The weather might have been a little bit chilly but Canberra provided a warm welcome to council delegates from Cape York, the Torres Strait and the Gulf last week.
A party of 13 from the Torres and Cape Indigenous Councils Alliance travelled to the capital to meet with Ministers and senior MPs from both major parties, as well as key advisers.
Armed with a list of issues that need addressing in the Far North, the remote mayors and council CEOs were met with a warm welcome.
“We felt like we were listened to,” said Lockhart River mayor Wayne Butcher, who is also the chair of TCICA.
“I think there were a lot of positives in the discussion.
“The Deputy Prime Minister (Michael McCormack) gave us a lot more time than we bargained for, which was great.
“We got to meet a lot of ministers and shadow ministers and explain to them the difficulties we have in the bush.”
Telecommunications was one of the big issues raised by TCICA, an issue close to the heart of Cr Butcher, who has experienced countless issues with Telstra in the last five years.
“We want to get up to at least 4G in Lockhart River,” he said.
“At the best of times we are trying to access 2G speeds, especially during the day when everyone is tapping into the bandwidth.”
The mayor said having quality telecommunications would help Close The Gap and allow businesses to operate in remote communities.
“Everything comes to a standstill when you don’t have phones and internet,” he said.
Cr Butcher said he felt like a solution could be found after getting sympathetic responses from key people in Canberra.
TCICA also raised the issue of housing in Indigenous communities, investment in roads and ports and improvement in health outcomes.
“We spoke to the feds about how they should better monitor their investment in health,” Cr Butcher said.
“There is some good investment in health, but people are still dying too young.
“There needs to be some sort of evaluation or audit to see if the government is getting value for money and if the communities are getting what they need.”
Weipa Town Authority chair Michael Rowland, who travelled with the delegation, said he was impressed by the planning.
“Melinda Eades (the TCICA CEO) is worth her weight in gold,” he said.
“We had meetings back-to-back for the two days and she had us rounded up going from place to place.”
Mr Rowland said he was able to discuss some key issues for Weipa, especially around some of the key infrastructure.
“I wanted to be there to support the other mayors as well. Some of the issues around housing and telecommunications are very important and need to be addressed,” he said.
Cr Butcher said that with a federal election to be held within the next 12 months, TCICA had to fine tune its priorities list.
This article appeared in Cape York Weekly, 7 June 2021.
Related story: Cape leaders to voice concerns in Canberra.