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Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Page: 5173


Senator O'BRIEN (5:33 PM) —I rise to speak this afternoon on the Torres Strait Fisheries Amendment Bill 2002, because it amends the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 to provide for the Chairperson of the Torres Strait Regional Authority to be appointed as a member of the Protected Zone Joint Authority. The bill provides overdue recognition of the important relationship between the people of the Torres Strait and their traditional waters. The opposition strongly support the formal inclusion of the Torres Strait Islander people in the Protected Zone Joint Authority's decision making process. However, we recognise that there is currently some discussion about representation matters in the Torres Strait, particularly relating to the representation of the Kaurareg people, the traditional owners of the Prince of Wales group of islands. This matter will not be resolved in the course of this debate, but Labor do call on the government to improve its consultative processes in this region.

Representatives of the Kaurareg people have advised Labor that they are concerned about the deficiencies in the government's consultation on the bill. We are advised that representatives of the Kaurareg people have sought no more than individual consultation on the bill but have been refused this consultation. This government has a less than outstanding record on Indigenous affairs, and I fear that this is just one more example of its lack of good faith in dealing with Indigenous communities. Nonetheless, Labor are pleased to support the amendment bill, because it does give proper regard to the right of Indigenous people to participate in the Protected Zone Joint Authority as full participants, not as observers or ad hoc members.

The Torres Strait Regional Authority is a Commonwealth statutory authority established eight years ago under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act 1989. It seeks to strengthen the economic, social and cultural development of the Torres Strait to enhance the lives of Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people living in the region. Under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act, the Torres Strait Regional Authority is responsible for the recognition and maintenance of the special and unique variety of island cultures of Torres Strait Islanders living in the Torres Strait region, the formulation and implementation of programs for Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people living in the Torres Strait region, the monitoring of the effectiveness of programs for Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people, and advising the minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs on matters relating to Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal affairs in the Torres Strait.

The Torres Strait protected zone was established under the Torres Strait Treaty entered into between Australia and Papua New Guinea in 1985. The Torres Strait Fisheries Act gives effect to the fisheries provisions contained in that treaty. Section 8 of the act requires that the Protected Zone Joint Authority have regard for the traditional way of life and livelihood of traditional inhabitants. The Protected Zone Joint Authority meets biannually in the Torres Strait and is formed by the Commonwealth and Queensland ministers with responsibility for fisheries. The addition of the Chairperson of the Torres Strait Regional Authority to the Protected Zone Joint Authority as a full member is an important measure.

This is an appropriate moment to congratulate Senator Ian Macdonald for exercising his responsibility for the first time, last July, as Chairperson of the Protected Zone Joint Authority. I am sure he enjoyed his journey to Thursday Island and have no doubt he recognises his important responsibilities with respect to the Protected Zone Joint Authority and the fisheries resources of the Torres Strait. I am also pleased to acknowledge the superb contribution of the Queensland Minister for Primary Industries, Henry Palaszczuk, to the work of the Protected Zone Joint Authority.


Senator Ian Macdonald —I wouldn't go overboard if I were you!


Senator O'BRIEN —Senator, you have done fairly well so far. I would keep my head down if I were you. Things might change. The Torres Strait comprises more than 100 islands and stretches over 150 kilometres between Australia and Papua New Guinea. The population of about 8,000 people is dispersed over 19 small island communities. The culture of the people of the Torres Strait is deeply influenced by the sea, and the maritime tradition remains very strong.

I understand that islander input into regional fisheries policy has recently been improved through a new consultative mechanism. The new structure provides for representation of Torres Strait leaders and fishers on the industry advisory groups and the executive council that will advise the Protected Zone Joint Authority on regional management issues. These arrangements, together with the permanent appointment to the Protected Zone Joint Authority, will strengthen the involvement of Torres Strait Islanders in the decisions that have an impact on the economic, cultural and social life of the region. In conclusion, I note again concerns about the adequacy of consultation with the Kaurareg people and call on the government to improve its commitment to consultation with Indigenous communities in the Torres Strait as well as on the mainland. I commend the bill to the Senate.