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Torres Strait celebrates 80 years of Local Government

Posted on: 
Friday, August 25, 2017

Minister for Local Government and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships
The Honourable Mark Furner

Torres Strait celebrates 80 years of Local Government

Communities in the Torres Strait will today acknowledge eight decades of local decision making in their region.

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the first formal council meeting held on Masig Island in 1937.

Masig, also known as Yorke Island, is a coral cay situated in the eastern area of the central island group of the Torres Strait.

Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Mark Furner said the historic day signalled a new era of community leadership in the region.

“On 23 August 1937, Torres Strait’s first councillors rallied government for social and legislative change to improve the rights and recognition of all Torres Strait Islanders,” Mr Furner said.

“Local communities acknowledge this important event and the courageous leadership of their ancestors with a public holiday each year.

“This movement created strong foundations for the region’s future, including better living, working and social conditions for local people.

“During my recent visit to Mer Island and Saibai Island during the Palaszczuk Government’s Governing from the Regions week in Cairns, I saw first-hand the terrific work being done to this day by the Mayors and Councillors in the Torres Strait.”

The government of the day incorporated many of the recommendations discussed at the historic meeting to pass the Torres Strait Islander Act 1939, which includes a key section officially recognising Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Torres Shire Council Mayor Vonda Malone said the historical day brings a true appreciation of the aspirations of the former leaders of the first Torres Strait Island Council. 

“As we reach this significant milestone it is vital to reflect on the region’s past in order to embrace and plan for the future of our communities,” Cr Malone said.

“It reconfirms the integral role that current councillors hold to add value and continue focus on matters that make a difference in the lives of our communities such as health and wellbeing, improved education standards, equitable employment, adequate and appropriate housing and the enhancement of our region’s economy. 

“These were the very issues that our forefathers stood up for and we strive to continue that work so that generations to come will benefit.”

Torres Strait Island Regional Council Mayor Fred Gela said shared priorities were vital towards ensuring the region’s future prosperity. 

“Reflecting on our past gives us strength to embrace new ideas, forge new partnerships and deliver a strong vision for the future of our community,” Cr Gela said.

“By working together we can empower our people, communities and support true equality and opportunity for all Torres Strait Islanders.”

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the High Court’s Mabo land rights decision.

The decade-long legal battle led by Torres Strait Islander, the late Eddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo, paved the way for Native Title land rights to recognise Indigenous Australians’ enduring connection to country and help advance reconciliation.

Media contact: Brock Taylor 0427 018 178