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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 8543

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (10:44 AM) —in reply—I thank the member for Hunter for his support for the Torres Strait Fisheries Amendment Bill 2002. I will not comment on the first three-quarters of his speech because it had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with this piece of legislation, but I welcome his comments in support of the bill in his last few paragraphs. He mentioned the current dispute on this issue by one group of Torres Strait islanders. I presume he is referring to the Kaurareg people. I can give him a few details on that matter if he is interested.

The proposal for the TSRA chair to become a member of the PZJA was generated by the traditional inhabitants of the Torres Strait—including the Kaurareg people—and pursued by the TSRA as their representative body. There have been several opportunities for groups concerned about the proposal to raise their concerns through the TSRA, the PZJA or directly with the Queensland or the Commonwealth governments.

Last year the Kaurareg people were granted native title over the Prince of Wales, Horn, Entrance, Damaralag, Turtle, Packe and Port Lihou islands in the Torres Strait. All of these islands and their surrounding waters lie outside the Torres Strait Protected Zone. However, they are included as part of the `outside but near' waters set out in the Torres Strait Treaty.

The Kaurareg people have a voice on the TSRA through the Horn and Prince of Wales islands. At its meeting in June 2002, the TSRA endorsed the proposal that the TSRA chairperson become a full and equal member of the PZJA. The TSRA is the most appropriate forum for consulting with local Indigenous people in the Torres Strait, given the extent of its representation and its statutory functions.

I am aware that there are many issues surrounding representation in the broader sense in the Torres Strait. As the immediate past chairman of this particular body, I am certainly well aware of the issues that arise and the friendly rivalry between the people of the various islands. Because of its isolation there is often an absence of information flow, which is difficult for both state and Commonwealth governments to endeavour to counter. For a long period there were too few meetings, which adversely affected those involved in the decision making process. I understand it has always been difficult to get state and Commonwealth ministers together at the same time. More effort has been made over recent years to ensure that the meetings schedules are more regular.

I do not think that those concerns are any reason to delay the passage of this bill—and I know the opposition agrees with that. This bill will actually strengthen the consultation process and help make it much more inclusive. I thank the honourable member for Hunter for his support for the bill, and I commend it to the committee.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment