Torres and Cape Disaster Resilience Forum

    The Torres Cape Indigenous Council Alliance (TCICA) hosted its second Indigenous Local Government Disaster Resilience Forum in Cairns on the 7th October. Facilitated by Professor Allan Dale, the forum was attended by nearly 80 Mayors, Councillors, Chief Executives, council staff, and representatives of key government agencies, critical service providers, and non-government organisations from across North Queensland.  

    Despite the challenges of COVID-19, local governments across the region have progressed a range of infrastructure improvements. A total of 19 new flood cameras, river high monitors and rain gauges will be installed across the Cape and Torres region, with work expected to be completed by mid-2022.  These will be connected directly to Bureau of Meteorology monitoring systems, with the data and camera images publicly available. 

    Forum participants heard from, Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council, Napranum Aboriginal Shire Council and Weipa Town Authority on steps councils have taken to build more resilient townships.  The Cairns Institute’s Hurriyet Babacan and Jen McHugh gave a presentation on the TCICA Region Telecommunications and Digital Connectivity study.  The research highlights a range of key challenges such as infrastructure gaps and service quality issues, and importantly, the reliance on telecommunications during times of disaster. Hurriyet Babacan said that the research was important as ‘With digital connectivity being crucial to the many aspects of how we live, having a clear understanding of the connectivity issues across the region is essential.’

    The Queensland Reconstruction Authority presented on the progress of the TCICA Regional Resilience Strategy. The Strategy takes a multi-hazard approach to improving resilience. Participants were briefed on the development of a Remote Food Security Action Plan. Improving food security in remote townships is vital if better long-term health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are to be achieved and if Closing the Gap targets are to be met. TCICA’s Regional Resilience Coordinator Pip Schroor, updated participants on the development of a regional disaster dashboard for the region.  Lieutenant Colonel Clare O’Neill, Commanding Officer of the 51st Battalion, FNQ Regiment presented on the role of the Australian Defence Force in disaster planning and recovery, and especially the role played by members of the 51FNQR in the north.

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    Other presentations included an update from the Bureau of Meteorology on the upcoming disaster season and the possibility of a higher than average number of cyclones, a presentation on blue card process and from Ergon Energy on their disaster preparedness and planning. Solution based approaches were also showcased such as AirBridge, and new technology that generates sustainable, high quality drinking water using the power of the sun to extract water from the air and an update from NBN.

    Although COVID-19 was not a focus of this forum, participants acknowledged the significant learnings arising from managing the impacts of the pandemic over the past 18 months.  While Cape York and the Torres Strait region have not yet seen a case of COVID, the threat of COVID remains and it is likely that it will reach communities in the future.  Ensuring as many local residents as possible are fully vaccinated remains critical, as does the need for well-tested COVID management planning.  Communities will continue to be challenged by the lack of available housing and other appropriate accommodation if quarantining and isolation of large numbers of people becomes necessary.

    The level of engagement and participation in the forum was a clear demonstration of the need for practical and focussed discussion on disaster preparation, planning and resilience. Further, the senior level representation by agencies such as the National Recovery and Resilience Agency, the Australian Defence Force, the Queensland Reconstruction Authority, the Queensland Police Service, and Queensland Fire and Emergency Services highlighted the value of the forum to key government strategists, advisers and decision-makers. 

    TCICA gratefully acknowledges the support of the Australian and Queensland governments under the 2019-20 Queensland Resilience and Risk Reduction Fund for this forum. 

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