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Tuesday, 22 February 1977

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (WANNON, VICTORIA) (Prime Minister) -When I visited the Torres Strait some time ago, 3 aspects of communications were raised with me by the chairman. They had been raised previously, I think, with the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and they have since been put under study by the Government. The first of those aspects, with which the Government has decided to proceed forthwith, is to establish a translator so that normal Australian Broadcasting Commission services can be available freely and properly to Australians in the Torres Strait Islands. The second aspect, which is more complex and more difficult, is to link the Torres Strait Islands with the normal telecommunications network around Australia so that the people in the Torres Strait can ring up, as other people can ring up and have secure communications with other parts of Australia. That matter is still under study by the Postal and Telecommunications Department and by the Minister. It is a matter which the Government would want to process in a reasonable way.

The third matter concerns reasonable transportation, especially for those islands- I refer in particular to Darnley Island- whose geographic position will make it very difficult to establish an air strip economically. This was highlighted by a circumstance of a child dying some day or two ago and the fact that from Darnley Island one has to go by boat over to one or two of the other islands before taking an aircraft to hospital. We have been looking at various alternative ways of overcoming that problem, especially for Darnley Island as it is the largest island in that category. We have not yet reached a satisfactory conclusion to that part of the examination, but that also is proceeding. My colleague the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is on his way to the Torres Strait Islands for further discussions with the chairman. He will be relating to the chairman the current position and he will be indicating the Commonwealth's concern.

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