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Thursday, 5 April 2001
Page: 26612

Mr SNOWDON (4:40 PM) —I am pleased to be able to support the motion before the House. As you are aware, Mr Deputy Speaker—although I am sure many people are not aware of this—the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are in the electorate of the Northern Territory, and I am their federal member. You may also be aware—

Mr Kelvin Thomson —You're very fortunate.

Mr SNOWDON —Yes, they are very fortunate. After the next election, they will be in the seat of Lingiari, and I hope to be their federal member then as well. That, of course, is another matter, and I do not want to canvass the nature of the redistribution here because I have done it elsewhere. But I am pleased to be able to say that I am looking forward to continuing to represent the people of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands—and, indeed, the people of Christmas Island—in the next parliament, as I am very proud and pleased to represent them in this parliament and to have represented them in the previous parliaments to which I have been elected. I am a regular visitor to the Cocos Islands. Indeed, I had a staff member on the Cocos Islands only two or three weeks ago, and I will be visiting the islands within the next couple of months.

I wish to explain the context of this proposal for new freight and passenger facilities at Rumah Baru. Mr Deputy Speaker Jenkins, I think you have been to the Cocos Islands, so you would understand the nature of the place I am talking about. A lagoon separates a number of the islands, including West Island and Home Island. Home Island is where the bulk of the population live. West Island is the centre of administration. The freight which arrives by sea is offloaded on West Island and is then transhipped across to Home Island. I think I am correct in saying that the current wharf facility is well below par. To offload freight from ships, they have to moor the ships some distance into the lagoon and then lighters are used to tranship containers to the island. This, of course, is very inefficient and it is not very reliable. The proposal that we have before us—although I have not seen the design specifications, I think that the concept is very good— will, with any sort of luck and with decent management, provide us with the capacity to improve dramatically the stevedoring and handling costs involved in bringing freight into the Cocos Islands communities. At the same time, it will obviously improve safety, which is very important for the people involved in this. It will clearly improve efficiency and reliability, and it will ultimately bring down costs. That is very important in the context of the Cocos Islands community.

You would be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, from your own visits how reliant the community is on these shipping services, which are sometimes tenuous given the distance between the mainland and the Cocos Islands. It is indeed very important to acknowledge that, over the last couple of years, there have been periods when food has been extremely scarce in the Cocos Islands, partly because of shipping services not being able to deliver. It is very important that we comprehend that the people on Cocos (Keeling) Islands and on Christmas Island live in an extremely remote area—indeed, I cannot think of any Australians who live in more remote circumstances.

As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, the seat of the Northern Territory comprises all of the Northern Territory and its adjacent islands. No-one in the Northern Territory is as remote as the people of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Recently there was an announcement to improve flights to the islands and I am looking forward to examining the detail of that. But, in the context of this particular proposal, it is very important that we understand that this is only one part of what needs to be done to improve the facility, amenity and infrastructure of the people of the Cocos Islands. I say that while respecting the costs that are involved and the fact that this is a small community.

You would be aware that the Cocos Islands used to be a United Nations mandated territory. Now, as a result of an act of this parliament, they are part of Australia; they have been transferred by the United Nations to us. It is very important that we accept that we have an obligation not only to that community but to the international community to ensure that appropriate standards are provided for the islands' community. Whilst I have grave differences with the minister responsible for territories, Senator Ian Macdonald, over many issues and whilst I believe a great deal more needs to be done about improving the lot of the people of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, it is true to say that this government, like previous governments, has tried to do a great deal to assist. Sadly, though, I do not think that has been good enough.

I am very pleased to be able to support this motion today. I am looking forward to the prospect of the Public Works Committee visiting the Cocos Islands, talking to the community and giving approval for this very important project. I only hope that they can expedite the arrangement so that tenders can be let as soon as possible, because this work is vital to the future economic development of the islanders' community.

Question resolved in the affirmative.