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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS
Community stores in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS
Community stores in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
Mr T Nona
Mr L Nona
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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS
(House of Representatives-Tuesday, 31 March 2009)
WARIA, Dr Peter
GUIVARRA, Mr Wayne Samuel
NAMOA, Mr Manuel
AHMAT, Mrs Kay
KEBISU, Miss Rita Murile
MORSEAU, Mr George
ALBERT, Mr Darrell
STEPHEN, Mr Seriako (Seri)
MITCHELL, Mr Robert
SAILOR, Mrs Susannah
WARIA, Dr Peter
NEWIE, Mr John
GUIVARRA, Mr Wayne Samuel
NEWIE, Mrs Maureen
KEBISU, Miss Rita Murile
Mr T Nona
Mr L Nona
NONA, Mr Laurie
TAYLOR, Mr Keith
ALBERT, Mr Darrell
COLEMAN, Mr Charles W.
NONA, Mr Titom
- Mr KATTER
Content WindowSTANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS
Community stores in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
CHAIR —A number of people from the St Pauls community have indicated that they would like to speak. Is there somebody who would like to speak first?
Mr Newie —Good morning. Thank you for having us here. My name is Pastor John Newie. My wife and I have travelled from Moa Island. We have recently moved into the community and we learnt that the panel was here. I would like to thank you for the opportunity.
CHAIR —Would you like to make an opening statement?
Mr Newie —Yes. Firstly, I would like to thank God for this inquiry. I want to acknowledge our family, Danna, Bob, Chair, Susan, and our member, Jim. Thank you. I have not seen your emails for a while.
It cost us at least $60 just to travel here by boat, by dinghy. We have presented papers to the committee. There are two petitions, one on fuel and the other on rat infestation at the IBIS store. These issues have been taken up with various government departments but nothing has been done. This is a very serious matter concerning health. I have recently learnt about a submission that they have made to the inquiry. They have said lovely things about the health and quality of the food and about the Australian and New Zealand food health standards that they apply. Recently, my brother-in-law had eight bags that had been eaten. The whole place is infested. They sent a guy round who set baits, but it is not working. If it was happening in the major centres, there would be a shutdown. Because we have only that one store—the other store is in another community on Moa Island, and it costs a lot to travel over there—the prices are unbelievable. We have recently moved from Cairns. We have been here seven weeks and we see the difference in cost. They were talking before about the program at the school. My children go to the school and it costs $50 a week for one child at the tuckshop. With three children, it would cost us 150 bucks, but we do our sandwiches at home. We get frozen bread and my wife makes bread. We try to utilise what we have.
But I will go back to what Danna mentioned regarding plantation market gardening. These issues are real. It can be done. As I see it, the problem is the availability of land to dam. It is a huge project, but once you have a dam it will bring economic prospects for the community to do market gardening. There is scope for it. These issues are compounding. Wages are the key to bridging the gap to a healthy lifestyle that everyone else enjoys—the CDEP top-up et cetera. My wife and I, as citizens of this region, have submitted our views on all these things to the committee, highlighting various issues that you have highlighted in your inquiry about quality and whether there is profit—because we do not have any competition. There is no incentive for us. There is a lot of nepotism in the government process and there are a lot of obstacles even before we get to what you are inquiring about. We have a domestic situation ourselves. That is all I have to say. We have submitted everything.
CHAIR —Before you leave, we will make sure that we have a copy of all your material.
Mr Newie —I have handed in my copies.
CHAIR —We will put that into evidence.
Mr Newie —I made sure because we wanted to give it to you.
CHAIR —I want to ask one thing. Did you say it was a rat infestation? Is that right?
Mr Newie —It is a rat infestation. We have some photos. We have everything there in our submission. As someone mentioned before, as a statutory body they are obligated under law—and they put out this pretty list of all the compliance that they do!
CHAIR —Does the barge come to the store once a week?
Mr Newie —Once a week.
CHAIR —What is the population of Moa Island?
Mrs Sailor —There are about 536 people on Moa in the two communities.
CHAIR —And the one store is servicing the two communities?
Mrs Sailor —No, we have two IBIS stores.
Mr Newie —There is a member from the other community here also. We can only speak on what is happening in the St Pauls community.
CHAIR —Could you talk about the quality of the fresh food that is available in the store.
Mrs Newie —My name is Maureen Newie. I am actually a traditional property owner of Badu Island but, because I am married to him—John Newie—I live over on St Pauls. The St Pauls store does not have the capacity to keep the fresh food that comes into the store once a week. It actually keeps the goods in the cooler in the back at night, but during the day for the presentation of the food it is not all kept in the cooler; it is in the aisles. You actually walk over the fruit and vegies. Because of the size of the store they do not have the room to present it to people from the cooler. So you have all these fruits and vegies that are in the aisles. In this heat it does not last very long. Since we have come from Cairns I have not bought fresh fruit and vegies from the store for the simple reason that by the time you go and have a look it has wilted. If it is not that it is that the store smells of rat urine. The fruit and vegie section smells of rat urine. They are unacceptable standards, so when we have the money we actually drive over to Kubin’s store. That is where I pick up fresh fruit and vegies from, not from the St Pauls store, because of the rat infestation.
CHAIR —Is the other store also an IBIS store?
Mrs Newie —That is an IBIS store also. To buy anything at the store the cost is exorbitant. For example, a one-kilo bag of cooked chicken meat that we buy for sandwiches costs me $28 at the St Pauls store. If I were to order that from Cairns it would cost me $12.88.
Mr KATTER —Can you say that again?
Mrs Newie —It is $28 for a one-kilo bag of diced cooked Steggles chicken meat. To order exactly the same bag from Cairns would cost $12.88.
CHAIR —Are you aware of anybody who is buying their groceries from Cairns and having it freighted up independently?
Mrs Newie —Not at St Pauls. We are in the process of getting goods up ourselves from Cairns. We have been there for seven weeks. We have tried to save money and put in one order because of the freight costs. We have had our stuff freighted up in a five-by-five-metre container, and that cost us $1,500. That was just to freight our clothes and so on up from Cairns. Like the previous guy was saying, it costs you by cubic metre to freight stuff up. We have just recently placed an ordered to Cairns to have stuff up. I have not worked out the cost of that yet.
CHAIR —Have you raised your concerns with IBIS?
Mrs Newie —Different members of the community have raised our concerns with IBIS. Every time they say, ‘There is an island manager; take it up with the island manager.’ We have raised concerns with Queensland Health. We have raised concerns with the tropical public health unit. Other people have also gone to the quarantine office. That serves both Kubin and St Pauls. We have gone to whoever we can go to. Now we are coming to you to get something done. On top of the prices that we pay, goods are written off daily. The number of goods that are written off is not funny.
Mr TURNOUR —This committee—and this is through the chair—will not report on this inquiry until September but I give you a commitment that I will get on the phone after this hearing and have my office pursue it. Could you put on the record where you have followed this up with Queensland Health?
Mrs Sailor —I actually rang Health on Thursday Island and they were going to get on to the tropical public health unit about it.
Mr TURNOUR —I will follow it up from my office. I will pursue this for you.
Mrs Sailor —I actually spoke to Richard Bowler. Richard Bowler said that there is nothing that he can do about the rat problem. The island managers do not have a voice.
Mr TURNOUR —I can assure you there were rats in Bi-Low in Cairns and, as you would remember, it was shut down immediately. If there are rats in IBIS in St Pauls then it needs consideration. It is not only an IBIS issue; it is a public health issue. I will pursue that.
Mr Taylor —My name is Keith Taylor. I live at St Pauls. There was a question asked about chickens. I am actually trying to get having chickens off the ground now but at $40 a bag for chicken food, layer mash, it is a bit pricey. It is very hard. As for growing things, I have tried growing things at different times but this place has a very wet season and a very dry season when everything dries and there is no water in the dry season. In the dry season I will go down to have a wash in the sea. I have done that before at St Pauls. You cannot have water to put on your crops. It sounds easy: grow it and feed the chickens. But there are always those things, regardless of the snakes and other things we have. As for fuel costs, on St Pauls we have been paying $2.85 a litre for gasoline. The fuel pump had been broken down—and I have spoken to an office about this—since before Christmas. It was only got going again this week. But we are still paying $2.85 a litre for fuel. The price went up when everybody else’s price went down. Our price on St Pauls is still up there. So I would like to add those comments.
Mr Coleman —My name is Charles Coleman. I am the chair of the elders group. Yes, there is a big problem with plants and gardens and things like that. It is very easy to talk about those things, but you have to look at the things that come into it, like water, for instance. St Pauls have got no water. They have got two little ‘turkey nests’, as we and those on the mainland call them, at the back of the village. They want bigger dams. A lot of water just runs off the island. There is a lot of good water for catchment there. I think I have talked to Jason and others about that before. There are a lot of good things that can happen with water. Water is the future of everything. I would like to see a big dam put there. I remember one time when I sat in on a Torres Strait Islands planning meeting. They were talking about dams. There was an aerial photograph of a couple of hills at St Pauls, and it showed you only had to fill in one side of a hill and you would have water for all the Torres Strait. That is what I would like to see.
Going to petrol, petrol is very dear; there is no doubt about it. I have been up here getting on to 60 years. Nothing has changed. I have been in these sorts of government things before. We are meeting a lot of times about things. Seeing Torres Strait in this sort of situation in the year 2009, it is unreal. I think action has got to be taken for all of my people up here. Nothing has been done. I know there might be a little bit of change, like hot food and all that sort of thing coming in from TI, but it is still down to the basics. It is very hard. There are changes everywhere. People change. Times change. We get into a different way of life. It is hard. I think only the people here know what is best for them—and that is it. You have got to listen to them. I know you cannot give them the lot, but you can try and make some sort of changes. That is all I can say. Thank you.
CHAIR —Thank you. We appreciate that.
Mr KATTER —Charlie, John also made reference to a dam. Do you have a dam site with a reasonable catchment area behind it?
Mr Coleman —Yes, that there is a catchment area there.
Mr Newie —I believe there was some planning some time ago by the former families from Kubin and from St Paul’s to enclose two hills, on one side, so the potential was there. It is long-term employment in market gardening and it would at least lessen the burden on other things that are brought over from the mainland, particularly with all these changes and the amalgamation that is happening. I believe that a lot of people, with the changes and the amalgamation in different communities down south, are on award wages. But our people up here are not even on award wages, so the problem is compounded because of all these other costs. With the changes in the housing costs now, with the department coming in and setting the ceiling prices—the basic income for a household is, I believe, something like $420 a fortnight. We talk about ‘below the poverty line’; this is below below the poverty line. It is unacceptable. We are Australians and we have the same rights as every Australian, whether we are living here or living in the region of the honourable Mr Katter. Nothing has changed. We desire the same basic human rights as everyone else.
These are real issues that are affecting our people in the Torres Strait. The stores issue is compounding it. It goes back to the actual income, because everything is based on income. By the time we pay for electricity which, at $50 a week, is $600 over three months—whereas when we were living in Cairns we were paying $300 for our electricity bill for three months. Here, because we buy a $50 card, it costs up to $600 for three months. This is ridiculous. How can someone live on these wages; how can someone be expected to pay these high prices for food and for all these other things? You are left with nothing. This issue of wages is what it all boils down to: how much people are earning.
You have a person who is working for the state government and the state government pays him for only a few hours, and the rest is topped up from the CDEP. This is ridiculous. He is not even getting the full amount of money from the state government which employs him, to claim his property. Take the schools for example. These are issues that are just unacceptable, and that is all I can say.
CHAIR —Susannah, would you like to say something?
Mrs Sailor —I would just like to comment on what Bobby is saying in respect of the housing and the rents. It might not seem relevant but a new policy will come in on 1 July. How are we supposed to justify $300 a week on a $400 income? That is what the welfare reform agreement will be when it comes into effect in July. My partner and I make only $420 each, so that is $840. Out of that will come $600, which will leave us with $240. At IBIS, $100 will get us only one bag of food. How are we supposed to survive? We have been thrown in the deep end for years, and it is like nobody is out there helping us. We need someone to help pull us out and get us up to shallow land. That is what we need. We hope that you are here sitting in front of us to help us, not just to take our voice back and shove it under the carpet. We genuinely need help.
CHAIR —The $600 you are referring to is for—
Mrs Sailor —The welfare reform agreement policy that is coming in on 1 July. With housing in the Torres Strait, people with two-bedroom houses are going to have to pay $190 a week. Our elders cannot even afford it. For five-bedroom homes, they are going to have to pay $300 a week.
CHAIR —So that $600 is going to housing.
Mrs Sailor —The department of housing. We only get $420 a fortnight.
Mrs VALE —How much is the rent now?
Mrs Sailor —We are paying $20 to $30 a room now because of the high cost of living, because of the food, the freight and everything else that adds up. That is under the old council system. But, when the amalgamation comes in, it will blow everything out of proportion.
Mrs VALE —So under the old system you only paid $20 for a room. Is that bedroom based or—
Mrs Sailor —For the bedrooms alone.
Mrs VALE —So if you had five bedrooms it would be $100 a week.
Mrs Sailor —It is $100 for five bedrooms. It is per house.
CHAIR —Per month or per week?
Mrs Sailor —Per week.
Mrs VALE —And now it is going to go up to?
Mrs Sailor —Now it is going to go up to $300 per week. It is not only affecting St Paul’s; it is affecting all the Torres Strait Islands.
Mrs VALE —So the rental is going to be three times as much.
Mrs Sailor —Three times as much. The reason I brought this up is that it is relevant because we will not be able to buy our food at IBIS. Like Seriako said—
Mrs VALE —So—
Mrs Sailor —Can you just let me talk, please? Like Seriako said, the Torres Strait is full of legislation. We have turtle and dugong management on St Pauls and they are collecting data—for what? To ban our food sources? That seems to be what it is leading up to.
Mr KATTER —That is what it is for.
Mrs Sailor —To ban our food sources—that is what I think it is leading up to. We have so many restrictions, in every direction we look. Who is helping us out? That is what I want to know.
Mrs VALE —The question I wanted to ask you, and I am interested—I am not trying to stop you talking; when you speak we get to think of lots of questions, which is important—is about the impost of this new rent. Who is it coming from? It is not coming from the federal government, is it?
Mrs Sailor —It is coming from the state government.
Mrs VALE —The housing minister, is it? Thank you.
CHAIR —I have one final question, going back to the IBIS store, in relation to the rat infestation. Have any of you directly spoken with Richard Bowler about this?
Mrs Sailor —I have.
CHAIR —What was his response?
Mrs Sailor —His response was: ‘We can’t do anything about it. It is out of our hands until the island manager comes to some solution to fix the rat problems in the community.’ I said to Richard, ‘The island manager doesn’t have a say in decision making. He doesn’t have that authority.’
CHAIR —How long ago was that conversation?
Mrs Sailor —Yesterday, actually.
CHAIR —You had that conversation with Richard yesterday?
Mrs Sailor —I did, yes.
Mr TURNOUR —You have an IBIS store. You obviously also come to Kubin on occasion or to Badu to shop. How do you compare IBIS to, say, the privately owned shops?
Mrs Sailor —The mark-up seems to be out of proportion. Things are cheaper at Kubin IBIS than they are at St Pauls IBIS.
Mrs Newie —There is a difference in process in IBIS itself when you go to TI, Kubin or St Pauls. I find the private shops here on Badu cheaper than the IBIS stores. Even in the shops on TI I find some of the prices cheaper than in IBIS, and the quality of the fruit and vegies on TI at IBIS is up to the creek. Everyone says See Hops is really expensive, but that is where you find the good quality fruit and vegies. That is where I get my fruit and vegies from, even if it is expensive, because the quality is just no good at IBIS.
Mrs Newie —Yes. Our vegies will come in one day and, when we go the next day to get what we need, it will not be there—it will be gone.
Mr KATTER —I just need to get a handle on this rental. Could I ask you, Susannah, what are you paying now per week for rent?
Mrs Sailor —We are paying $100 a week on rent now for a five-bedroom house.
Mr KATTER —And you think that will go up to $300?
Mrs Sailor —It is going up to $300. The Torres Strait Island Regional Council have held meetings in numerous communities to let us know of this new policy. We are all worried.
Mr KATTER —Am I getting this message across to you? You fought a long legal battle over 10 years, which is known as the Mabo case. It decided not that a tribe owns this island—I am sorry if I am offending people, but I am just telling you what the law is. It did not decide that a tribe owns this island; it decided that, if you had a piece of land there that you had held continuously for a period of time, then that piece of land belonged to your family. If someone built a house on that, you owned that house. I am absolutely familiar with this law.
Mrs Sailor —Yes, but what our councillors bring back and tell us is that, once we sign a lease for the house to be put on that land, that land automatically belongs to the government. That is what we have been told. See, we are getting mixed messages.
Mr KATTER —I know a hell of a lot more—
Mrs Sailor —I know you do.
Mr KATTER —than anyone that you will ever speak to on this subject. I know it intimately, backwards. I can give you the quotations of the pages on the Mabo decision. I am very good friends with Frank Brennan. I probably see him once a month. I want to say to you that what you are being told is a great big lie. The decision was that that land belonged to you individually, not collectively. The most strongly held principle of British justice is that the fixture upon the land belongs to the person who owns the land. I had advice from the highest level when I was the minister that it did not. I tore it up and threw it in the garbage can, and we actually sued the lawyer who had given us that advice—that he could be so incredibly stupid that he could give that advice. He went out of business soon afterwards. But I am saying to you: this is absolute. Do not back off on this. This is absolute.
Mrs Sailor —I have not.
Mr KATTER —Mr Chairman, if I could just say something here. I am very worried about what I have heard in the last two days. People will start suffering seriously from malnutrition. Some of those people will actually die if this goes ahead.
CHAIR —Could I thank all of you for giving us your time.
Mrs Sailor —Thank you for giving us the consideration of being able to speak.
CHAIR —It is an absolute pleasure. The contribution you have made is very important. If there is any material that you would like to give to us in writing, then please feel free to do that. You can get details about how to do that from the staff who are here now. We do not have long left, but I am aware that there are some others in the audience who would like to make a contribution.
Dr Waria —I was born on this island in 1938 and I just recently came back again, 2004. What I am about to say is what Bob said are true words. We will be minced meat from the beginning of time to the end of time. We are still in the cement mixer going around and around and around. The problems are still the same problems. The issues are still the same issues—the housing issue, the education issue, the doctors issue.
It is still the same. Education is getting a little bit better now that these new pollies happened here. We have a new doctor up here. He is only here for 18 months then he is gone again. You heard what the other people said here and all these people here, they can back me up. The one that was last in that chair, Jason O’Brien, I roused on him last time he was here for the very same thing, and he knows that. We have been experimented on from day 1 to this day. You heard the complaint by the people from the next village.
Bob was talking about the rent. The rent they want to come in, it is a means test from the housing commission in Brisbane, and I am telling you now that it is immediate. There are four people in one house and you are all working—you make $300, you make $300, you make $300—so therefore you are going to pay more; with another $300, you are going to pay $1,200 a week. How are you going to subsidise with all of this CDEP work here? CDEP is not a state program; the CDEP belongs to the federal government, its department. The only thing that was pretty standard was demalgamation because it brought the railway union into it. There used to be a union rep for the railway when I was working for him in Brisbane. The things that you want to hear, the people have been telling you, and what Bob said is very true. He used to play football with the Thursday Island boys in Mount Isa that could not go home straight away. I have seen Bob Katter over there.
What we want is a government that can say a true word and take a step forward with what they say, not go back or sidestep it. No! We do not want that government. Next time a government like that comes to Badu Island, I will stop them at the ocean or at the airport if one is still alive. We are getting tired. We argue for the same things over and over and over and over. The central store is affected by rats. Who is feeding those rats? We are not. We are not feeding them rats. We cannot grow chooks here for one reason: the carpet snakes and pythons come along at night time and rob your chooks so you have no eggs. That is why I called out and said, ‘No, we don’t grow chooks.’ For the same reason, then you have to go under the cover of night time. You lay an egg; he is eating the egg behind you. Those are the predators that we are looking for in this place. Not only this place, but around all of Torres Strait. We are frightened.
We cannot grow vegetables. Why not? Nobody wants to build a dam. We have hills and valleys here that can be dammed, but the government says, ‘No, our pockets are empty.’ They always send the same signal. We do not get our bloody wires crossed—no. It is your kind that gets the wires crossed not our kind. Our kind is open. Thank you.
CHAIR —Thank you. Is there anybody who has not yet given evidence who would like to make a contribution?
Mr T Nona —My name is Titom Nona and I live on Badu. Listening to this, I think our main concern is that our housing and food is so expensive. As people were saying before, you have $400 to pay your rent and buy your food. That leaves you with nothing for another week. I just heard somebody say they are paying $20 for a room, and we are paying more than $200 a week. CDEP wages are about $400 a week, plus there is the mothers’ benefit where they get money for their kids. Also, we will be paying 25 per cent on top of what we are paying now from 1 June or 1 July.
To go back to the CDEP, where is it going to leave us? When Mr Katter said, ‘Those houses are ours’, does that mean we can keep on fighting to claim those houses? That is a question for Jim, probably.
The cost of living up here is very, very expensive, plus there are the costs for fuel and the supermarket. I heard what they were saying about the supermarket and freight. Still and all, if you pay for what you can buy from the supermarket and pay the rent we are paying now, that leaves you with nothing for another week. But up here in our culture we have a way of asking for things from our relatives: ‘Can you spare me a cup of rice?’ That is our way of living up here. What I suggest is: are we an Eden generation living up here in the Strait where nobody knows us? If they are paying $20 a room and I am paying $200, plus the food costs, you might be spending $300 or $400 a week. What does that leave you for the other week?
I listened to the two people from our shop. They were talking about freight. For everything they bring to Badu they put a percentage on top to cover their costs. But we are suffering here on our side. That leaves us no way to survive the other week through to the next payday. The cost of living up here is very high. I would certainly like to change places with somebody who can live up here for six months—then see how they feel about the way we live up here.
We were talking about planting vegies here. A couple of people died of melioidosis. It is risky. If we got money, like somebody said here before, we could buy something to work on the soil and have safety for the people. We talked about chicken. Recently we had bird flu going around. That is another threat to our community because we are at the front of the disease. We have been monitoring JE for 10 years and we still have JE on Badu. Going back to the cost of living up here, our lives are very expensive. Somebody said it before: we are humans living up here, but still we are struggling.
The other thing I want to mention is housing. Money is given to Torres Strait and Aboriginal people but it seems that somebody just keeps taking it away from us. We are not millionaires up here; we are just working people up here. What I am about to say may offend some people. Other government bodies come up here and talk about the same thing over and over and when they go back they just forget about us. That is why I said before: are we the ‘forgotten generation’ up here? We need somebody to tell us that we own the houses up here on Badu or elsewhere in the strait, because people come and sit in front of us and tell us all sort of stories that go and on and on.
We will fight for our rights but the thing is that, when the government makes the decision, at the end of the day, that is it and it puts us in no place. The cost of living up here, like I said, is such that you can eat for one week and starve the other week until pay day again. Plus there is rent. $20 a room makes a lot of difference for us. Plus there is food. What else? There is fuel. We need somebody who can tell us, ‘You can pay what you can afford.’ We are not earning that much and we pay so much for our lives here in the strait. Thank you.
CHAIR —Thank you. I saw two other hands. We are way over time at the moment and unfortunately we have a plane to catch. Darrel, did you want to say something? Can we just be as quick as possible.
Mr Albert —I was going to mention some of the things that Titom just mentioned, but I do not need to anymore. I have two questions and one comment. To add to the comments I made earlier, I think we are the only store in the Torres Strait where one of the reasons for our losses was that, whenever we had stock—milk, cheese, bread or whatever—that was approaching its use-by date, we would give it to the people rather than destroy it. They can all vouch for that, I am sure.
The people in the Torres Strait cannot survive on the CDEP income they are getting now. Is there any way the government could look at increasing the CDEP for the people up here? That is one point. Secondly, in Cooktown, Charters Towers or Georgetown, the zone allowance is the same as the zone allowance for people in the Torres Strait—and you have to fly here; you cannot drive here. Is there any way the government can look at the zone allowance for the people in the Torres Strait?
CHAIR —Neither of those are questions we can answer now, but it is good that you have raised them. In fact, the zone allowance was an issue that was raised earlier in the day.
Mr Albert —Sorry, I did not hear.
CHAIR —You were going to make a comment as well.
Mr Albert —They were the comments I made earlier about our stock. We would give the stock to the people rather than wait for the use-by date and destroy it.
CHAIR —Thank you for that. I think Rita wanted to say something.
Miss Kebisu —With regard to growing your own gardens, we have a horse problem on the island so that when you grow a garden the horses come and eat the leaves off them and trample them. That is another problem that we have here. Mr Katter said something before about having cattle on the island. How are you looking at getting the cattle here—would you barge them up? The freight is going to be really expensive. Is that something that the government is looking at? Will the government set up an abattoir here?
Mr KATTER —Through you, Mr Chairman, it was very attractive to look at the coconuts. You have places like Nepean, which is just an island completely covered in coconut trees. It is simply a matter of harvesting them and bringing them back somewhere they could be processed. It is very cheap to process them mechanically. So it could be done without plantations—and we could actually get something in from New Guinea as well. They produce two things. Firstly, they produce diesel fuel very cheaply. Secondly, they produce coconut meal, which can comprise 30 to 40 per cent of your cattle fodder. Probably 100 head of cattle would provide a large part of the basic nutritional requirement for almost all of the Torres Strait. Cattle are absolutely fantastic from that point of view. Also, there is then work in processing out the cattle and terrific savings on bringing alternative sources of food up here. It has been pointed out to me that there are some problems with Japanese encephalitis because of the cattle pads. I know a lot about it and I do not regard that as a valid argument. When they throw it at you, I will argue that one for you if you want me to. In answer to your question, 100 head of cattle would be useful, but you would have to look at coconuts as well, which I think would be a terrific idea because of the huge cost of fuel at present up here.
CHAIR —We will have to make the next comment the last, I am afraid.
Mr L Nona —I am from Badu. You have all heard about the rent business and all the costs associated with freight and so on. There is also the matter of charter flights and the costs associated with just getting a plane up here. Some people can go to Bali for $800 and you pay that one way just to get home. Even from Badu to Horn Island is about $700 to $900 a charter and that is just one way. That is just another cost that nobody has mentioned.
I would also like to speak about border protection. We have got free movement with the treaty but we need some proactive measures now to deal with all the deadly diseases, as was mentioned before, that we have got in all the villages that are included in the treaty. There needs to be some sort of management of the border protection agencies. It only takes a few diseases to come here. We are the gateway. If we are going to get those diseases here, we are going to take them over there. You protect us in keeping those diseases over the border and we will not take them over to the mainland. There are serious diseases like AIDS, typhoid, malaria and other diseases like that. There are more of them over there.
There is a report written by some doctor that outlines every single disease. It states in the report that when, as he expects, some of those diseases come over here some day they are going to wipe out Torres Strait. That concerns me because I have got kids. I just stand here talking, but this place will be the place for my kids and the younger generation. They are a going to live here. Besides food and rent and all the other basic necessities for just living and preserving our lifestyle, there is the invisible thing that goes from a mosquito into our veins or from person to person that will wipe out communities. That is a serious threat.
There is AIDS. We have already got HIV that has come across the border. It is all a matter of when it is going to become an epidemic. Health is one of the biggest concerns we have and one of our elders touched on it. We do not want those health-related problems coming across the border. As Brother Titom just said, we want somebody to go there and deal with them.
I am only a young fellow but I remember your name from a long time ago, Bob, and you seem to be a fellow who sticks your neck out there and says whatever is on your mind. You are my sort of person. You do not hold anything back. You can swear if you want to as long as you get the message across. I have worked in big departments as well and there are internal cultures there. Some people say things like, ‘I am only a minister; I cannot say this in this area or that area. I will be sensitive about what I say here because I might not be popular over there’—that sort of thing. People who are popular out in our communities are people who are out there getting slogged by the media, but what they are saying is right. They say, ‘We don’t worry about what the media say. We are worried about what this fellow is fighting for and what he is saying.’ One of the biggest things is health. We do not want those diseases in our community affecting our future. Thank you.
—Thank you very much. That is going to bring the hearing to an end. I really appreciate the contribution, as does the committee. I thank the Hansard reporters and the secretariat for all the work they have done in making sure that today happened. I will now hand over to Jim Turnour, your local member, to close the morning’s proceedings for us.
Mr TURNOUR —I thank everybody for coming along today and take on board the comments I have heard. I am happy to come along here and hear from you, and get yelled at on occasion as well. I have been elected for a bit over a year and cost of living issues are something that I campaigned around and something that I have taken back to Canberra and it is great to see that Richard, Bob and Danna are here to listen directly to you. Part of my challenge is to get more people in the parliament aware of the issues up here. I think that today has been very, very useful in doing that. So thank you very much for coming along.
Briefly on the health issues, one of the things that I am trying to do and am working on is getting health facilities across the border so that we can deal with those health issues in Papua New Guinea rather than having them come to our island clinics here in the Torres Strait. I think that you will see progress on that over the next year or two. That is something I am working on as well.
Thank you very much. The information you have provided me is very useful. I do appreciate the opportunities to come around and be a regular visitor to your communities. Thank you, Wayne and your office, the island and the traditional owners, for having us again. We do appreciate the experience and knowledge that the elders have provided today as well. Thank you very much.
Mr Namoa —First of all, I just want to thank our families and members of the public for coming today. I also want to thank families across from Moa Island for coming over here and for providing input. I know that this committee will walk away from here after listening to our grave concerns here. It is very important that we bring this to their attention and it is very important that they take away our concerns and comments with them and do something about the situation.
One of the things that we brought up was that not only do we have a lot of social issues but also some of the issues we talked about mean a lot of dollars—millions and millions of dollars. Some speakers have spoken about how you keep coming here and giving us the same rhetoric all the time. I understand that you are an independent body, a parliamentary committee, but we have government people coming here all the time making us promises and we never get anything out. What is happening is that we are losing our lives. Our lifespan already is 17 to 20 years shorter than other people’s and it is not going to improve until the government recognises us as citizens of Australia, not, as somebody mentioned, people living out in the back blocks not cared about. We might be small in numbers in the Torres Strait, but look at people in Tasmania. They have got bigger numbers and maybe they have got electorates that can change the governments. We are only one electorate here in the Torres Strait but we are people too and we need you to consider that. Many times people come up and offer us all these things, but they only look at the baseline. All they look at is the dollar value and how much it is going to cost the government to put in. Understandably, the government has got to raise the funds too from somewhere, whether through taxes or other schemes, but the dollar is shaping our life. They say things like, ‘Oh, that’s too much. It’s nice to hear about those problems that the people have there but we haven’t got the money to do anything about them.’
That is what we were saying before: we see you as a ray of hope coming here to our community and listening to our concerns. We would like you to take that back, as I said earlier, and take it to the relevant people and make changes that are going to change our lives. On behalf of the community, I thank all of you for coming to our community on this occasion. Thank you very much, members, for your input and I hope that someday we can see you back here giving us some really good news. Thank you.
CHAIR —Thank you very much.
Resolved (on motion by Mr Turnour):
That this committee authorises publication of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.
Dr Waria closed the meeting with a prayer in English and the local language.
Committee adjourned at 1.02 pm