Introduction and conduct of inquiry
Referral of inquiry
On 14 September 2009, the Senate referred matters relating to the Torres
Strait to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee
for inquiry and report by 26 February 2010. On 25 February, the Senate granted
an extension of the reporting date to 13 May and on 12 May to 2 September 2010.
On 19 July 2010, the Governor-General prorogued the 42nd Parliament
and dissolved the House of Representatives. After due consideration, the
committee tabled an interim report on 20 August informing the Senate that it
would require additional time to consider and prepare its final report for
presentation in the 43rd Parliament.
Terms of reference
Under the terms of reference, the
committee was to inquire into the administration and management of matters
relating to Australia’s northern air, sea and land approaches in the region of
the Torres Strait, including:
the provisions of the Torres Strait Treaty;
the role of the Torres Strait Regional Authority in respect of treaty
and border issues, including how the authority interacts with the governments
and people of Papua New Guinea (PNG);
the extent of cooperation with, and between, Australia’s northern
neighbours, PNG and Indonesia, in relation to the health, welfare and security
of the Torres Strait region and communities in and around this region; and
the challenges facing this region in relation to:
the management of fisheries,
the contribution of international trade and commerce to regional
the maintenance of strong border security across the Torres Strait
region, including but not limited to, issues related to Australia’s defence,
bio-security, public health, immigration and customs,
cooperation between federal, state and local levels of government, and
air, sea and land transport linkages.
Conduct of inquiry
The committee advertised its inquiry on its website and in The
Australian, Brisbane Courier Mail and Torres News calling for
submissions to be lodged by 30 October 2009. The committee also wrote
directly to a range of people and organisations inviting written submissions.
These included federal government departments and agencies, academics, research
and strategic studies institutes, non-government organisations, local councils
in the region, the Queensland Government, and the governments of Indonesia and
Papua New Guinea (PNG) through their representatives in Australia.
The committee received 32 submissions which are listed at
Appendix 1. The committee held public hearings in Canberra, Brisbane and
Thursday Island in the Torres Strait. A list of the hearings, together with the
names of witnesses who appeared, is at Appendix 2.
During the inquiry, the committee also received additional information
and answers to questions taken on notice. This documentation is listed at
Appendix 3 and is available on the committee's website.
Visit to the Torres Strait
The committee visited the Torres Strait between 21 March and 23 March
2010. It inspected Horn Island airport and the nearby detention centre for
illegal fishers, and the hospital and the Army unit on Thursday Island. Members
went on board and inspected the Customs vessel, CORIO BAY. They
travelled to the two most northern islands where they met and held formal
discussions with traditional leaders from the region. On Saibai, committee
members inspected the local health clinic, the Customs facility and a
designated entry and exit point for traditional inhabitants from PNG. They
observed the landing of four dinghies from PNG carrying a number of PNG
nationals who were visiting the island to trade.
While on the island, the committee took the opportunity to host a lunch
for local leaders and to converse with them informally about their concerns. On
the invitation of local leaders, the committee also toured the flood-prone
areas to gain an appreciation of the damage being done through erosion and sea
water inundation. The committee then flew to Boigu where Councillor Donald Banu
and his colleagues briefed members on a range of matters. Afterwards, members
walked through the village to the shoreline to inspect the designated entry and
As part of its public hearings on Thursday Island, the committee held an
open forum to which it invited local people to participate. The committee found
its visit to the region invaluable. Both the formal and informal conversations
with residents of the Torres Strait provided committee members with a much
better understanding of the challenges facing the region and of the hopes and
expectations of the people who live and work there.
Committee members visiting the detention centre for
illegal fishers, Horn Island
Hospital on Thursday Island
Committee members inspect Army unit on Thursday Island
The committee on arrival at Saibai airstrip
A number of parliamentary committees have reported recently on matters
relating to the Torres Strait. Although not concerned solely with the Torres
Strait, they gave extensive consideration to this region. In October 2009, the
House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and
the Arts tabled its report, Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate.
This report made a few recommendations specific to the Torres Strait (see Appendix
In November 2009, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs tabled a report Inquiry into
remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait community stores. Finally, the House of
Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing received submissions and
held a Round Table Forum on regional health issues common to Australia and the
South Pacific. It gave a significant amount of attention to the Torres Strait.
Indeed, as part of its visit to the region, the committee spent some time
meeting communities on the Australian and PNG side of the border. It tabled a
report in March 2010 and made numerous recommendations particularly in relation
to Australian assistance toward improving PNG's health system (see Appendix 4).
Scope of inquiry
Primarily concerned with foreign affairs, defence and trade matters, the
committee considered domestic matters in the Torres Strait in the context of
the Torres Strait Treaty (the Treaty) and Australia's relations with its near
neighbours (see Appendix 5 for text of the Treaty). It took a strong interest
in the movement of people, animals and goods through the straits and in border
control. It also looked closely at the way in which Australia and PNG work
together to implement the provisions of the Treaty.
Structure of report
The report is divided into the following main sections:
Overview—general description of the Torres Strait, its people,
geography, history and key features, the function and purpose of the Treaty,
and the different layers of government operating in the region;
- Part I—free movement of people and the challenges that this
creates for the health, welfare and security of local communities;
- Part II—the natural resources and eco-system of the region, conservation,
biosecurity and sustainable development;
- Part III—Australia's national security from the point of view of
criminal activity in the straits—illegal fishing, transnational crime, people
smuggling—and socio-economic trends in the region that may create difficulties
for border security in the Torres Strait; and
- Part IV—governance in the Torres Strait.
Each section in the report is accompanied by an analysis of the
effectiveness of the measures that Australia takes to ensure that the
objectives of the Treaty are realised.
The committee thanks all those who contributed to the inquiry by making
submissions, providing additional information or appearing before it to give
evidence. The committee also wishes to express its gratitude to the government
and local officials who helped the committee plan and arrange its visit to the
Torres Strait and for their support throughout the committee's time in the
It especially acknowledges the warm welcome it received from the people
of the Torres Strait and appreciates their efforts in bringing their concerns
for the region to the committee's notice.
Overview of the Treaty
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page