Policing the Torres Strait
The committee has discussed in detail the concerns raised by local
leaders about the conduct of some visitors from PNG on the islands of the
Torres Strait. The committee now looks at how law enforcement agencies in the
Torres Strait manage the numerous challenges posed by the remoteness of the
region and the free movement provisions of the Treaty. It considers the
measures that Australian law enforcement agencies in the Torres Strait are
taking to resolve or address concerns about law and order issues in local
communities that derive largely from the behaviour of visiting traditional
inhabitants. It also looks at the number and distribution of police on the
ground, their training and resources. The committee begins by briefly outlining
the composition of the police force in the Torres Strait.
Police presence in the Torres Strait
The policing role in Torres Strait communities is undertaken by
combinations of Queensland Police Service (QPS) officers, Queensland Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander Police (QATSIPs), Police Liaison Officers, and
council-employed Community Police Officers.
Commissioner Atkinson informed the committee that there were 52 funded police
positions employed by Queensland Police in the Torres Strait, made up of 35
police, seven civilians, one pilot, four police liaison officers and five
The number of police officers was to rise to 54 with two police officers to be
stationed at the new police station in Badu.
In addition, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) has two members in its office
on Thursday Island and a Senior Liaison Officer in Port Moresby.
Queensland Police Service
The Queensland Government, which provides law enforcement services
through the Queensland Police Service (QPS), has principal responsibility for
policing the Torres Strait Islands. It retains a police presence on two islands
in the Torres Strait—Thursday Island and Horn Island—and has plans to establish
a police station on Badu Island. The estimated cost of the station is around $10
million, which 'will enhance policing in the northern and western islands'.
The Queensland Government informed the committee:
QPS responds to incidents, mainly connected to offences
against the person, firearm regulations, reports of domestic violence and illicit
drug trafficking [and] intelligence involving PNG nationals visiting treaty
Islands. QPS also conducts operations targeting the interception of boats
travelling in the Torres Strait including vessels carrying PNG nationals
visiting treaty Islands.
The outer islands are serviced by visiting police officers who are based
on Thursday Island and travel to the outer islands by aircraft or a vessel.
According to Queensland's Police Commissioner, 'The police department, via
state government funding, have put a quite significant number of resources into
the area and are increasing that'.
Community Police Officers
While Thursday and Horn Islands have a permanent QPS police presence,
the remaining island communities are serviced by Community Police Officers
(CPOs). There are around 27 of these officers who are employed by the TSIRC.
The majority of them are engaged under the Australian Government's Community Development
Employment Project (CDEP) which the committee discusses later in this chapter.
According to the Queensland Government, CPOs provide 'first-response
capability for the QPS and Australian Government agencies'.
They are 'the eyes and ears of the north'.
While their effect has not been formally evaluated, QPS reported that CPOs 'help
prevent crime and increase communities' feeling of safety'.
TRSA noted, however, that the CPOs perform 'very minimal types of roles to
assist' the police and have no powers of arrest.
Queensland Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Police
On Badu Island, CPOs are employed and trained by the QPS and are known
as Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Police (QATSIPs).
Commissioner Atkinson informed the committee that five QATSIPs were based on
Badu as part of a trial that was commenced some years ago. He stated that Badu
was unique in that there was no state police presence together with the
According to the QPS, QATSIPs 'provide an effective policing presence
within the Community' through regular patrols and attending to incidents. They
enforce community by-laws/local laws and advise QPS police officers as
appropriate and also 'set a good example within the Community'.
According to the Commissioner, the QATSIP is 'a work in progress' and the
Queensland Government is currently reviewing its role.
Police Liaison Officers
Police Liaison Officers (PLOs) operate in a liaison role without powers.
Their task is 'to establish and maintain a positive rapport between
multicultural and Indigenous communities' and the QPS. Their 'training and
management regime is similar to that' of the QATSIPs. Police Liaison Officers
are located on Horn and Thursday Islands.
Adequacy of police presence
Anecdotal evidence obtained during the committee's visit to the region
suggested that the police are viewed favourably and seen as responsive and
cooperative. Their presence is welcomed in the communities, and local leaders
would like to see more police on their islands. Indeed, numerous witnesses complained
about the absence of police in their localities. Mr Bedford explained that the 15
outer island communities within the regional council do not have any QPS
presence—'that is for a population of over 4,000 people'. He explained that all
the police were based on Thursday Island (TI).
Similarly, Mayor Gela explained:
There is the state average where one police officer should be
present for approximate the 440 people, here we are within the regional council
area where we have a population base of approximately 4700 people and we do not
have one officer present in any of our communities. We have approximately 20 to
30 officers sitting on TI which is more than a stone's throw away from our
The committee heard that the only time some communities have police
present is when there is a government delegation visiting an island community.
Mr Ned David, Director, Magani Lagaugai, Registered Native Title Body
Corporate, referred to the large number of Commonwealth and state officers from
Customs or elsewhere on Saibai during the committee's visit. He noted that he
had visited 'that place many times myself and I have seen no-one'.
Mr Kris observed that the lack of a police presence has resulted in a
situation where the police service 'is just not delivering services to our
community at the moment'.
TSIRC also spoke of the need for the QPS 'to be present on ground in every
In its view, this would enable the police to undertake preventive measures
rather than having to react to incidents. Mayor Gela said, a police presence in
the communities 'would assist in reassuring my constituents that their safety
is being respected'.
According to the mayor of the Torres Shire Council, Councillor Stephen, the
government was neglecting the Torres Strait region by applying two standards in
policing in Australia—one on the mainland and another in the Torres Strait
region. He noted:
The terminology now is that the government will close the
gap. At the community level gaps are not closed—whether it is about your peace
of mind or your well-being that you stay in your island community or where you
are. You are under the safekeeping of Australia and Queensland, yet people have
to have eyes behind their heads. They are living up there and they have to dot
the Is and cross the Ts because if they say something wrong, that night they
will find that something has happened to either their families or their
He argued strongly that a greater police presence would ensure a safer
A permanent police presence was considered to be of particular importance to
the communities on Saibai and Boigu.
Costs of providing police presence
Acknowledging the concern about the lack of police on certain Torres
Strait islands, Commissioner Atkinson argued that the QPS presence in the
region was 'not too bad', with 52 funded positions and at least two additional police
officers on Badu, taking it up to 54 fully-funded positions. He informed the
committee that 'the cost of putting state police and the appropriate facilities
on every one of the 17 islands will be massive', around $10 million each, based
on the cost of establishing a QPS presence on Badu Island.
He noted that the cost is high because when relocating an officer, 'we have to provide
accommodation, an office, a vehicle and training and, of course, there are all
the recurrent costs. So it would be expensive'.
The Commissioner made clear that due to the high cost, a state or
federal police presence on each of the 17 islands in the Torres Strait was
highly unlikely. However, he identified a potential solution to increase the police
My sense of it is that we might move towards having a couple
of major centres, maybe at Badu and one of the islands in the eastern group and
then try and service the other islands by aircraft and vessel on a regular
These observations are consistent with a QPS submission to the recent
Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission. The QPS informed the Commission
that it was 'not possible to provide a permanent state police presence on all
the Torres Strait islands'. It indicated that it would 'deliver the standard
service delivery model through a "geographical cluster" approach,
with policing facilities on three islands (Badu, Saibai and Yorke Islands)'. According
to the Commission, the QPS provided:
...no timetable for these plans, but senior police told us that
the Badu police station is likely to be constructed first, possibly within two
to three years, because of the 'problematic' presence of the QATSIP and the
larger population of Badu and nearby islands.
As noted earlier, the outer islands are serviced by visiting police
officers who are based on Thursday Island and travel to the outer islands by aircraft
or a vessel. Commissioner Atkinson stated that there were no specific plans to
increase the availability of boats and hence the capacity of police to move
around the region. He said:
In an ideal and perfect world, you would have two large
vessels so that you would have a degree of comfort if there was an unscheduled
maintenance situation—say, the engine broke unexpectedly—there would be another
vessel there. In an emergency, we could call on the federal government
resources and they would assist. I think that is clearly going to have to be part
of the future.
The Queensland Government informed the committee that the acquisition of
a fixed-wing police aircraft based at Horn Island 'provides the capacity to
respond to incidents occurring anywhere in the Torres Strait Islands, weather
The Commissioner explained further that the acquisition of the aircraft was of
great benefit to the police force by providing it with the ability to get to an
island far quicker than by vessel.
He noted, however, that 'We have had some recent issues with that because we
only have one pilot—again, that is not a criticism. So we need to find a balance'.
Some local leaders were of the view that the arrangement of having
police officers travel to the outer islands by aircraft or boat was unsatisfactory.
Mayor Gela noted:
Hammond Island is only 15 minutes adjacent to Thursday
Island. It takes QPS 72 hours to even get to Hammond. You can just imagine how
long it would take QPS to get from point A to point B especially if we were
talking about Murray Island or Saibai. While I do respect and understand there
is a human resource issue and there is a funding issue we cannot put a value on
lives or people. I think my people are entitled to that.
Councillor Stephen also spoke of the delay in taking action:
I know that the police respond to any incidents, but their response
time is too long. In the incident at Mabuiag, when that breaking and entering
was reported, the police on TI rang the community police, and the community
police had to respond. That was in the early hours of the morning. You cannot
expect this fella to actually respond to it, to go and do the initial
interview, when he is not covered for overtime and he has no powers. And then
the next morning the police get out there. It is too late.
He disagreed with the notion that millions of dollars need to be spent
on a new boat or a plane to go out to the islands. Instead, in his view, a
greater police presence on the islands would solve many issues.
Another witness questioned the effectiveness of relying on police to fly
in from Thursday Island to attend an incident on another island. The committee
heard that because the QPS aircraft is recognised and its arrival easily
noticed, by the time law enforcement authorities have landed, any illegal
activities or persons wishing to avoid them would have long disappeared.
The committee notes the desire of communities in the Torres Strait to
have a permanent police presence and understands the importance of having
regular police stationed on the outer islands. Even so, the committee
acknowledges the significant cost of locating police on each island and
considers, like Police Commissioner Atkinson, that this would be economically
unsustainable. It supports the Police Commissioner's view of introducing
'island cluster' policing.
In the following section, the committee looks at CPO powers, employment
arrangements and their role.
As noted earlier, the islands without a QPS force have community police
that provide some assistance to the Queensland Police. Police Commissioner
Atkinson informed the committee that CPOs do not have the two key elements that
state and federal police have which set them apart from the broader community—the
ability to prosecute and the capacity to use force.
And they do not have the power to carry the normal range of
equipment associated with the use of force, such as handcuffs, capsicum spray,
firearms and, in some cases, tasers.
The role and status of community
Some witnesses expressed concerns regarding the role of the CPOs and
their lack of power which severely curtails their ability to engage in
effective enforcement measures. Indeed, one of the strongest arguments put by
local communities during the inquiry was in relation to the powers of CPOs.
Mayor Gela raised the problem not only of insufficient numbers of police but
also the inadequacy of the powers conferred on community police. He said:
On the ground in our local communities we do not have people
that are charged with, or invested with, the appropriate powers—being police
officers, being members of the departments that are meant to be policing and
monitoring this arrangement.
Mr Kris expressed similar concerns and noted, for example—'there is no authority
within our police force to apply those services in our community'.
He stated that currently they 'cannot detain anyone, let alone apply a fine to
someone who is driving without a licence'. In his mind, these were 'some of the
real issues on the ground'.
In its submission, TSRA explained further that a major problem dealing with crime
on the islands, whether related to visiting PNG nationals or otherwise, stemmed
from the status and training of CPOs. It noted that island police are 'Community
Development Employment Projects (CDEP) Program employees and do not have the
training in law enforcement, nor the arrest powers, of the Queensland Police'. It
stated that there had been calls for Queensland Police to assess CPOs'
understanding of their role and responsibilities and their capacity to provide
an appropriate level of service to the communities. 
Councillor Stephen expressed the same concern about the CPOs' lack of
authority, indicating that many incidences take place because perpetrators 'know
that there is no law and order there'. He stated that requests have been made 'for
there to be a special recommendation for [CPOs] to be special constables, to be
actually empowered under the Commonwealth and the state police legislation'.
Why don’t you simply empower the people that are on the front
line, the young men and women that have put their hand up to be that law and
order officer for the island? The presence of a proper policeman or policewoman
will then deter any other incident as it would elsewhere in Australia and
The Torres Shire Council considered that the greater empowerment of
local police officers 'is paramount for local Indigenous law enforcement
officers within the communities throughout our isolated communities'.
Meeting community expectations is another reason for the desire to
increase CPO powers. Mr Wayne See Kee, General Manager of TSRA, observed that 'there
is an expectation from community, just like anybody else, to have a level of
service and to have security in your community'.
He also drew attention to the need to adapt the service to the unique
environment of the Torres Strait region:
...the environment here is very different. You are not going to
find a model anywhere else in Australia that you can just pick up and apply
here. It has to really adapt to the environment...we are seeing the same
structures being used down south essentially trying to be used here and it does
According to Mr Bedford, the QPS has acknowledged that the level of
service was inadequate and alternative arrangements were being explored to
ensure that they 'meet the needs of this unique part of Australia'.
He informed the committee that the TSRA had discussed with the QPS and the Queensland
Minister for Police ways to rectify the situation and 'how we can address the
inability...of the community police to act on behalf of Queensland Police'.
During the committee's public hearing, options for improving the status
of CPOs were discussed with Police Commissioner Atkinson. Committee members
asked about a possible range of alternatives that would confer greater authority
on CPOs. As an example, one cited having halfway positions 'between a fully
trained police officer in the Queensland Police—with all the powers of that—and
a community police officer, who has no power'. Along similar lines, another
suggested whether consideration could be given to some form of hybrid
arrangement that would provide a functioning police presence for local
communities but at less cost than having fully sworn officers.
The Police Commissioner indicated that the proposal for a halfway
position for CPOs needed to be explored further. He recognised the good work of
these officers and the potential to increase their skill level, training,
ability and competence. Nonetheless, in his view, there was 'a cut-off point'.
He noted that with rights comes responsibility and CPOs would need to be
equipped, resourced, trained, backed up and all the things that go with it'.
So if you are going to give someone power to take someone into
custody then all of the other things must then automatically follow in terms of
duty of care and the safety and observation of a person who is taken into
custody. There is a significant flow-on in terms of that sort of power. And
what if the person resists arrest? What degree of force should be used? For one
community police officer on an island of 100 or 200 people, it is difficult.
He also noted other problems for CPOs due to the uniqueness of the
region. He pointed out that while policing can be demanding in any environment,
an additional challenge arises in the Torres Strait because of the 'unique culture
that exists for each island in terms of its own traditions and values as well
as the clans and family groups'. Further:
In that context the clan family thing is very difficult. One of
the challenges for community police is the sensitivity of going to someone’s
home and saying, 'Look, you’re having a domestic violence incident here. I'm
going to help you and get involved in this because the neighbours have phoned',
and the degree of sensitivity on an island in the Torres Strait would be
greater than it is in the mainstream Australian community in that regard.
Councillor Banu could see a potential problem developing from relying on
CPOs to police the outer islands. He suggested that any increased powers for
CPOs might prompt the QPS to decide not to place commissioned officers in the
communities of Saibai and Boigu.
Employment of community police
Concern was also raised regarding future employment arrangements for
CPOs. These positions are funded by a combination of council and CDEP funds.
Originally, CDEP project funding was used to provide employment to Indigenous
job seekers. The reforms to the program since 1 July 2009 have changed the CDEP
focus to 'building the skills of participants in remote communities to find
jobs outside of CDEP'.
The Queensland Government noted that considering this and other changes, 'TSIRC
will need to develop a sustainable municipal service delivery model on the
basis of available resources'.
Mr Kris pointed out that the Australian Government has 113 and the
Queensland Government 309 CDEP-funded positions. He noted that the Australian
Government has given some commitment to convert its 113 jobs to equivalent
government position, whereas no firm commitment has been given by the
Queensland Government regarding its positions.
Police Commissioner Atkinson shared his colleagues' concerns about CDEP
funding for CPOs. He observed that while lack of CDEP funding had been an issue
on mainland Queensland, the effect on Torres Strait Islands would be far more
significant. He explained that where CDEP funding was withdrawn from mainland communities,
the councils no longer employ community police, which was a concern to QPS.
Despite having made things more difficult, in his view it would not go 'anywhere
near the potential impact', should CDEP funding be withdrawn 'to the point
where the islands could not employ their one or two community police officers'.
He proposed that the state and Australian Government could identify a future
plan on the issue of security in the Torres Strait:
...maybe there is scope in your considerations to look at some
unique model, where there could be a local person, employed as a police
officer, who is strongly supported not just by the state but by the
Commonwealth as well in terms of training, equipment and resourcing.
The TSRA considered that changes to policy, including the transition of
community police from current CDEP funding arrangements to full-time,
permanently secured positions would 'considerably enhance the security of the
Review of community police role
The Queensland Government informed the committee that the 'legislative
basis for community police as a function of Indigenous local governments was
currently under review'. In addition, the findings and recommendations of the Review
of Policing in Indigenous Communities were expected to inform 'the Queensland
Government's future approach to policing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
communities in Queensland'.
In this regard, the review has published its report and found:
The notion of policing services being able to be delivered in
Indigenous communities through a standard model of sworn police and PLOs is
administratively attractive, perhaps. The situation in the outer islands of the
Torres Strait, at the very least, demands that community police or QATSIP (or
some similar role distinct from sworn police or PLOs) will remain a necessity
for a substantial length of time, if not permanently.
It recommended that the capacity of Indigenous people to undertake
policing roles in the Torres Strait Islands should continue to be utilised and
Furthermore, the Commission recommended that the Queensland Government and the
supporting a model, which improves on the QATSIP model, for local people in
Queensland’s Indigenous communities to be appropriately trained and supervised
so that they can play an active role in law enforcement and other policing
activities in their own communities. The officers should be employed, trained
and supported by the QPS. This role:
. should not be limited to the
enforcement of by-laws;
. need not automatically exclude
all potential applicants who are local people with prior criminal convictions;
. should be seen as of particular
importance in the Torres Strait Islands, where it can be an important
supplement to the policing services otherwise provided by the QPS.
Training for local Indigenous people to perform these roles
should be designed specifically with Indigenous learning styles in mind.
Considering the perceived lack of police presence and the significant
costs of establishing QPS positions in the region, the committee sees an
opportunity for governments to make better use of CPO and QATSIP positions.
QATSIPs are already trained and employed by QPS. The cost of funding these
positions is significantly lower than that of regular QPS officers, and
CPOs/QATSIPs are local people as opposed to officers brought in from other
parts of Queensland, reducing relocation costs.
The committee notes and understands the calls for increasing the powers
of CPOs. Evidence before the committee showed that CPOs and QATSIPs supplement
the gaps in mainstream policing in the outer Torres Strait Islands. They have
the support of their local communities and should remain an integral part of
law enforcement in the region well into the future. Even so, the committee
notes the concerns of local leaders who are calling for their community police
to have greater powers so that they can be more effective in promoting law and
order. The committee notes further that while the role of the community police is
to maintain public safety by ensuring the preservation of law and order, and
prevention and detection of crime on the community, their powers are limited.
It is strongly of the view that community police need to be resourced
adequately, trained appropriately and supported by the QPS.
If community police are to continue to provide an important service to
Torres Strait communities, then their capacity to do so is vital to their
success. The committee supports the findings of the Crime and Misconduct
Commission as they apply to the Torres Strait: that is that the Queensland
Government and the QPS commit to supporting a model that improves on the QATSIP
model. This means that local people in Indigenous communities in the Torres
Strait be 'appropriately trained and supervised so that they can play an active
role in law enforcement and other policing activities in their own communities'.
Among other things, the officers should be employed, trained and supported by
the QPS; their role should not be limited to the enforcement of by-laws; and they
should be seen as an important supplement to the policing services otherwise
provided by the QPS.
The committee recommends that the Queensland Government consider, as
part of its overall review of policing in Indigenous communities, increasing
Community Police Officer powers in order to enable them to respond more
effectively to incidents in Torres Strait island communities and providing
appropriate training and supervision in the use of these powers. The findings
of the recent Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission inquiry provide an
ideal starting point.
The committee also notes the changes to the CDEP program and the
concerns raised by Commissioner Atkinson regarding their potential effects in
the Torres Strait region should funding be withdrawn. It shares the
Commissioner's concerns and urges the state and federal governments to work
together to find a solution to this issue so that Torres Strait local councils
can continue funding CPO positions.
During its visit to Saibai, the committee had the opportunity to visit
the CPO facility and found it in a very poor state. It was small and while it could
be used at peak times by a number of officers, it had only one desk, a couple
of chairs and no computer. The air conditioning unit leaked, causing paint to
strip off the walls; and the office lacked private facilities and a kitchen.
The Queensland Police Commissioner described it as 'just dreadful; no-one
should be expected to work in that sort of accommodation'. He also noted that
the general standard of community police accommodation 'is really terrible'.
While on Saibai, the committee also visited the new Customs and Border
Protection office complex, which is a lock-up structure owned by Customs and
Immigration. The unit is modern, well-equipped and located next to the designated
entry point. It 'is available for use by other agencies', including QPS whose
officers use it as their base when on the island. According to Customs,
community feedback suggested that there were 'indications of a decreasing local
crime rate and minor detections increasing since inception of the facility'. A
second one is planned for Boigu in the next few years.
The Queensland Police Commissioner suggested that community police
officers could use such a facility which 'could be available for state and
federal agencies to come and use as well'.
The Commissioner was hopeful that, given the uniqueness of the location, some
sort of joint Australian and state government approach could be taken. He
thought the Saibai model, or whatever model evolved, where community police and
visiting federal and state authorities could use the same building and office
was really interesting and had potential.
The Queensland Government proposed that the establishment of similar multi-agency
infrastructures on identified islands should be considered. In its view, 'A
memorandum of understanding between State and Federal law enforcement agencies
would enhance sharing of resources and information'.
Police Commissioner Atkinson also referred to shared facilities with the
federal police, such as the watch-house on Horn Island and Thursday Island.
The committee inspecting the Customs facility on
In relation to the CPO office facility on Saibai, the committee agrees
with the Police Commissioner and considers that the facility should be upgraded
as soon as possible, or, alternatively, other suitable office accommodation and
equipment should be provided for the officers to undertake their administrative
duties. Considering the CPOs' role as 'the eyes and the ears' for a number of
Australian and Queensland Government agencies, the committee believes that
these agencies could contribute to improving the standard of office
accommodation for CPOs.
The committee also supports the notion of establishing multi-agency infrastructures
on other islands and the sharing of these facilities between federal, state and
Federal police and cooperation
As the committee has indicated on a number of occasions, the Torres
Strait region is exceptional in many respects: its remoteness and island
geography; and its proximity to, and the international border its shares with,
The Queensland Government informed the committee that criminal matters or
complaints in the Torres Strait are investigated and responded to 'with cooperation
and collaboration between the QPS, Australian Federal Police (AFP) and PNG authorities
In this regard, enforcement agencies in the Torres Strait work together.
The committee heard that joint cross-border patrols, undertaken three times a
year and led by Customs, have assisted in addressing some of the public order
concerns. For example, they have led to the interdiction of prohibited goods
and detention of suspected persons, such as over-stayers on traditional passes
and unlawful movements under the guise of traditional travel.
According to Police Commissioner Zuccato, besides policing drug
trafficking, gun running and people smuggling, the AFP is present in the region
because of the international border. It investigates crimes against the person
committed by PNG nationals visiting on either a passport and visa or a
traditional visitor pass, and all other criminal activities deemed a priority
by the local criminal intelligence management group.
Although, most of the issues in the region are similar to those confronting the
police throughout Australia, in the Torres Strait, border security 'is
particularly unique to that environment'.
The Queensland Police Commissioner explained to the committee that the
role of state police in border security stems from their responsibility 'to
support federal law'. Cooperation between these various law enforcement
agencies works both ways. The commissioner noted that in some cases, it was 'very
difficult for a state jurisdiction to investigate in PNG' and that state police
needed to work closely with the AFP. As an example of this limited
jurisdiction, he referred to a kidnapping incident:
We had a situation for a state police jurisdiction where
someone was kidnapped and taken into PNG. That is very difficult for a state
jurisdiction to investigate in PNG.
The Police Commissioner observed that the relationship between the AFP
and the QPS is 'excellent'.
DFAT's Torres Strait Treaty Liaison Officer also noted the good cooperation
between DFAT and the police.
While there are a number of Australian border control agencies working
in the Torres Strait that have responsibility for the region's security, they
benefit from the assistance provided by local groups, including community
police, even though they are not formally tasked in that way. The Queensland
Government noted the importance of close cooperation between law enforcement
agencies and contact with traditional Treaty villages and the Protected Zone
communities in order to reduce crime.
DIAC also acknowledged the important role of the local communities. Mr Stephen
As with all agencies in the region, as with the community as
a whole, I think that there is a general understanding that if something comes
to someone's attention that they would refer it to the appropriate agencies.
So, while they might not be formally tasked in terms of border protection, as
community policing officers if they saw something suspicious in nature there would
be an obvious hope and expectation that they would report that to Customs and
Border Protection or to ourselves or to the AFP.
The Queensland Government made clear, however, that it was not
appropriate for community police to perform a border security role because this
function was 'not the responsibility of local governments or their employees'
and because they 'do not have the requisite authority or powers, and are
insufficiently qualified or trained, to carry out this function'. It was of the
view that 'border security would be more appropriately enhanced by a stronger Australian
When questioned, Police Commissioner Atkinson also thought there was 'room for
more' AFP presence in the region.
As noted earlier, the Federal Police have only two officers in the region, both
based on Thursday Island.
Considering the contribution that community police could and do make to
law and order matters as well as security interests in the region, the
committee believes that the AFP should also have a role in working with their
Queensland counterparts to support the development of community police.
With regard to matters dealing with visiting PNG nationals, the
committee believes that the Australian Government has a direct responsibility.
It recommends that the Australian Government should confer with the Queensland
Government on how best it, and particularly the AFP, can assist with any law
and order issues that arise because of the shared border and the presence of
PNG nationals in the Torres Strait.
In this chapter, the committee discussed law and order in the Torres
Strait. It noted the concerns of local people regarding the lack of police
presence on the outer islands and the support by both police and the
communities for increased powers for CPOs. In this regard, the committee noted
that CPOs need to be adequately trained and equipped to deal with situations in
the island communities. The Queensland Police Commissioner and the committee support
the idea of a 'hybrid' police force, whose officers would have increased
training and powers close to the arrangement that currently exists for the
Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Police (QATSIP). The committee
and the QPS also support the idea of policing through 'island clusters' for the
purpose of increasing police presence on the islands. The committee made a
number of suggestions and recommendations along these lines to the Queensland
and Commonwealth governments.
Conservation, biosecurity and border control
The remoteness of the Torres Strait Islands, the scattered
and sparse population across the region, proximity to PNG, and the free
movement of traditional inhabitants across the border create difficulties for
those responsible for conserving the environment and for administering
biosecurity and related matters in the region.
Part II of the report is concerned with the unique
environment of the Torres Strait and the particular conservation, biosecurity
and border control challenges it creates for the Australian Government.
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