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Wednesday, 27 November 1985
Page: 2388

Senator BOSWELL(5.56) —I take this opportunity on the debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1985-86 to make an appeal on behalf of the northernmost Australian citizens, the Torres Strait Islanders. There are 17 populated islands and 78 unpopulated islands in Torres Strait, and 5,000 Torres Strait Islanders live on the outer islands and Thursday Island. There is a problem in Torres Strait. As the 17 islands are mostly small sand cays of 400 or 500 acres, transport is very difficult. Most of the communication and transport is done by light aircraft flying between the islands. It is very difficult in cloudy and inclement weather for the pilots to pin-point the islands. There will be a time when there will have to be an emergency flight out to the islands in inclement weather and there will be problems if the pilot is unable to locate and identify the islands.

For an amount of $70,000 it would be possible to have a distance measuring equipment beacon installed on Horn Island. It is absolutely essential that this beacon be installed in the Torres Strait. I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Aviation, the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan), to see that it is installed before a tragedy occurs, rather than after one occurs. The amount of $70,000, which is an insignificant proportion of the vote for the Department of Aviation, is all that needs to be spent to look after the Torres Strait Islanders.

The Torres Strait Islands are the front door of Australia. They are tremendously important for Australia on the aspects of quarantine and foreign affairs. Many people now are going into Irian Jaya from Indonesia and it is very important for Australia to hold these islands and keep them populated. Many Islanders have shifted over to the mainland because of the difficulties experienced in travelling and obtaining work on the islands. I ask the Minister to ascertain from the advisers when this distance measuring equipment beacon can be placed on Horn Island, adjacent to Thursday Island, which the Minister visited only two or three months ago. It is absolutely essential, as it is only a matter of luck that a tragedy has not occurred on the Torres Strait Islands. The way Murphy's law works, the worst thing will happen at the worst possible time. I seek the Minister's assistance in getting a beacon on Horn Island as soon as possible.