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Wednesday, 17 November 1993
Page: 3018

Senator BOSWELL —My question is addressed to the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer to the statement of the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs reported in the Australian on 5 November. He forecast a form of self-government for the Torres Strait islands by the year 2001. He said further that he would propose that the Prime Minister suggest to the Queensland Premier that they hold talks about regional self-government. What does the government mean by regional self-government? Does the minister mean regional self-government based on the model of the Cook Islands as suggested in the same article by the Island Coordinating Council chairman, Gaetano Lui? Did the minister have the backing of the Prime Minister and government when he made these statements on self-government to the people of the Torres Strait Islands? Has the minister approached the Prime Minister to hold his proposed suggested talks with Mr Goss on regional self-government for the Torres Strait?

Senator ROBERT RAY —The Island Coordinating Council of the Torres Strait proposed a move towards self-government for the Torres Strait by the year 2001. This is a long-term aspiration and the substantial details of the proposals by Torres Strait islanders have not yet been put forward. The commonwealth has therefore not agreed to any details of such proposals, but believes the aspirations of the Torres Strait islanders must be taken seriously. Further consideration and discussion should occur between the Island Coordinating Council, the Queensland Government and the Commonwealth.

  The Prime Minister has written to both Premier Goss and the Island Coordinating Council to propose a preliminary meeting of officials. The Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs has consistently put on the public record his view that any move towards greater self-government cannot be rushed and needs to be the subject of a sustained detailed discussion with all interested groups in the Torres Strait.

Senator BOSWELL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for that detailed answer. Has the minister considered the foreign affairs repercussions between Papua New Guinea and Australia in relation to regional self-government?

Senator ROBERT RAY —The matter mentioned by Senator Boswell is just one of many issues that would have to be considered. Clearly, given the boundary demarcation that has been agreed on, that would be a major factor for us to consider. There are all sorts of immigration and other matters that have to be taken into account, even the minority interest, because at least 20 per cent of the population in that area did not originally come from the Torres Strait. So there are many complex issues that would have to be discussed before this matter could be brought to fruition one way or the other, including the philosophical concept of whether it is the correct thing to do even before we settle the details.