2715

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Submission Number
2715
Participant
Torres Strait Regional Authority
Submission date
Main Submission Automated Transcript

Australian Government

Submission to Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process

Interim Report to the Australian Government

The Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) would like to acknowledge the extensive work
undertaken by the Australian Government towards an Indigenous Voice Co-design Process .
The collaboration across the Senior Advisory Group, the National Co-design Group and Local &
Regional Co-design Group is to be commended for their efforts . In particular, we recognise
previous TSRA Board members Mr Joseph Elu AM and Cr Getano Lui Jr AM for their
involvement in the process.

The TSRA is a statutory authority of the Australian Government and is accountable to the
Parliament of Australia and the Australian Government Minister for Indigenous Australians, the
Hon Ken Wyatt AM, MP. The TSRA, under the direction of a democratically elected Indigenous
Board, comprising of up to 23 local members, is the lead Commonwealth agency in the Torres
Strait region on Indigenous Affairs, including the communities of Bamaga and Seisia in the
Northern Peninsula Area.

Established in 1994 under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2005, the TSRA's
governing mandate is the recognition and maintenance of Ailan Kastom (belonging to all Torres
Strait Islanders) and to develop policy, implement programs and coordinate service delivery
for the benefit of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people living in the region. The Vision
for TSRA has always been and will continue to be about "Empowering our people, in our
decision, in our culture, for our future ."

The TSRA supports the National Voice proposal as a mechanism that will allow Torres Strait
Islander and Aboriginal people to influence legislation and policy decisions that directly impact
their communities. To th is, it has been acknowledged and widely supported by numerous
Indigenous Leaders, including Senator Patrick Dodson, and Hon Ken Wyatt AM, MP; that the
TSRA structure is already an exemplary model of a voice to Government.

Self-determination through Regiona I Governance continues to be a long-standing as pi ration of
Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people in the Torres Strait region,
requiring Commonwealth and Queensland Government support and commitment by local
leaders to work more cooperatively towards a unified vision for the region.

Since 1997, the TSRA Board and Torres Strait communities established a variety of community
committees, a taskforce, a TSRA Board Portfolio position for Regional Governance and
Legislative Reform, the TSRA Regional Governance Committee, engaged a Regional
Governance Committee Secretariat consultant and lobbied various Commonwealth and
State Government Ministers for greater autonomy in the region.

1
Torres Strait Regional Authority
PO Box 261, Thursday Island, Telephone 07 40690 700 Fax 07 40691879
Queensland 4875 Free Call 1800 079 093 Email info@lsra.gov.au www.tsra.gov.au
Australian Government • . TSRA
www.tsra.gov.au

In 2001, TSRA initiated the Greater Autonomy Taskforce comprising of the elected leaders in
the region to discuss and propose a regional governance framework in the Torres Strait and
Northern Peninsula Area (Bamaga and Seisia) which created the Bamaga Accord in October
2001. The vision was to allow the region to manage its own affairs, improve recognition of
culture, rights, identity through full participation in the decision-making and economy of the
region.

The aspiration for regional governance is recognised by the Commonwea Ith of Australia in the
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2005 and places the special and unique Ailan Kastom
of the Torres Strait at the centre of form ul ati ng and coordinating a II programs towards the
development and growth of our people. The TSRA is positioned to better integrate our public
policy, essential services and community needs through the coordination of Commonwealth,
state and local government initiatives under various Acts. The principles of these Acts are
legislatively embedded by instruments of the Australian Government and Queensland
Government that ensure our rights are constantly reflected nationally at COAG and
internationally atthe United Nations. 1

Given the historical and ongoing aspirations of the Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people
for the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Areas of Bamaga and Seisia to want to participate
in the co-ordination, formulation and implementation of policies and services that impact
them, the TSRA supports the principles underpinned by the Uluru Statement from the Heart. A
referendum to include The Voice of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people in the
Australian Constitution will allow for legal recognition of the National Voice.

It has been acknowledged that communities are empowered when they have the ability to
exercise control over own affairs, land and sea country. For this reason, TSRA acknowledges
that it is fundamental for a National Voice for Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people be
created and enshrined in the Constitution. The TSRA, itself enacted under the Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Act 2005, is a voice for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people in the
region.

Representation

The TSRA appreciates the recognition in the Voice Interim report that the Torres Strait Islands
should have separate representation to Queensland in the National Voice model. However, it
is important to note there is a large diaspora ofTorres Strait Islanders living on the mainland,
particularly in Queensland and Western Australia .

According to the Productivity Commissions (PCs) Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key
Indicators 2020 report, Of the estimated 650 000 people identified as being of Aboriginal
and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in 2016, nearly 10 per cent identified as being of Torres Strait

I Torres Strait Development Plan 2019-2022 (Development Plan) - htlps://www.tsra.gov.au/the-tsra/nrogrammes/economlc­
development/torres-strait·develooment·plan

2
Torres Strait Regional Authority
PO Box 261, Thursday Island, Telephone 07 40 690 700 Fax 07 40 691879
Queensland 4875 Free Call 1800 079 093 Email info@lsra.gov.au www.tsra.gov.au
. TSRA
Australian Government • www.tsra.gov.au

Islander origin ... ln 2016, about 17 percent of the Torres Strait Islander population in
Queensland lived in the Torres Strait Region (6489 people) ... (ABS 2018).2

The TSRA is not currently mandated to represent Torres Strait Islanders located on the
Australian mainland, as this is outside of its legislative framework. Therefore, the TSRA does
not support a National Voice structure mandating a National Voice member(s) who represents
the Torres Strait Islands, to be expected to speak for all Torres Strait Islander people, including
those not currently living in the Torres Strait Region . It is imperative their unique issues be
represented via a national platform too.

This issue of representation for Torres Strait Islanders based on the mainland is not a new issue.
This was previously addressed through the administration of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Commission (ATSIC) and the Torres Strait Advisory Board (TSIAB). "The role ofATSIC is
described as it provides services to mainlander Torres Strait Islanders. Mainlanders are currently
served by the Torres Strait Advisory Board (TS/AB) of ATSIC and by the Office of Torres Strait
Islander Affairs (OTSIA) within ATSIC." 3

TSIAB was required to provide advice directly to the Minister, as well as to ATSIC, for the
purpose of furthering social, economic and cultural advancement of Torres Strait Islanders
living outside the Torres Strait area. In essence - a Voice Structure. TSRA acknowledges a
similar structure could be re-established through the new Indigenous Voice model, to best
represent Torres Strait Islanders based on the mainland. Noting that previous leanings and
Government recommendations from the old TSIAB model would need to be drawn on - as a
matter of best practice and implementation.

To this end, the TSRA welcomes further dialogue regarding inclusion of two National Voice
Members for the Torres Strait Region - with equal gender representation of both a male and
female positions.

The TSRA also supports the creation of permanent youth and disability advisory groups. It is
important to foster our youth and provide them a platform to share the challenges and
opportunities they see for their generation, while allowing them to build their leadership
capacity and effect real change for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people.

TSRA is committed in our support for the Co-design approach to the Voice and the genuine
partnerships it could form with Indigenous communities. Given TSRA's current remit across
both land and sea, shared decision-making governance structure and footprint in the region,
we are already exercising a practical co-design model. The TSRA is a great example of how co­

2 Productivity Commissions (PCs) Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2020, Overcoming Indigenous Disadvant<ge: Key
Indicators 2020 - 0vercomlng Indigenous Disadvantage Productivity Commission (pc.gov.au}

3 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Affairs, 1997, Torres Strait Islanders: A New Deal

https:Uwww.aph.gov.au/narliarnentary business/committees/House of Representatives Committees?url=atsla/tsi/tsl.pdf

3
Torres Strait Regional Authority
PO Box 261, Thursday Island, Telephone 07 40 690 700 Fax 07 40 691879
Queensland 4875 Free Call 1800 079 093 Email lnlo@lsra.gov au www.tsra.gov.au
~...
Australian Government

design, a direct voice to Parliament and advocacy can work effectivelyto improve the quality
of lives and livelihoods of Indigenous Australians.

TSRA believes the best way of improving policy decision making, service delivery models, and
regional governance would be the consistent principles-based framework for Local and
Regional Voice, and National Voice across Australia.

TSRA will always continue working in genuine partnership to support Indigenous-led
empowerment and self-determination across the country or region, for all Torres Strait
Islander and Aboriginal peoples.

Yours Sincerely

Mr Napau Pedro Stephen, AM
TSRA Chairperson, on behalf of the TSRA Board

3 0 IO lf/2021

4
Torres Strait Regional Authority
PO Box 261, Thursday Island,
Queensland 4875
Telephone 07 40 690 700
Free Call 1800 079 093
Fax 07 40 691879
Email info@lsra.gov.au www.tsra.gov.au