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Chairperson's Message

TSRA Chairperson, Mr Napau Pedro Stephen AM
Unforeseen global pandemic

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has profoundly shifted the global environment, which has significantly impacted the economic and cultural environment of our region. These impacts have seen the lives and livelihoods of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal peoples challenged to considerable lengths.

Our communities, collective at their cornerstone, have not been able to gather for cultural ceremonies, sorry business and community gatherings. Local hospitality businesses have been forced to temporarily close their doors, while essential services have been impacted by the significant disruption to transport and logistics. Due to the decrease of economic activity in Asia, the top exporting location for tropical rock lobster, our local fishermen have worn the financial burden of declining market demands.

Despite these challenges, the pandemic has proved to us what we already knew: we are resilient in our response to change; we are adaptable to changing environments; and, although we have not been able to gather physically, unity in spirit is what collectively binds us.

In these unprecedented times, the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) Board agreed to reprioritise up to $1 million of appropriated savings to fund the TSRA COVID-19 Community Response Initiative. The purpose of the special grant round was to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 into the region; support communities to expand essential services and infrastructure during the pandemic; and support community recovery efforts.

The TSRA provided financial relief to existing home loan and business loan clients – a six-month moratorium on loan repayments. This opportunity has been positively received. We continue to work closely with clients to manage the ongoing financial impacts of COVID-19.

In response to the dramatic decline in Asia’s economic markets, the TSRA is liaising with Austrade and the Seafood Trade Advisory Group to explore options for the continued export of live seafood products from the Torres Strait region. Further, the TSRA is working closely with traditional fishers and industry stakeholders to implement an industry recovery plan, and working with regional project partners to fast-track the construction of fisheries infrastructure on the outer islands. This would enable ongoing employment and quick recovery once travel and export restrictions are lifted.

The year in review

On 1 July 2019, the TSRA celebrated 25 years since establishment. In that time, the TSRA has made significant inroads to deliver programmes and services to the people of the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area region. As I reflect on those years, I acknowledge the leaders before me whose hard work has allowed the organisation to come this far.

While most recently we have been occupied with the challenges of COVID-19 we must not forget the fruitful year that was. The TSRA continued to progress its infrastructure priorities, which included Minister for Indigenous Australians the Hon. Ken Wyatt’s announcement of $25 million to assist the region. Since the changeover of ministers, we have continued to advocate for regional governance and greater autonomy in the Torres Strait. We acknowledge that achieving this will take considerable time and resources.

In partnership across government and the private sector, through extensive community consultation, we developed the Wapil initiative – meaning ‘many fish’ – to develop informed policy responses aimed at increasing the Indigenous fishing industry economy in the Torres Strait, as a means of reducing unemployment. To finance this initiative, we secured $4.75 million through the Australian Government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy and $1.8 million through the Queensland Government’s Skilling Queenslanders for Work program, to deliver improved fisheries infrastructure to enable fishing activity.

The year ahead

In the face of a global pandemic, the TSRA will need to become more efficient and productive without compromising its efforts to deliver meaningful programmes and services to the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area communities.

The TSRA will continue to focus actively on regional governance and coordination, working alongside our Minister and the National Indigenous Australians Agency. We will continue efforts with our state and local government counterparts to achieve greater autonomy in the Torres Strait. The four-year term of the current TSRA Board membership will come to end in 2020-2021, with elections to take place at the end of 2020.

Thanks

It has been a fruitful and challenging year, and it has made us more resilient than ever before. With 25 years in review, I look forward to another 25 years of making a real impact on the lives and livelihoods of our people and communities.

I acknowledge the significant contributions of my fellow Board members, particularly Mr Donald Banu, who served as Member for Boigu from August 2019 until his death in June 2020. It was my honour and privilege to work beside Mr Banu during his TSRA service. I know his contribution to the Boigu community will not be forgotten and will continue through the generations to come.

I express my gratitude to the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer, Ms Leilani Bin-Juda PSM, and the members of the TSRA Administration for their commitment and dedication to the vision of the TSRA. It has been a pleasure to lead the TSRA during my four-year tenure. Au Esoau, Koeyma Eso.

Napau Pedro Stephen AM
Chairperson