes. Minister Crean is the minister responsible for territories, however, and has the powers under that act that would otherwise lie with the WA minister to approve or disapprove the town planning scheme.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT: How long do you think it will be in the processes that are going through now at a local government level on Cocos (Keeling) Island before there is some new plan considered?

Mr Yates : The town planning scheme is due to be done by the end of this year; I do not have the exact date. That is a formal process, so that then comes to our minister for consideration. Beyond that, the government would then need to take the outline development plan, have a look at what is happening with Immigration, work out which parts of the outline development plan we can put into play in the short term—and some of it is already in play—and also look at what needs to be done in terms of upgrading the utilities to the site. One of the barriers to developing the site at the moment is that it does not have a connection to the potable water system, and the connection to the sewerage system is not designed cope with a significant increase, so there is some work to be done there to make the site more amenable to development.

Mr ADAMS: Would casino licences on Christmas Island comply with Australian law as far as laundering of money is concerned? Would the costs of compliance have to be met by conditions of the licence?

Mr Yates : That would certainly be our expectation, that we would apply an existing body of Australian law from one of the states or territories to govern the operation of the casino. Most of those envisage full cost recovery. We certainly would envisage full cost recovery.

Mr ADAMS: Good. My other question is in relation to opportunities for local business on both of the territories. Has the department looked at endeavouring to break down contractual arrangements so that we bring in small operators and small contractors or even lifting their capacity so that we build capacity on islands?

Mr Yates : That has certainly been one of our driving considerations when we look at how we best do contracting. We are governed by the government procurement rules. They do allow us to do elements of that. If I give the example of a recent contract that we did for the ferry and bus service on Cocos, the only bidders were small local businesses. We do this to the extent we can. Some projects, particularly the more complex ones, simply cannot be done by on-island capabilities. Again, in our contract negotiations with them, we encourage them to make the most possible use of local contractors. There is generally a cost advantage to them doing so; it is in their own self-interest.

Mr ADAMS: Thank you.

Senator PARRY: Going back to the casino licence, you said you could not recall a date or when the minister received the advice or the pre-empting of a request. This financial year, or last financial year?

Mr Yates : This financial year. It was in the last couple of months; I just cannot recall the exact date.

Senator PARRY: Thank you. That is all I need—just an indication. Are you aware of the dispute involving invoices for the Cocos Island Club facilities?

Mr Yates : Is this to do with the Cocos Club's claims against the Department of Immigration?

Senator PARRY: Correct.

Mr Yates : Yes, we are. We have made representations to Immigration on that.

Senator PARRY: Are you aware of there being a dispute?

Mr Yates : We are aware that the club believes it is owed money. Immigration, I understand, has a different view.

Senator PARRY: Do you have a view?

Mr Yates : We are not able to, on the information available, form a view.

Senator PARRY: You have no role in that whatsoever?

Mr Yates : Other than to have made representations to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship encouraging them to look favourably on those requests.

Senator CROSSIN: On all of those requests? Because it is a vast difference. We were provided with a copy of all of them. There is a vast difference between one day's rates compared with another day's rates some months apart. There does not seem to be any consistency with the amount that is being requested. Secondly, is the request for payment for the use of the centre contrary to the agreement between the club and territories for the use of that facility?

Mr Yates : In answer to your first question, we have been able to make representations only on what has been provided to us by the club. I do not know whether there are other ones. They may have not given them to us. I cannot say categorically that we are aware of all of them.

Senator CROSSIN: How many representations have been made to you? How many copies of invoices have you seen?

Mr Yates : I will have to take that on notice for that level of detail. I do not have it with me.

Senator CROSSIN: Did you not bring all that information with you today?

Mr Yates : No.

Senator CROSSIN: They are probably on our committee's website, because they were provided to us as tabled documents on the island. They vary from $800 a day to $3,000 a day depending on what day it is, really. When I looked at it, I could not see any consistency in the pricing structure and I wondered whether you even had a view of that or had looked at that.

Mr Yates : No, we have not had a view on that.

Senator CROSSIN: So how does their request for payment stack up against the agreement they have with the Commonwealth for the use of the centre?

Mr Yates : Again, I would have to take that on notice to give you the detailed response that you want. This is an issue between the Cocos Club and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Senator CROSSIN: I do not think it is. Who is the original agreement with the Cocos Club with for the use of that building?

Mr Yates : We have an agreement with the Cocos Club so that they can use the building as a venue for the Cocos Club and also as the community cyclone shelter. They have day-to-day control of the facility.

Senator CROSSIN: Yes, but is there any other clause in that agreement that might say that the Commonwealth can use the club for any other purpose it deems necessary. Is there any such clause to that effect in the agreement?

Mr Yates : I do not have the agreement with me. I will need to take that on notice.

Senator CROSSIN: I would have thought that you would have looked at that agreement and made your mind up about that before your made representation to DIAC.

Mr Yates : I will have to take that on notice. I am sorry, but I do not have that level of detail with me.

Senator CROSSIN: I want to go back to the casino issue on Christmas Island. In considering whether or not you would look favourably at a proposal, you are saying to us that there is no formal proposal—

Mr Yates : That is correct.

Senator CROSSIN: there is only a request about whether you would look at one.

Mr Yates : Representations have been made to the minister about this by people other than the possible proponent.

Senator CROSSIN: Are you saying that you have not had any letter or communication from David Kwon?

Mr Yates : We have had informal communications with Mr Kwon. We have had some discussions with him.

Senator CROSSIN: I am trying to differentiate here between a formal proposal and a communication seeking whether a formal proposal would be looked at favourably.

Mr Yates : As I have said, we have had a number of representations on that point about whether a proposal would be looked on favourably. We have had a number of informal discussions with Mr Kwon about what he is thinking about. He has not submitted a formal proposal for a casino on Christmas Island.

Senator CROSSIN: Have you provided any guidance to him about what you would be looking at in that proposal? Are there any guidelines or suggestions to him about what should be included in that proposal?

Mr Yates : In our informal discussions with him we have talked about issues around how a proposal might need to cover things like social impact and the potential for harm minimisation. These are things very similar to what Minister Crean discussed in community meetings on Christmas Island when the issue was raised with him. We have not given a formal response at this stage to the people who have made representations, because that is being considered by the minister.

Senator CROSSIN: In relation to the West Island community centres, there was, I thought, a proposal to try to build some sort of an indoor recreation centre there between the Federal Police and the school. Where are that proposal and that discussion at?

Mr Yates : We went to the market on that proposal several years ago but unfortunately did not receive any compliant bids. We were in the process then of redesigning the proposal to try and address reasons we did not get compliant bids. I think it was around whether a design and construct, which is what we had originally gone for, or separating it into separate components. We were a fair way through the process when through Operation Sunlight the uncommitted capital funds were returned to the budget. The government has not yet considered further funding for it.

Senator CROSSIN: So if there was funding you would have a design project phase 1 and build will be phase 2 now.

Mr Yates : The design is in fact largely done. It is probably not quite at the stage of being able to go to tender but it would be a relatively straightforward process to finalise that.

Senator CROSSIN: What you are looking for is a commitment of funds to build it.

Mr Yates : Yes.

Senator CROSSIN: What is the contingency plan if there is a cyclone and a large number of people seeking asylum all arrive on the island at once? Is the plan to squash them into the Cocos Club?

Mr Yates : In terms of Immigration's plans you should refer to them for their detailed thinking on the operations of the Q station. We have made available to them the laboratory building. I understand they have had an engineer look at it to give them advice on its suitability as a shelter. I do not have the results of that work; that would need to be asked of them. I understand that their intention is to fly people out as soon as possible but the potential for a cyclone to affect that was the reason we suggested to them that they look at the laboratory building.

Senator CROSSIN: So at this stage they would perhaps put people in the laboratory building and the rest of the community would go to the Cocos Club. Is that right?

Mr Yates : That is my understanding. You would have to ask Immigration for their detailed plans.

Senator CROSSIN: Where are the plans up to on transferring the quarantine station to the shire council?

Mr Yates : There are not any formal plans to transfer the quarantine station. As you know, we have done the outline development plan and it has a range of options, one of which is certainly about the portion they are using for their works depot. It is something that could well go to long-term lease to them. But until the outline development plan and the town planning scheme are formally approved it would be premature to go further than we have gone at the moment.

CHAIR: By laboratory you mean the laboratory building that is part of the AQIS station?

Mr Yates : That is right.

CHAIR: Have any steps been made to even clean it to make it somewhere that people could breathe while you have a large number of people trapped in there for a period of time? We are approaching the cyclone season now, so it would seem that if that is even a consideration it would have to be done very quickly.

Mr Yates : I would have to agree with you. That is why we offered it to Immigration, because we were very concerned about this point as well. We said, 'The building is there. We don't certify its condition because it has not been used for many years.'

CHAIR: It looks fairly solid.

Mr Yates : It looks solid but we said they needed to get an engineer to give them advice so that they could form their own opinion about its safety and appropriateness.

CHAIR: But it would be unhygienic and uninhabitable in its current state.

Senator CROSSIN: The air contract with Virgin, what is the status of the renegotiation of that air contract? We had lot of representation to us that tourism ventures and organisations, as you would well know, need to be advertising airfares now for next year. What is happening?

Mr Yates : We are in active negotiations with Virgin. We have a proposed revision of the contract that is with them at the moment and we have not received a formal response. We are continuing to push them for that. Like the community, we want get resolution to this as quickly as we can.

Senator CROSSIN: When would you be expecting to finalise this?

Mr Yates : We can execute our rights by the end of this calendar year, that is we can extend the contract arbitrarily as we wish. We would prefer to do it as a negotiated solution.

Senator CROSSIN: Is Virgin well aware of the pressure on the tourism operators in relation to this date?

Mr Yates : You would have to ask Virgin for their view of that.

Senator CROSSIN: Have you ensured that they are aware of it?

Mr Yates : We have certainly made them aware of the concerns, and our own concerns. We do understand the importance of the airline to tourism and this is why we started the negotiations some little while ago. But it does take two to tango to resolve that.

Senator CROSSIN: Do you meet with them regularly—weekly or fortnightly, or do you have to push them along?

Mr Yates : Our representatives throughout my team make contact with them weekly at senior levels, one or two steps below the chief executive officer.

Senator CROSSIN: The other issue I wanted to talk to you about is the representation we had about the Islamic public holiday on Cocos being changed from the Islamic new year to the prior eve, no doubt I suppose Territories gazette those holidays.

Mr Yates : We do. The administrator actually has the authority to make those changes, and does so in consultation with the communities. My knowledge over the years is that administrators are generally very responsive to requests from the appropriate community groups, such as the Islamic Association. And it is a fairly straightforward process to change the public holidays and gazette new ones.

Senator CROSSIN: They did not seem to know whom to approach about that. They thought it was Territories. So, would you make representations now to the administrator on their behalf?

Mr Yates : Yes, certainly. This is a relatively routine process. We can certainly make that representation.

Senator CROSSIN: The other issue I want to raise is that in your negotiations with Virgin—and the contract—has there been any discussion about the provision of Halal meals on those flights.

Mr Yates : My understanding is that the contract does require that. But—

Senator CROSSIN: No-one seemed to believe that was the case.

Mr Yates : Okay. I will certainly take that feedback. That is important. Our expectation is that there will be that on the flights.

Senator CROSSIN: Could you provide us with further details about whether or not that is the case and whether or not that is factored into your renegotiations with them? That would be useful.

Mr Yates : Certainly.

Senator CROSSIN: I am happy for all of my questions to be put on notice.

Ms BRODTMANN: When we were at the hospital the state of their budget was brought to our attention. They have been spending a lot of their core budget on medivacs, and as you know medivacs are $70,000 to $90,000 a go—these are the people who are working in the processing centre there, and others. Can you advise us of any supplementary funding that is going to the hospital to fill that gap?

Mr Yates : There are two parts to that. A number of the medivacs are in relation to immigration related people. We recover those funds back from them—not instantly, but we do get that back. The other part is through a parameter adjustment, a process that happens each year, associated with additional estimates, where we put forward a range of pressures on the island—clearly, immigration driven demand is one of those—and that feeds into the government's additional estimates budget processes. I am not at liberty at this point to say what those are. But we do actively pursue where those pressures are, to obtain additional funding.

Ms BRODTMANN: So there is an attempt made to supplement that funding?

Mr Yates : Yes, government considers it through its normal additional estimate processes.

Ms BRODTMANN: Going back to the Virgin contract, there was also mention of the fact that, from memory, there used to be arrangements where pensioners got a discount airfare for travel to Malaysia and Singapore, but that was not happening any longer. I was wondering whether that was being discussed as part of the contract?

Mr Yates : The arrangement has always been one that parallels the Western Australian entitlement for seniors and others on pensions, if you live above the 26th parallel. It is called a 'flight to the coast' for some reason. It is a Western Australian entitlement. We parallel it. It is the flight from Christmas or Cocos Island to Perth for eligible pensioners. It has not been to the north. We are certainly aware of local interest in something like that and we are considering advice to the minister on it. At this stage, though, the government continues to apply the equivalent Western Australian arrangement, which is an annual flight to Perth.

Senator CROSSIN: In the service delivery agreement with WA, if it is just the value of the airfare they are going to get—let's say it is $800 from Cocos to Perth—surely there could be some flexibility clause in there that says people would get the equivalent of the return airfare to Perth. How they use it is surely irrelevant. It could be used for the purpose of Christmas in Cocos. Have you not considered some sort of flexibility clause about this in the service delivery agreement with WA?

Mr Yates : The advice that we are preparing considers a range of options. It will be up to the government to consider whether they wish to change the policy, which has been long standing, that the flight is to Perth.

CHAIR: Are there any plans to raise and seal the seawall in Home Island kampong?

Senator CROSSIN: To make it higher.

Mr Yates : The scientific advice we have from the body of work that we have been doing for some time now around climate change adaptation on both islands suggests that the incidence of severe storms and cyclones will be lower but more but those events will be more intense over a long period of time. It is not something that is necessarily going to happen tomorrow or next week, but the advice is that more severe but less frequent storms will occur over the next 20 to 30 years. That prompted us to start looking, on Christmas Island in particular, about what things might be done, particularly around the kampong. We have had some technical work done about the options to raise the seawall. We had a meeting last week, I think. Mr Clay, I might ask you to speak on the meeting last week.

Mr Clay : There was a meeting between the administration and the kampong residents through the Islamic Council and the Malay Club. That was conducted in a two-stage process where they were given some options and shown some videos of the effects of high storm surges and things on the seawall. We are asking them to go away and have a think about that and then we are meeting in two weeks to let the community come up with some drawings if they want to—we will produce some of our own—so that we engage better with the community on what might be needed. Bear in mind that there is no funding actually allocated for this yet, but we would like to at least get their views so we can go forward with that. I think the engagement process is a good one and the people down there seemed happy with that, and we will press on with it.

Mr Yates : And that would, in turn, turn into a new policy proposal in due course.

CHAIR: Can I ask what monitoring is done of the cost of living versus people's incomes on the IOTs?

Mr Clay : We engaged a Western Australian government agency—I will recall the name in a minute—to do a cost of living index for the island. They have been on-island and they have done their consultation work. We expect that quite soon. We are not exactly sure when, but we are hoping for that by the end of the year.

CHAIR: If such a report were to show that the cost of living is quite out of step with the incomes that people are receiving, what would the next step be?

Mr Yates : I guess it depends very much what the report says. I would not really want to speculate on that, sight unseen.

CHAIR: You must have a fair idea what it will say, having visited the supermarkets there.

Senator CROSSIN: Can I ask something about that? There seemed to be a price war pushing prices up when we were there on the island. If I can charge $12 for a lettuce today, I will charge $13 tomorrow. My last intelligence tells me lettuces are up around the $17 mark. Is there any discussion there with the local traders about trying to keep this under control, perhaps? Has there been a suggestion that the ACCC look at what is happening on the island? Has the territories department given any thought to taking some proactive intervention to prevent this occurring?

Mr Yates : The interventions we are taking are less about referrals to the ACCC—individuals can make those complaints themselves—and more about looking at how to increase the supply of particularly fresh fruit and vegetables on the island by local growers. There are a number of proposals under active consideration for areas of land so that local people can increase economic activity through growing fruit and vegetables locally. Only this week, on Monday, I met with Megan Lalley in Perth. She is our Water Corporation regional manager who looks after, amongst other things, the operation of the sewage treatment plant, which is producing a significant amount of—let me put it this way—solid waste at the moment. She is looking at a further processing step that can be put in place that can make that material useful as a fertiliser.

Senator CROSSIN: It will be many months, if not a year or so, before that land is even granted, gardens are developed and market produce is grown. In the immediate, is there something proactive that Territories can do about this?

Mr Yates : We are certainly open to suggestions. It is an open market for the operation of the supermarkets. It is a competitive market. As you know, we also provide the freight flights each Thursday to increase access to an affordable air freight scheme for members of the community. I understand a lot of people are now bringing in their own supplies through that. That is a direct measure that we have been able to put in place to try and address this. Of course, that assists both islands, Christmas Island and Cocos Island.

Senator CROSSIN: I have to say that is the first time in a very long time that the cost of freight or access to freight was not the first item on the agenda when I got to the island. I think that freight plane coming in once a week has been very valuable.

Mr Yates : It certainly seems to have been a direct thing we could do and it has had an impact.

CHAIR: We have a large number of other questions that we have not got to today. On that basis, we will put them on notice. We have a range here that we can submit, but, if committee members have any other questions, they could also put them through. Thank you very much for coming along today and responding to our questions. It was a very worthwhile visit. You can see that we have picked up a fair bit of detail on the issues in the IOTs. It was a very worthwhile visit for us.

Resolved (on motion by Senator Crossin):

That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

Senator CROSSIN: I just give notice that answers need to be back by mid-January.

CHAIR: That would be helpful.

Committee adjourned at 13:33