On 25 September 2020, the Hon Nola Marino MP, Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories, asked the Committee to inquire into economic, social and environmental sustainability in the Indian Ocean Territories. The inquiry’s terms of reference can be found in the front pages of this report.
The Indian Ocean Territories comprises Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (an archipelago with populations on Home Island and West Island), located in the Indian Ocean northwest of mainland Australia.
The Committee called for submissions addressing the terms of reference by 27 January 2021 and subsequently extended the submission closing date to 31 March 2021. Details of submissions received can be found in the appendix of this report.
The Committee’s view is that to properly complete this inquiry, there needed to be an opportunity for Committee members to visit the Indian Ocean Territories.
Convening public hearings on location and conducting tours and site inspections were essential for Committee members to fully understand issues relevant to the inquiry’s terms of reference.
Unfortunately, the Committee could not complete these aspects of the inquiry as planned.
A planned visit to Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands arranged for April 2021 was cancelled at short notice. Subsequent attempts were also unsuccessful, due to a combination of factors that included evolving domestic border restrictions related to COVID-19, quarantine requirements, a high demand for accommodation and a need to work around parliamentary sitting days in Canberra.
Given this situation, the Committee is unable to present a substantive report addressing the inquiry terms of reference.
Instead, the Committee recommends that this inquiry be referred again after the commencement of the 47th Parliament. Evidence received during this inquiry can be used when the inquiry is restarted.
The Committee recognises the importance of the issues intended to be considered during this inquiry and acknowledges the efforts made to prepare for visits that were regrettably unable to go ahead as planned.
The Committee recommends that early in the 47th Parliament, a new inquiry be referred to this Committee with terms of reference that are similar or comparable to the ‘inquiry into economic, social and environmental sustainability in the Indian Ocean Territories’.