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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2787


Senator BOSWELL(3.47) —I would like to make some remarks on the report of the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources on the adequacy of quarantine in the Torres Strait area. I was one of those who went to the Torres Strait, Thursday Island, Badu Island and York Island. The report defines the adequacy of quarantine and other control measures in the Torres Strait area to protect Australian rural industries from the introduction and spread of exotic livestock and plant diseases. It was my experience, whilst I was with the Committee in the islands, that the Islanders were very aware of the important role that they had to play in protecting Australian livestock industries. The people on all the islands the Committee visited showed an awareness of the problems of quarantine.

As Senator Crichton-Browne has mentioned, the Islanders' lifestyle demand that they have traditional feasts. Most Islanders have relations on other islands and they visit those islands for wedding ceremonies, Christmas ceremonies and grave opening ceremonies which is one of the get-togethers they have on the islands. I was horrified when I heard the term `grave opening'. The headstone is covered up after the funeral and 12 months after the person has died the people on the island open the covering on the gravestone and they all get together.

One of the things I have found, not so much on my trip with the Committee but since I have been to the islands in the immediate past, is that there is a concern among the Islanders that a number of Papua New Guinea people are staying on the islands. These people are coming in from across the border between Australia and the islands of Saibai, Boigu and Dauan. They are moving down through the islands of Torres Strait. Not only are they moving on to the outer islands but they are moving on to Thursday Island. It is very difficult for anyone who is not familiar with the area to distinguish between the islanders and Papua New Guineans. Some of the Papua New Guineans are working in and exploiting the cray fishing industry on the eastern islands. These people are coming down from Papua in their 14-foot aluminium dinghies powered by 40-horsepower motors and are working the cray fishing industry which rightfully belongs to the Torres Strait Islanders.

This problem has to be addressed by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. These people are coming down from Papua and staying on the little sand cays in the Torres Strait and working from dinghies. When questioned they say they have come down for a traditional visit and that they are out cray fishing because they are preparing for a traditional feast. However, they offload their crays on to other cray boats. The Government has not done anything to address this problem. This is a problem to all of the island community councils and the chairmen of those councils who are worried that the Torres Strait will eventually be taken over by Papua new Guineans.

Torres Strait Islanders are very friendly people who do not want to create any waves. They are not a fierce people and they do not throw people off their islands. But they express concern that their islands and their lifestyles are going to be influenced by Papua New Guineans who, although not Australian citizens, are coming down and living on Torres Strait islands. I know that Mr Hurford is aware of the problem. He has been up to the Torres Strait area. However, I do not think he has done anything constructive to bring this situation under control. I became aware of this problem when I visited the area as a member of the Committee which was investigating the adequacy of quarantine in the Torres Strait area. I think that problem has been covered in the Committee report that has been put down. However, other problems are not being addressed by this Government. The Government must move to protect the rights of Torres Strait Islanders who are of Melanesian and Polynesian origin and who moved into the Torres Strait area about 700 years ago. They are Australian citizens and they want to remain Australian citizens. They are fiercely proud of that citizenship. I think this Government must do something constructive very soon.

I have been told by nurses, fishermen and other residents of the islands that people from Papua are coming down to the islands without having had any health checks. They are presenting a very serious health problem by moving into the different islands. I have even heard it said that some of them are bringing with them very exotic diseases. This is a problem that was picked up during the course of the Committee's visit although we were not looking for it. I say to the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) that I am addressing the Senate on a very important problem. I would like her to take my remarks to the relevant Minister and tell him the problems that the islanders are experiencing with people from Papua New Guinea, who are not Australian citizens, moving in and living on Torres Strait islands.

Question resolved in the affirmative.