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News & events of the Kaurareg homeland of Kaiwalagal, the Torres Strait homeland, and Cape York homelands of the Anggamuthi, Atambaya, Wuthathi, Yadhaykenu and Gudang Peoples
20 - 26 August 2012 • Thursday Island • www.torresnews.com.au • email@example.com • Edition No. 1029 • $2.00 inc. GST
Torres Strait gets ‘no bang for its buck’
By MARK ROY
RESERVISTS in Charlie Company, the 51 Far North Queensland Regiment (51FNQR) based on Thursday Island, are resorting to saying “bang bang” instead of firing bullets or blanks, after their operations budget was cut by 75 per cent. The startling claims were made in the Australian Senate last week by Senator Ian Macdonald, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern and Remote Australia, who says cuts to the army, navy and border protection operations in the Torres Strait has left our northern border wide open. At the same time, airline passengers in and out of the Torres Strait face a doubled passenger movement tax, with the $57.50 fee going towards the cost of newly installed security screening at the airport, he said. “The compulsory installation of security screening technology at the Horn Island airport has created a disproportionate financial burden on the Torres Strait community,” Mr Macdonald said. The security screening facility is currently housed in two sheds placed next to the terminal building, at a cost of $228,000. “At the same time as the Gillard government has removed the Navy patrol boat from their waters, slashed customs staff on Thursday Island and cut funding for the 51FNQR, significantly weakening any security response on land and sea, it is now insisting that the Torres Shire Council somehow meets the cost of installing security screening at the airport, a council with very few resources and definitely not enough to cover the cost,” he said. “The present terminal is too small to fit the equipment in. “The cost of a new terminal has been estimated at $15 million, an impossible sum for a small community to find. “Simply to extend the present terminal to accommodate the facility and a waiting area out of the rain would be $2.5 million, which the council also does not have.” Torres Shire Council chief executive Dalassa Yorkston said in addition to the $228,000 cost of installing the building, the council faced the additional costs of maintaining and staffing the
THURSDAY ISLAND (pictured) is just one of hundreds of islands in the Torres Strait being left wide open and unprotected, with its Australian Navy boat taken away, Customs and Border Protection jobs slashed, and now drastic cuts to the Charlie Company 51FNQ Squadron. Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern and Remote Australia, Senator Ian Macdonald says the irony is that while Charlie Company’s operations are being cut, and border security in the region is down for the count, passengers flying in and out of Horn Airport are being slugged with a 100 per cent tax increase to pay for an inadequate and expensive security screening program. PHOTO: MARK ROY “But only if the Council can match it, Mr Macdonald said the costs should not installation. be borne by the shire. “Additional costs and constraints placed dollar for dollar,” Mr Macdonald said. “Of course, they can’t possibly find “This community is really getting it in on the Torres Shire Council were the recruitment of eight new security staff, including that sort of money. And, even if they did, the neck,” he said. it wouldn’t build them a new terminal, it “This security screening is not just for recruitment, training and uniforms. “Plus the training cost for a Cairns-based wouldn’t even be enough to extend the their benefit, it is for the benefit of the whole country and should be paid for by company to deliver on the job training for present terminal.” Ms Yorkston said the council had to the nation.” the first two weeks of the new security In Senate question time on Wednesday, find the amount in their budget to meet this screening equipment.” August 15, Mr Macdonald asked the She said the council were given a “very funding dollar for dollar. “This means that other community Minister for Foreign Affairs Bob Carr to short timeframe to comply with the new respond the suggestion training days for projects will suffer,” she said. legislation”. “TSC has a very small rate base of six 51FNQR had been cut from 100 to 21. Mr Macdonald said the Australian Continued, Page 2. Government had now offered the council a per cent of its operating budget, and is Defence paramount, Page 2. one-off grant of $460,000 to assist. heavily reliant upon grant funding.”
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Torres Strait gets ‘no bang for its buck’ << From Page 1 “Is the minister aware of reports that 51 Far North Queensland Regiment, a unit with one-third of its force as Indigenous Australian soldiers engaged in conducting reconnaissance and surveillance and engaging with the community in Northern Australia, has had to cut training operations by 75 per cent due to lack of funding?” Mr Macdonald asked. Mr Carr told the Senate he would “seek further advice on the training days available to the unit”, but questioned the credibility of Mr Macdonald’s claims. “He started with the absurd allegation that soldiers were required to say ‘bang, bang’ instead of firing bullets, and he is wrong,” Mr Carr said. “The Army itself advises him, and advises this house, that the allegation is absurd and entirely wrong.” But Mr McDonald said he had been told by reservists they were unable to practice firing weapons using blank ammunition because it was “too expensive”. It was important to have access to ammunition for magazine training drills and to learn how to properly fire weapons, he said, and claimed reservists were using sound effects to keep the training effective.
“Because there’s no bucks, you’ve got to provide your own bang now if you’re a reservist,” he said. Speaking to the Torres News on Thursday, August 16, 51 FNQR Commanding Officer Major Jeffrey Martin said he was not in a position to comment on any of the claims. 51FNQR is based at the Joint Defence Facility on Thursday Island, with three other patrol bases in the Torres Strait, including Horn Island. A Defence spokesman told the Torres News: “The 2012-13 Army Budget has been approved by the Chief of Army and has been provided to Functional Commanders, who will shortly allocate down to units. “Unit commanders are being consulted as part of the current budget allocation process. “Noting that the financial year had already commenced, units were authorised to expend a percentage of their budget to enable normal activities to occur, prior to being allocated their full budget. “The full impact of the budget allocations is currently being assessed by Army in consultation with the chain of command. “Army Reserve Training Days remain a resource consideration associated with the budget allocation process,” he said.
Safety must be priority: Mayor By MARK ROY THE Mayor of the Torres Shire Council, Napau Pedro Stephen, has slammed Australian Government cutbacks to defence and border protection presence in the Torres Strait. “Torres Strait, in terms of homeland security, is paramount to the defence of this country and state,” Cr Stephen (right) said. “The people of Torres Strait will not forget the government’s action during the commencement of WWII, where a northern boundary was drawn across the country along the Tropic of Capricorn.” In 2010, the last Australian Navy vessel in the Torres Strait, the Geraldton-built Southerly 65 class vessel Malu Baizam, was snuck away to Cairns in what the Australian Defence Force claimed was a precautionary measure against cyclones. That boat has never been returned to Thursday Island. Cr Stephen was critical of cuts to Customs and Border Protection jobs in the Torres Strait, reduced from 14 to 8, and said claims that the 51 Far North Queensland Regiment also faced cutbacks were worrying. “Again, this action to withdraw the presence of defence will confirm that this Government does not consider the safety of people living in northern Australia, especially in Torres Strait, a priority,” Cr Stephen said. “Torres Strait will ask the government:
Do they identify our people as Australians or Queenslanders? And if so, stop pretending we don’t exist. “Leaders past and present have lobbied hard to establish the presence of these agencies in our region, because these services provide real career pathways and real employment for our people.” Cr Stephen said border security was a “core business” of the Australian Government, not the local shire. “The Torres Shire Council welcomes any grant, but most importantly welcomes recurrent funding, not dollar-for-dollar, to ensure the user, that is, the community, does not carry the financial responsibility of the Federal government’s core business for security, to guarantee a safe community for our constituents. “No more cost shifting exercise.”
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