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Commonwealth Focuses on needs of Indian Ocean Territories

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M e d ί a

R e l e a s eTHE HON ALEX SOMLYAY MR Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government


The Federal Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government, Alex Somlyay will address key issues affecting the future of Cocos (Keeling) and Christmas islands, which were identified in his first visit to the Indian Ocean territories. .

“During the trip I consulted extensively with community leaders on both islands and I am determined that their legitimate concerns will be addressed quickly,” Mr Somlyay said.

The main issues include; .

• New long term arrangements for air services • Improved housing and land management and land release mechanisms • Increased focus and assistance on tourism from Asia -

• Maintenance and improvement of communications and broadcasting services • Greater community service provision in these remote Australian territories

“I want to release more land for sale and improve the quality of the public housing stock in these" · territories. This will in turn provide some economic stimulus to the building and construction industry locally,” said Mr Somlyay. '

He said he remains committed to ensuring that services and service delivery in the Indian Ocean Territories is as near as practicable at the same level as comparable communities on the mainland.

“I have been informed the future of the Christmas Island economy and casino resort has a cloud over it during the ongoing negotiations with the Indonesian government concerning permission for regular air services from Jakarta to the island. ■

“The provision of long term air service connections to Australia and Asian ports, especially Indonesia is crucial. I have seen first hand the consequences of this lack of services with Indonesia and I will pursue this matter with my ministerial colleagues to seek an acceptable outcome,” said Mr Somlyay.

The Minister said he is equally determined to solve the issue of air services from Australia to provide for a regular commercial service to the Cocos (Keeling) and Christmas islands. A long term tender to support the growing small business and tourism culture developing in these communities will be resolved shortly.

“We have 14 tenders for air services to Cocos and Christmas now being assessed by my department.

“This level Of interest is very encouraging. It is essential that the new air service have the capacity to run an adequate passenger and freight service to make tourism more viable in this unique but very remote location.


“We have to get this issue right for tourism by ensuring that more passengers can be brought in at one time along with enough freight including fresh produce to supply both residents and visitors,” said Mr Somlyay.

He said his discussions with the representatives of the Cocos Malay residents on Home Island were very constructive about the establishment of a resort and boutique casino development.

“The Malay people see the resort as a source of employment for their young people. They want to stop the drift of their young people to the mainland. Now that I have that knowledge I will continue to explore the options for this style of development with the interested parties.

“If the proposal from commercial operators measures up I am prepared to take a submission to Cabinet to have the Commonwealth issue the appropriate gaming casino licence for Cocos,” Mr Somlyay said.

I have decided to modernise the administration of these Indian Ocean Territories. I have set up a committee of review to advise me on appropriate solutions and to maintainrmomentum for change. The Commonwealth must aim to deliver more efficiently the services, infrastructure and decision

making in the interests of these important Australian citizens.

“ The review I have established will have a brief to facilitate the growth of private sector business and of community services on both islands.

“The process of modernising the governance of these territories will begin at once with senior officers of the Federal Department of Territories and the Administrator, Ron Harvey .to prepare a report based on observations and representations made during the visit. The report will have input from the Departments of Finance and Prime Minister and Cabinet. Representatives from both departments accompanied me on the visit.

“I will eagerly await a set of recommendations that deliver a modern management system to assist and not frustrate development in the territories,” said Mr Somlyay.

“To achieve this, some of the current impediments to decision making will be examined to fast track the process. I am determined to provide a modern administration that can react quickly to people's needs in these remote Indian Ocean territories.

- “The improved delivery of road maintenance, health, tourism services and community sen/ices normally provided by State governments on the mainland is a key area for this review to tackle," Mr Somlyay said.

While on Christmas Island the Minister visited the site of the grave of the Unknown Sailor. He said he expected the Parliamentary Committee investigating the sinking of the HMAS Sydney during World War Two to make recommendations on the matter of exhumation of the remains.

“If this is recommended I will use my power to order the exhumation,” Mr Somlyay said.

.... ends 01 February 1998

Contact: Graeme Hallett (Media Adviser) 0419 218 469 or 02 6277 7060