Socialist Alliance candidate for Leichhardt Pat O’Shane went on a listening tour of the Torres Strait, also known as Zenadth Kes.
She visited communities on Thursday (Waiben), Poruma and Masig Islands all the way to Boigu and Saibai Islands, near Papua New Guinea, over March 17–18. On Thursday Island, she met with a group of senior women who committed to assisting her election campaign.
On her return to Cairns, O’Shane and Senate Candidate Renee Lees were invited to address a full council meeting of the Torres Strait Island Regional Council.
The Councillors shared concerns that the people of their islands were missing out. They said severe housing shortages mean that many cannot remain or return to the islands.
They said that often three generations share one bedroom and 80% of children have tooth problems and no dental care. They spoke about kids going to school without lunch, due to the high cost of rent. They talked about crumbling roads, poor police response time to domestic violence, regular inundation and the growing threat of climate crisis.
They spoke about how, as a council, they go above and beyond to try to meet the needs of their people, but are severely under-resourced.
They gave the example of not having the funding to undertake necessary asbestos removal, leaving 55 houses uninhabitable despite a long wait list.
The council wants investment in 10 priority areas: marine infrastructure, including repairing aging jetties so that older and less mobile residents can safely access water transport and fishing; sustainable waste management; social housing; coastal defence and climate resilience (the sea level rise is predicted to be three times greater than on the mainland); lifting funding levels back to 1% of federal tax revenue, up from the current 0.6%; regional governance, including a regional assembly model and a name change to Zenadth Kes; digital connectivity to address frequent blackouts; and local prosperity, including through arts and culture, fishing and renewable energy.
O’Shane told the meeting that she was “shocked to learn of these despicable conditions in one of the wealthiest countries in the world”. She committed to “free education and healthcare, including dental care, and making sure everyone has proper housing to support their health”. She spoke about her Kuku Yalanji heritage and her own childhood of poverty and “the outrageous waste and ineptitude of the Morrison government”.
Lees thanked the councillors for sharing their concerns. “It is clear that the council cares deeply and is doing its utmost, but its hands are tied due to under-resourcing.
“The federal funding needs to be urgently restored back to its original level. Socialist Alliance believes in a very different system of government, one that looks after people’s needs. If elected, we commit to working for a transformation to support community control for Zenadth Kes.”
O’Shane said the funding could be redirected from “wasteful corporate welfare, fossil fuel subsidies and tax cuts for the wealthy few. The people of Zenadth Kes deserve nothing less".